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Weinstein charged with rape in LA as separate rape trial starts in New York

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Weinstein charged with rape in LA as separate rape trial starts in New York
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EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ / AFP
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Harvey Weinstein has been indicted on new sex crime charges in Los Angeles, just as his trial on separate rape and sexual assault charges starts in New York, prosecutors announced on Monday.

The Hollywood mogul has been charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents over a two-day period in 2013, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a press release.

“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 in a statement.

“I want to commend the victims who have come forward and bravely recounted what happened to them. It is my hope that all victims of sexual violence find strength and healing as they move forward.''

Weinstein allegedly raped a woman in a hotel room on Feb. 18, 2013, after he pushed his way inside her room, prosecutors said. The next night, he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman in a Beverly Hills hotel suite.

Weinstein faces up to 28 years in state prison if he is convicted of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint. His arraignment has not yet been scheduled and prosecutors will recommend a $5 million [€4.5 million] bail.

The news came the same day that Weinstein and several of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct gathered on Monday at a New York City courthouse where a judge and his lawyers handled the final preparations for his high-stakes trial on charges of rape and assault.

Speaking at the New York courthouse Monday prior to the announcement, Weinstein's attorneys suggested they knew charges might be coming. They asked the judge for potential jurors to be sequestered partly because of the possibility that charges could be brought elsewhere against Weinstein while the trial was ongoing. The request was denied.

"There is a potential L.A. situation going on,'' his lawyer, Donna Rotunno, told reporters after the hearing.

“We don't know what is going to happen. We're hoping not,'' added another of his lawyers, Damon Cheronis. “We have no control over what happens in Los Angeles or anywhere else.''

After more than two years since the allegations first came to widespread public attention and catalysed the #MeToo movement, jury selection is scheduled to start this week.

At the New York trial, Weinstein, 67, entered the building leaning on a walker following a recent back surgery, sporting a dark suit and dishevelled hair. When asked outside the courtroom how his back felt, Weinstein responded with a thin smile and a so-so gesture with his hand.

Across the street, actresses and other women who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein dismissed him as a villain undeserving of anyone's pity.

“He looked cowardly. He wouldn't look at us. He wouldn't make eye contact,'' said Sarah Ann Masse, a performer and writer who said Weinstein once sexually harassed her in his underwear during a job interview. “This trial is a cultural reckoning regardless of its legal outcome,” she said.

The disgraced movie mogul faces allegations that he raped one woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

The 67-year-old has pleaded not guilty and says any sexual activity was consensual. If he's convicted of the most serious charges against him, two counts of predatory sexual assault, Weinstein faces a mandatory life sentence.

Read more: Judge rejects Harvey Weinstein's bid to dismiss two sexual assault charges against him

For that to happen, prosecutors must demonstrate Weinstein had a habit of violating women. To that end, they plan to call actress Annabella Sciorra, who says Weinstein forced himself inside her Manhattan apartment in 1993 or 1994 and raped her after she starred in a film for his movie studio.

They also want jurors to hear from some of the more than 75 women who have come forward publicly to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault. The first allegations were brought to light by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017.

Weinstein's lawyer, Donna Rotunno, has argued the case is weak and said she plans to aggressively cross-examine the accusers.

Picking a jury for Weinstein's trial could take a while, in part because immense media attention on the case could mean some potential jurors already have their minds made up. Weinstein's lawyers tried to get the trial moved out of Manhattan, but a court rejected that.

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