‘Rape is forever’: Historic Harvey Weinstein court case draws to a close – but #MeToo lives on

Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison in New York criminal case

Harvey Weinstein arrives at court on day of his verdict

Judge James Burke had little patience for Harvey Weinstein or his legal team on the day of his sentencing. The mogul was facing up to 29 years in prison after being convicted of a criminal sexual act and third-degree rape. His attorneys insisted he should get close to the minimum sentence of five years. The prosecution – and, as it turned out, the judge – disagreed.

After about two hours of proceedings that included powerful victim impact statements and tense discussions between Burke and Weinstein’s lawyers, the judge handed Weinstein a 23-year sentence. The 67-year-old will likely die behind bars.

It’s been nine weeks since the criminal trial opened in New York City. Jury selection began in the second week of January. Then came opening arguments and testimony, with six women taking the stand against Weinstein. Jury deliberation followed and, finally, on 24 February, a verdict: Weinstein was found guilty on two out of five counts.

Wednesday began in accordance to what has become routine: reporters and members of the public lined around the block in the early hours of the morning at 100 Centre Street, hoping to secure a spot inside the New York County Supreme Court. Around eight, the crowd made its way inside, going through metal detectors and queueing some more. Photographers lined up for the usual court arrival shots.

But Wednesday’s court date was Weinstein’s first since the verdict, and that meant that things had changed. When Mimi Haleyi and Jessica Mann arrived to give victim impact statements, some outside the courtroom clapped in a clear show of support. For most of his trial, Weinstein was seen walking with his lawyers, leaning on a walking frame, occasionally smiling and having brief exchanges with reporters. On Wednesday, he sat in the courtroom on a wheelchair, brought in from New York’s Rikers Island jail.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi spoke first, asking Burke to give Weinstein the maximum possible sentence in the case – or close to it. She then ceded the floor to Haleyi, who gave the first of the day’s two victim impact statements.

Weinstein has been convicted of performing a criminal sex act on Haleyi in 2006. Haleyi, who took the stand during the trial, spoke – at one point through sobs – of the trauma she has experienced since the attack, and of its effects on her life. “It scarred me deeply, mentally and emotionally, perhaps irreparably, perhaps forever,” she told the court. Weinstein, she said, has appeared “completely disconnected from the gravity of the crime he has committed against me”.

“I showed up, not as a perfect victim, but as a human being,” Haleyi said – at which point she began crying. She said the trial has in part been “healing” in allowing her to process the assault.

Attorney Gloria Allred holds a sign after Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on 11 March 2020 in New York City.

Jessica Mann, who testified earlier in the trial, also spoke on Wednesday. Back in February, Mann became so distressed during cross-examination that Burke adjourned the proceedings for the rest of the day. On Wednesday, she spoke clearly and without hesitation. She recalled the day she had to leave the witness stand, after which she could be heard screaming from a nearby room. “The day my screams were heard from the witness room was the day my voice came back to its full power,” she said. Like Haleyi, Mann devoted time to discussing trauma and its aftermath, telling the court: “I live in a body that has become unsafe.”

“Rape is not just one moment of penetration. It is forever,” she added.

Weinstein’s legal team followed after Haleyi and Mann’s statements. An exchange between the judge and the defence lawyers, who sought to highlight sentencing precedent in other New York State cases, proved particularly heated. And then, finally, Weinstein spoke.

His voice rose, low and cavernous, from the front of the courtroom. Weinstein spoke slowly at first, though he grew more animated as his statement went on. He told the court he felt “remorse for this situation”, and promptly expressed sympathy for other men who have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Weinstein, echoing his legal team, brought up some of his past monetary donations, assuring the judge some in New York City wouldn’t hesitate to sing his praises if given the chance. He said he hasn’t seen his three eldest children since the allegations against him became public in October 2017.

“Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country,” he said. “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”

But Weinstein’s assurances did little to sway Burke, who declared shortly before sentencing him to 23 years behind bars: “Although this is a first conviction, this is not a first offence.” In addition to his prison sentence, Weinstein will have to register as a sex offender.

Weinstein’s legal team has indicated that it plans to appeal the New York verdict. But after 48 business days, this particular case is, at the moment, closed. The sun will no longer rise with Harvey Weinstein at 100 Centre Street.

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