By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and rape by a New York jury on Monday and handcuffed in court, a milestone verdict for the #MeToo movement that inspired women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.
Once one of Hollywood's most influential producers, Weinstein, 67, was convicted of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013.
Weinstein was acquitted on the most serious charges that carried a potential life sentence.
Justice James Burke ordered Weinstein to be held in custody and he was put in handcuffs by officers in court. Officers helped Weinstein unsteadily to his feet before leading him away.
He faces up to 25 years in prison on the sexual assault conviction. The sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 11. He was also convicted of third degree rape which carries a sentence of up to four years in prison.
Lawyers for Weinstein asked that he be taken to a facility where he could receive medical treatment. Weinstein was being taken to a medical facility at Rikers Island jail, lawyer Arthur Aidala said outside the courtroom.
"We will have a very professional appeal done by the best and the brightest in the business," Aidala said.
Aidala quoted Weinstein as saying to him after the verdict, "I'm innocent. I'm innocent. How can this happen in America?"
Weinstein still faces sexual assault charges in California, which were announced just hours after his New York trial began on Jan. 6. Dozens of women have filed civil lawsuits against him.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said at a news conference: "It's a new day because Weinstein has finally been held accountable." He praised the jurors. "Your verdict turned a page in our criminal justice system.
"To the survivors: I owe and we owe an immense debt of courage to you," Vance said.
The jury acquitted Weinstein on two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence, and first degree rape of Mann. A conviction on predatory sexual assault would have meant the jury had concluded he was a repeat sexual offender.
"This trial - and the jury's decision today - marks a new era of justice, not just for the Silence Breakers, who spoke out at great personal risk, but for all survivors of harassment, abuse, and assault at work," said Tina Tchen, the president and CEO of Time's Up, one of the groups that advocated on behalf of women who made allegations.
Weinstein made his mark with critically acclaimed films such as "The English Patient" and "Shakespeare in Love."
More than 80 women, including famous actresses, had accused him of sexual misconduct stretching back decades. He had denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.
"The jury worked with an incredibly narrow and unjust set of laws governing sexual assault, and though he was not convicted on all counts, Harvey Weinstein will have to answer for his crimes," according to a statement released on behalf of the #MeToo movement.
Asked by reporters outside the court how the jury service experience was for him personally, the jury foreman said: "Devastating," but declined to elaborate.
During his trial, Weinstein often appeared feeble, entering the courthouse using a walker. He sometimes leaned on lead defense lawyer Donna Rotunno for support. Critics had accused Weinstein of playing up medical problems to win sympathy but Weinstein said he had back injuries.
"He's taken some good acting tips," actress Rose McGowan said at the start of the trial while protesting near the courthouse along with actress Rosanna Arquette and other Weinstein accusers.
Prosecutors portrayed Weinstein as a serial predator who had manipulated women with promises to open doors in Hollywood, coaxing them to hotel rooms or private apartments and then overpowering and violently attacking them.
"The man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast said during opening arguments.
'JEKYLL AND HYDE'
During the trial, the prosecution methodically elicited graphic testimony from several accusers, including Haleyi, who said Weinstein invited her to his SoHo home after she had worked on one of his television productions.
After she arrived, Weinstein backed her into a bedroom, held her down on the bed and forced himself on her orally, yanking out her tampon, Haleyi told jurors.
Mann said that soon after meeting Weinstein she entered into an "extremely degrading" relationship with him that never included intercourse until, she alleged, he raped her in 2013.
She described Weinstein as a "Jekyll and Hyde" character: He was charming in public but often showed terrifying anger when they were alone, Mann said.
Weinstein was charged with assaulting Haleyi and Mann, but prosecutors bolstered their case by calling several other accusers as witnesses.
Three women - costume designer Dawn Dunning, model Tarale Wulff and actress Lauren Young - testified that they were enticed into meeting Weinstein for professional reasons and then groped or raped.
Testimony of "prior bad acts" is generally not allowed in criminal trials, but an exception to the law allowed prosecutors to call these women to show Weinstein had a particular intention or a signature pattern of behavior.
Legal experts said the women provided powerful evidence that was difficult for the defense to overcome.
Dunning testified that the producer groped her in 2004 and offered her movie roles in exchange for three-way sex with him and his assistant, which she refused.
Young, a model and actress, testified that the producer trapped her in a hotel bathroom in 2013, masturbated in front of her while groping her breasts, and told her: "This is what all the actresses do to make it."
A fourth women, "Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra, told jurors Weinstein came into her apartment one winter night in 1993 or 1994 and raped her.
Though the accusation was too old to be charged as a separate crime, prosecutors had offered it to try to show Weinstein was a repeat sexual offender.
'LAST LINE OF DEFENSE'
Throughout the case, the defense said regret drove the accusers to take consensual incidents and reframe them as crimes.
Weinstein's lawyers zeroed in on friendly messages and ongoing contact between the women and Weinstein.
During cross-examination of Haleyi, for example, the defense showed her a message she sent Weinstein signed "lots of love" after her alleged attack.
Defense lawyers repeatedly suggested that Mann willingly had sex with Weinstein to advance her career.
Weinstein never testified in his defense, although he told reporters he had wanted to. One of his lawyers said the case was too weak to warrant putting him on the stand.
Weinstein's lawyer Rotunno told jurors during closing arguments that they were "the last line of defense" against an "overzealous" prosecution and that women were "responsible" for the "choices they make to further their own careers."
Prosecutors pushed back against claims that his accusers were not credible and the notion that they were responsible for the alleged attacks.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi said it was irrelevant whether they had ongoing contact with Weinstein after the alleged attacks.
Illuzzi rejected a defense claim that Mann had a loving relationship with Weinstein, but said it would not matter if she had been "head over heels in love with him."
"He still wouldn't be allowed to rape her on March 18 of 2013," she said.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Tom Hals, Jonathan Allen and Angela Moore; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)
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