Seth Wenig, AP Photo

Is the case against Harvey Weinstein unraveling?

By Elizabeth Joseph, CNN | Posted - Oct 20th, 2018 @ 2:44pm



NEW YORK (CNN) — Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie mogul whose alleged sexual assaults sparked the international #MeToo movement, may be sentenced to a lifetime of shame and ridicule. Legal experts, however, now indicate he may never see the inside of a jail, let alone go to trial to face his accusers.

The case against Weinstein is "unraveling," high profile defense attorney and CNN legal analyst Mark Geragos says, citing the infighting between the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the New York Police Department as one of the main reasons he believes the Weinstein case won't go to trial.

"If you're on the defense here, you just sit back and watch them cannibalize themselves," said Geragos, who has represented high-profile clients, such as Michael Jackson and Colin Kaepernick.

In October 2017, The New Yorker released an audio recording of Weinstein speaking with model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez as part of a 2015 sting operation. Without consulting the DA's office, the NYPD set up the sting after Gutierrez told authorities that Weinstein groped her a day earlier.

In the recording, Weinstein makes potentially incriminating comments to Gutierrez, apologizing for touching her breast. Weinstein was not arrested or charged with a crime at the time.

"While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law," Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman-Agnifilo said, defending the DA's decision not to prosecute Weinstein.

After the tape's release, the New York Police Department and the Manhattan DA's office traded public finger-pointing.

The infighting, Geragos says, is symbolic of this "political hot potato" case, where the lines of public opinion and in-court litigation are getting blurred.

"A criminal courtroom is not a pretty place," he said, "certainly not a place to litigate social justice change."

Ever since The New Yorker's bombshell report detailed allegations against Weinstein ranging from aggressive overtures to rape, his accusers and their supporters have called for justice.

The NYPD encouraged the public to call in tips related to Weinstein to the Crime Stoppers hotline, and investigators cast their nets wide with police investigating sexual assault accusations in New York, Los Angeles and London.

More than 80 women -- from those struggling to make it in the acting world to Hollywood A-listers, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Salma Hayek -- have publicly accused Weinstein of unwanted advances. Of the dozens of accusations, only three were deemed by prosecutors to be within relevant statute of limitations and credible enough to build a case against Weinstein.

The producer was charged in May with rape and sex abuse in cases involving three women. Despite credible claims, recent missteps by the former lead detective handling the New York sex crimes investigation against Weinstein highlight his defense attorney's position that the investigation is flawed.

Last week, Detective Nicholas DiGaudio was accused of coaching a witness, causing one of the six felony charges against Weinstein to be thrown out.

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, has said his client maintains "he has never engaged in non-consensual sexual behavior with anyone."

The District Attorney's Office on Tuesday said DiGaudio told an accuser to delete cell phone messages prior to turning her phones over to authorities. This action could impact three of the five counts Weinstein is currently facing: predatory sexual assault and rape in the first and third degrees.

DiGaudio is now the subject of an internal NYPD investigation and has been removed from the Weinstein case. He has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

"These issues undermine the fundamental integrity of the judicial process," Brafman told CNN.

"This case is falling apart because it is a fundamentally bad case and bad cases eventually fall apart even when law enforcement officials try and stack the deck against the accused."

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told reporters she remains confident in the case against Weinstein.

"Nothing in this disclosure of count six impacts the strength of the case," Illuzzi-Orbon said. "We are moving full steam ahead."

The NYPD also disputed the notion that the case is in trouble.

"The evidence against Mr. Weinstein is compelling and strong," a spokesperson for the department told CNN. "The NYPD will continue its work with the prosecution to deliver justice for the courageous survivors who have bravely come forward."

Weinstein is expected to appear for proceedings at the New York Supreme Court on December 20.

Elizabeth Joseph

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