NEW YORK (AP) – Harvey Weinstein arrived at court in a wheelchair Wednesday for the final act of the rape trial that landed him behind bars: the sentencing that will send the once-powerful film producer to prison for his landmark #MeToo conviction.
Weinstein faces at least five years and up to 29 years behind bars after being convicted of raping an aspiring actress in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant in 2006. A second criminal case is pending in California.
Onlookers applauded the two women whom Weinstein was convicted of assaulting as they arrived in court, where they were expected to speak.
Weinstein, who has maintained that any sexual any sexual activity was consensual, will also have a chance to give his account. He opted not to testify at his trial.
Four other women who testified against him, including â€œSopranosâ€ actress Annabella Sciorra, sat side-by-side in the courtroom audience but won’t be permitted to speak at his sentencing under state law.
One of those witnesses, Tarale Wulff, who accused Weinstein of raping her in 2005, said in a statement Tuesday that she will still attend and hopes that the sentence â€œsends a clear message that times have changed.â€
The executive behind such Oscar-winning films as â€œShakespeare in Loveâ€ and â€œPulp Fictionâ€ became Exhibit A for the #MeToo movement after years of whispers about his alleged behavior burst into public view in The New York Times and The New Yorker in 2017.
More than 90 women, including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and Uma Thurman, eventually came forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The takedown energized the #MeToo campaign of speaking up about sexual assault and holding perpetrators accountable.
Weinstein was convicted on two counts: criminal sex act for the 2006 assault and rape in the third degree for the 2013 attack. The criminal sex act count carries a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 25 years in prison, while the third-degree rape count carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
Weinstein was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault stemming from Sciorraâ€™s allegations of a mid-1990s rape.
Newly unsealed documents show the 67-year-old former film producer sought help from billionaires Jeff Bezos and Michael Bloomberg as sexual misconduct allegations against him piled up in October 2017, and that he considered issuing a statement at the time claiming that he was suicidal. There is no evidence to suggest either man responded.
Weinsteinâ€™s lawyers are seeking the minimum sentence of five years in prison because of his age and frail health.
Weinstein, who turns 68 next week, used a walker throughout the trial following recent back surgeries. After his Feb. 24 conviction, he split time between a hospital and a jail infirmary unit, and had a stent inserted last week to unblock an artery.
“Given his age and specific medical risk factors, any additional term of imprisonment above the mandatory minimum – although the grave reality is that Mr. Weinstein may not even outlive that term – is likely to constitute a de facto life sentence,â€ Weinsteinâ€™s lawyers wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Monday.
After sentencing, heâ€™ll be transferred to the state prison system. As for his exact circumstances, prison officials said every inmate is evaluated to determine which facility meets his or her security, medical, mental health and other needs.
Martin Horn, a former city corrections commissioner, said Weinsteinâ€™s celebrity status could make him a target for another inmate looking to make a name for himself, while the gravity of his convictions and sentence could raise suicide concerns.
â€œNo jail wants to have the next Jeffrey Epstein,â€ said Horn, who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. â€œThey’re going to make sure that nothing happens to him while he’s in their custody. Not because he’s important, but just from a public relations point of view, it would be awfully embarrassing.â€
Prosecutors did not ask for a specific number of years in prison in their sentencing memorandum. But they said Weinstein deserves severe punishment, outlining 16 examples they said showed Weinstein â€œtrapped women into his exclusive controlâ€ so he could sexually assault them, starting when he was working as a music producer in Buffalo in 1978.
Fordham University law professor Cheryl Bader said she expects Judge James Burke to impose a harsh sentence.
â€œOne of the underlying principles of the law of punishment is promoting general deterrence,â€ Bader said. â€œI think Judge Burke will want to send a message to â€˜would-beâ€™ sexual predators that the hammer of the law will come down hard on you if you use your power – physical and otherwise – to manipulate and sexual abuse victims.â€
Just as jury selection was about to get under way in the New York case in January, authorities in California announced they were also bringing criminal charges against Weinstein.
Weinstein was charged in California with raping a woman at a Los Angeles hotel on Feb. 18, 2013, after pushing his way inside her room, then sexually assaulting a woman in a Beverly Hills hotel suite the next night.
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