Photo Credit: ABC News
By Michael R. Sisak, Tom Hays, and Jennifer Peltz | Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein was sentenced Wednesday to 23 years in prison after breaking his courtroom silence with a rambling plea for mercy in which he professed to be “totally confused” by the #MeToo movement that spelled the Hollywood producer’s downfall.
His accusers — those who testified against him and many others who have spoken out elsewhere against the former Hollywood mogul — hailed the near-maximum punishment for his rape and criminal sex act convictions as long overdue.
The 67-year-old Weinstein, who arrived at the courthouse Wednesday in a wheelchair and was taken to a hospital after complaining of chest pains hours after the court hearing, could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
He was convicted last month of raping a once-aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on former TV and film production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006. He faced a minimum of five years and a maximum of 29 years in prison.
The conviction marked the first criminal fallout from a raft of allegations that the Oscar-winning movie producer used his clout to lure women, sexually assault or harass them and then silence them.
“Although this is a first conviction, this is not a first offense,” Judge James Burke said in imposing the sentence.
Weinstein, who did not testify during the trial, addressed his accusers, saying, “To all the women who testified, we may have different truths, but I have great remorse for all of you.” But he also argued that men are being accused of “things that none of us understood.”
“Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country,” he said in a calm but creaking voice. “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”
Both of the women Weinstein was convicted of assaulting told the court about the damage he did to them, and the empowerment they felt when testifying against him.
“Rape is not just one moment of penetration. It is forever,” said the 2013 rape accuser, who recalled a moment during the trial when she left the witness stand in tears and then could be heard screaming from an adjacent room.
It was, she said, “the day my voice came back to its full power,” she said.
Asked later about her reaction after the sentence, she wiped her eyes, raised her arm and nodded her head.
Haleyi broke down in tears as she told the court the 2006 attack scarred her deeply and “stripped me of my dignity as a woman.” The encounter made her rethink her career in the entertainment business and left her feeling afraid of retaliation, she said.
The Associated Press typically does not name people, without their consent, who say they were sexually assaulted. It is withholding the rape accuser’s name because it is not clear whether she wishes to be identified.
Weinstein, who has maintained that any sexual activity was consensual, showed no reaction to the sentence.
In his address to the court, he touched on his past charitable fund-raising, his filmmaking career and a pledge that his new “mission is to help people.” He said his “empathy has grown” since his downfall.
Weinstein reported chest pains later in the day at Rikers Island Jail Complex and was taken back to a locked jail ward at Bellevue Hospital, a spokesperson of his said. He remained there, where he spent time after conviction, as of Wednesday night.
Years of whispers about Weinstein’s alleged behavior burst into public view in The New York Times and The New Yorker in 2017. In the aftermath, more than 90 women, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and other actresses, publicly accused Weinstein of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The takedown energized the #MeToo movement for speaking up about sexual assault.
Time’s Up, an organization created in the wake of #MeToo, on Wednesday hailed the women who testified against him for “the impact that they have had on our culture at large.”
Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno bristled at his sentence, saying the judge and jury had “caved” in a #MeToo and media atmosphere where Weinstein “really never had a fair shake from day one.”
“We were looking for fairness, and we didn’t get it,” Rotunno said.
Weinstein’s lawyers sought a five-year sentence — the shortest possible in the case — citing his age and frail health.
Prosecutors said the man once celebrated as a titan of Hollywood deserved a harsh sentence that would account for decades of alleged wrongdoing.
The sentence “puts sexual predators and abusive partners in all segments of society on notice,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
Weinstein was convicted on two counts: criminal sex act and rape in the third degree. He was acquitted of the more serious charges against him of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault.
Now that Weinstein has been sentenced, his lawyers can move forward with a promised appeal. He also faces rape and sexual assault charges in California, where Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey tweeted Wednesday that her office was working on extraditing him. No arraignment date has yet been set.