The jury at Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial in New York will begin deliberations on Tuesday, with the world’s media and the expectations of the #MeToo movement bearing heavily upon them.
The five women and seven men who form the jury hold in their hands the fate of the disgraced movie mogul. If they find him guilty of two of the five counts against him, of “predatory sexual assault”, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Since the trial began last month, the jurors have constantly been reminded of intense media interest in the case.
Prosecutors and Weinstein’s lawyers have frequently directed jurors’ vision to the overflowing press benches in courtroom No 99 at the New York supreme court, and alluded to the sound of keyboards rattling as one way of highlighting the high-profile nature of the case.
The process of reaching a verdict will not be easy or brief. The first trial of Bill Cosby, the comedian whose prosecution is often compared to that of Weinstein, ended in a mistrial when the jury failed to agree after six gruelling days of deliberations.
Cosby was found guilty at a second trial and sentenced in 2018 to three to 10 years in prison.
There are two main accusers in the Weinstein case.
Miriam Haley was working as a production assistant in 2006 when she alleges Weinstein lured her to his SoHo apartment in New York and forced oral sex on her.
A woman who the Guardian is not identifying, as she has not indicated that she wishes to be publicly named, alleges she was raped in a New York hotel in 2013.
Weinstein, 67, has also been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 100 women. He denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.
In the New York trial, four women who accuse the producer of rape and sexual assault – Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, Dawn Dunning, Tarale Wulff and Lauren Young – were called by the prosecution to give supporting evidence.
In closing arguments, Weinstein’s lead defence lawyer, Donna Rotunno, and lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon presented the jury with starkly contrasting summaries of the case.
Though #MeToo, the social reckoning galvanised by the accusations of sexual abuse levelled against the Pulp Fiction producer since 2017, has rarely been mentioned in court, it has clearly influenced the lawyers’ diametrically opposing interpretations of the case in hand.
Rotunno has portrayed the six women as money-grabbing, manipulative individuals who exploited Weinstein in order to advance their careers. According to that view, they were prepared to do anything – including consensual sex – in order to get on.
On Friday, Illuzzi-Orbon gave a very different analysis. Weinstein, she said, treated women who he tricked into entering his lair like “ants he could step on without consequences”.
In the US, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673 or by chat at Rainn.org. In the UK, the rape crisis national freephone helpline is at 0808-802-9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800-737-7328) or1800respect.org.au. Other international helplines can be found at Ibiblio.org.