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Harvey Weinsteins rape conviction overturned in New York; DA will attempt to retry


(NEW YORK) — The rape conviction of movie producer Harvey Weinstein has been overturned by New York’s highest court.

The New York Court of Appeals, in a scathing 4-3 opinion, overturned Weinstein’s conviction on sex crimes against three women, finding the trial judge “erroneously admitted testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts against persons other than the complainants of the underlying crimes.”

The court said that testimony “served no material non-propensity purpose” and “portrayed defendant in a highly prejudicial light.”

Weinstein spokesperson Juda Engelmayer told ABC News, “We are happily surprised and we are studying the ruling.”

The Weinstein team, which was eagerly awaiting a ruling, was not expecting it to be in Weinstein’s favor after a succession of rulings in different courts all went against Weinstein.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office said it will retry Weinstein should the alleged victims be willing to come forward again.

“We will do everything in our power to retry this case, and remain steadfast in our commitment to survivors of sexual assault,” a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

Weinstein was also convicted of sex offenses in Los Angeles and sentenced to 16 years in prison there.

Because Weinstein is already convicted in California, he will not be released, but instead transferred to the custody of prison authorities in California.

Weinstein, 72, was a well-known, powerful man within the entertainment industry and prosecutors said he abused his power to take advantage of aspiring female actors, like the alleged victims, to coerce them into unwanted sexual encounters. According to the prosecution, the quid pro quo of assisting them with their careers in exchange for sexual favors on demand was both common behavior and a well-known secret throughout the film industry.

An explosive New York Times article in October 2017 reported Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women who accused him of sexual misconduct over decades. The story, which featured actress Ashley Judd publicly accusing Weinstein of propositioning her in 1997, sparked an avalanche of accusations from women who came forward with similar accounts and largely kicked off the #MeToo movement, targeting prominent celebrities for sexual misconduct.

Weinstein was arrested on May 25, 2018, and charged with first- and third-degree rape for one victim, and first-degree criminal sex act for another woman. He was found guilty in February 2020 of two felonies — criminal sexual assault and third-degree rape — but acquitted of the two most serious charges — predatory sexual assault. He was also acquitted of first-degree rape.

Prosecutors said the testimony of women other than those whose claims formed the basis of the criminal charges spoke to Weinstein’s state of mind to use forcible compulsion. The majority opinion, however, said that eviscerated the time-tested rule against propensity evidence, “which, in criminal cases, serves as a judicial bulwark against a guilty verdict based on supposition rather than proof.”

Judd, along with other alleged victims of Weinstein, held a press conference Thursday. She said she was informed of the judge’s decision by the writer of the article that broke open the accusations.

“I was in disbelief when I heard from Jody Kanter of The New York Times about the decision,” said Judd. “It’s a stark reminder of the male entitlement that persists in our society. But today, as every day, I stand in sisterhood with all survivors.”

Attorney Douglas H. Wigdor, who has represented eight alleged Weinstein victims, including two of the Molineux witnesses — those not pertaining to the crimes charged — at the New York criminal trial, said in a statement: “Today’s decision is a major step back in holding those accountable for acts of sexual violence. Courts routinely admit evidence of other uncharged acts where they assist juries in understanding issues concerning the intent, modus operandi or scheme of the defendant.”

He continued, “The jury was instructed on the relevance of this testimony and overturning the verdict is tragic in that it will require the victims to endure yet another trial.”

Lindsay Goldbrum, who represents six Weinstein accusers, including Taralê Wulff, one of the Molineux witnesses to testify about being sexually assaulted by Weinstein during his criminal trial in New York, said in a statement: “This ruling is a leap backward for the rule of law. In New York, Molineux witnesses play a critical role in establishing a defendant’s common scheme or plan to commit alleged crimes. When a defendant is accused of being a sexual predator, especially one as powerful as Weinstein, the testimony of Molineux witnesses is crucial to disproving the defense that sexual encounters were consensual.”

The Court of Appeals decided the evidence of uncharged crimes allowed at trial “was unnecessary” to establish Weinstein’s intent and “served only to establish defendant’s propensity to commit the crimes charged.”

The opinion also said the trial judge, James Burke, abused his discretion when he allowed Weinstein to be cross-examined about the uncharged conduct, ruling it “served no purpose other than to display for the jury defendant’s loathsome character.”

ABC News’ Jason Volack contributed to this report.

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