By Brendan Pierson and Maria Caspani
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Once powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was charged in Los Angeles on Monday on sex crime charges just hours after he appeared in a New York court for the start of his rape trial, which has become a focal point for the #MeToo movement.
Weinstein was charged with sexual assault of two unidentified women in 2013, said Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey. He was charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting the other.
“We believe the evidence will show that the defendant used his power and influence to gain access to his victims and then commit violent crimes against them,” Lacey said.
Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.
Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s lead counsel in New York, declined to comment on the Los Angeles charges, saying she needed more information. A Weinstein spokesman Juda Engelmayer declined to comment.
The charges added to heightened emotions and tension surrounding the trial as jury selection begins on Tuesday.
“L.A. INDICTMENT! Cant breathe,” wrote Rose McGowan, who has accused Weinstein of raping her, on Twitter. “Happy trial day to you, Mr. Weinstein. Welcome to the rest of your life, hope you’ll have as much fun as we have had being in your jail.”
Los Angeles prosecutors said Weinstein and a victim identified as Jane Doe 1 attended a Hollywood film festival on Feb. 17, 2013, according to court papers.
After the woman returned to her hotel room, Weinstein knocked at her door, she let him in and after talking briefly he attacked her and raped her. “Jane Doe 1 alleges that she delayed disclosure of this assault, in part, because the defendant threatened her life if she disclosed,” said a court filing.
The next evening, a woman identified as Jane Doe 2 and an acquaintance of hers went to Weinstein’s hotel room following a business meeting, according to a court filing. The woman unwittingly followed Weinstein into the bathroom and the acquaintance shut the door behind her, according to court documents.
Weinstein stripped naked, took a brief shower, took down Jane Doe 2’s dress and then masturbated before releasing her.
“Each of these victims told at least one person about the assault in 2013. They reported the crimes to police in 2017,” the prosecutor said.
Weinstein faces up to 28 years in California prison if convicted on the charges, Lacey said. Three other cases were being considered for charges, she said.
“Once the defendant’s case is completed in New York, we expect him to appear in a courtroom in Los Angeles County to face these charges,” the Los Angeles prosecutor said.
More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades.
Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.
Those accusations helped fuel the #MeToo movement, in which hundreds of women have publicly accused powerful men in business, politics, the news media and entertainment of sexual harassment or assault.
Earlier on Monday, Weinstein hobbled in and out of the Manhattan court, aided by a walker and with a member of his team holding his arm as he recovers from recent back surgery.
Judge James Burke ordered Weinstein’s lawyer Rotunno to refrain from talking about witnesses, after she was accused of making degrading and humiliating comments in recent interviews, which she denied.
One of the women Weinstein was charged with assaulting, former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, has said that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2006. Prosecutors say Weinstein raped the second woman, who has not been publicly identified, in 2013.
Near the courthouse, the Silence Breakers, a group of Weinstein accusers including actresses Rosanna Arquette and McGowan, held a news conference and waved signs demanding accountability for Weinstein. The beginning of the criminal trial and the new charges “are a clear indication that the risks we took and the consequences we subsequently faced were not in vain,” the group said in a statement.
Weinstein spokesman Engelmayer has said the two women in the New York criminal case had long-term relationships with Weinstein. He said it was prejudicial to conflate the criminal matter with allegations in civil cases or with public grievances he said were lodged by women who were not part of any lawsuit.
“As we stand here at the beginning of a new year and a new decade, time’s up on sexual harassment in all workplaces,” said Arquette, referencing the #TimesUp movement that opposes sexual harassment. “And time’s up on the pervasive culture of silence that has enabled abusers like Weinstein.”
Allegations against Weinstein first were reported in the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine in October 2017.
Days later, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve ever been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
#MeToo became one of the most used widely used hashtags, viewed 42 billion times in 2019, according to data from Brandwatch, a research firm.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson, Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York and Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Writing by Tom Hals; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)