Manhattan’s district attorney has dropped a huge part of the criminal case against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The development was announced in court Thursday.
The dropped charge involves allegations made by one of the first victims in the case, Lucia Evans, who was the first to blow the whistle on Weinstein’s prolific history of sexual assault.
Scmp.com reports: In an expose published in The New Yorker one year ago on Wednesday, Evans accused Weinstein of forcing her to perform oral sex when they met alone in his office in 2004 to discuss her fledgling acting career. At the time, Evans was a 21-year-old college student.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the judge that prosecutors would not oppose dismissal of the count in the case involving Evans. She insisted the rest of the case, involving two other accusers, was strong.
“In short, your honour, we are moving full steam ahead,” she said.
Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told the judge he believed Evans lied to the grand jury. He also said he believed a police detective corruptly tried to influence the case by keeping a witness from testifying about her misstatements.
“The integrity of these proceedings has been compromised,” he said.
Speaking outside court later, Brafman said Evans should be criminally prosecuted for perjury, insisting it was “not about victim shaming”.
But Evans’ attorney said the decision does not “invalidate the truth of her claims”.
Weinstein’s lawyers and prosecutors had been wrangling over the part of the indictment pertaining to Evans’ allegations over the last few weeks in closed-door meetings and sealed court papers.
Some media outlets reported that there were problems with witness interviews done by one of the lead police detectives handling the investigation. Others said prosecutors had discovered old personal writings by Evans in which she suggested her encounter with Weinstein was consensual.
In a statement, a lawyer for Evans said she was disappointed by the DA’s decision to “abandon” her.
“Let me be clear: the decision to throw away my client’s sexual assault charges says nothing about Weinstein’s guilt or innocence. Nor does it reflect on Lucia’s consistent allegation that she was sexually assaulted with force by Harvey Weinstein,” said lawyer Carrie Goldberg. “It only speaks volumes about the Manhattan DA’s office and its mishandling of my client’s case.”
Weinstein, who has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex, still faces charges over allegations he raped an unidentified woman in his hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on US$1 million bail.
The collapse of part of the case against him could mean trouble for the prosecutor.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jnr has already been fiercely criticised for declining to prosecute Weinstein when an Italian model accused him of grabbing her breasts in 2015. At the time, Vance cited a lack of supporting evidence, despite the existence of a clandestinely made recording of Weinstein discussing the episode with the woman.
In the months after The New York Times and The New Yorker began publishing stories about Weinstein’s alleged interactions with women, activists pressured Vance to bring charges as dozens of people came forward with claims of sexual misconduct against him.
New York Police officials poured on the pressure, too, saying publicly they believed they had gathered ample evidence to make an arrest.