The Manhattan D.A.’s office is making a last-minute bid to strengthen its case against Harvey Weinstein, who is set to be tried next month on charges of rape and sexual assault.
Prosecutors notified the court on Tuesday that they will seek a new indictment. The D.A.’s office wants jurors to hear from Annabella Sciorra, the “Sopranos” actress who alleges that Weinstein raped her in 1993.
Justice James Burke ruled on Aug. 8 that Sciorra cannot testify against Weinstein because her allegations were not heard by the grand jury. Prosecutors aim to resolve that problem by presenting her testimony to a new grand jury, which would issue a superseding indictment.
Weinstein is currently set to go on trial on Sept. 9, in what will surely be one of the most high-profile criminal cases in recent memory. It is unusual for prosecutors to seek a fresh indictment so close to the trial, and the move could result in a postponement.
Under the law, the defense could be entitled to 45 days to respond to the new indictment. However, Weinstein’s defense attorneys said they expect that Burke is likely to resist any delays.
“My educated guess is that Judge Burke is going to do everything he can to have this trial start on Sept. 9,” said Arthur Aidala, one of Weinstein’s attorneys, who added that the defense team will fully litigate the issues before trial. “We’re gonna fight with all the muster that we have to make sure his rights are protected.”
Weinstein is facing five charges of rape, sexual assault, and “predatory sexual assault,” stemming from allegations from two women. One of the accusers, Mimi Haleyi, alleges that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her at his home in 2006. The second woman, who has not been identified, alleges that he raped her in a hotel in 2013.
Sciorra’s allegations are 26 years old, and cannot be charged due to the statute of limitations. But the D.A.’s office wants to use her testimony to buttress the two charges of predatory sexual assault. The counts allege that the defendant is a repeat offender, and proving them requires at least two sexual assault incidents. It is the most serious charge that Weinstein faces, carrying a potential life sentence.
The prosecutors’ decision to seek a new indictment suggests they believe Sciorra’s testimony could be essential to proving those two counts. Without Sciorra’s testimony, the jurors would have to believe both of the other two women’s accounts in order to convict.
Donna Rotunno, another Weinstein attorney, told Variety she believes prosecutors want to beef up their case with a celebrity victim.
“I think this is about the fact that the public has heard so many things about stars and women who are known to the public,” Rotunno said. “I think the jurors are going to be surprised to find out this case doesn’t involve 80 women. It doesn’t involve anyone that has any notoriety. So the prosecutors feel like they need someone that has kind of a name to help them on this case.”
The D.A.’s office has also been granted permission to call additional women to testify about Weinstein’s “prior bad acts.” That portion of the pre-trial proceedings has been closed to the public, so it remains unclear who those women are, or even how many of them there are.
Burke has tried to hold the parties to the Sept. 9 trial date, and the D.A.’s office has said there is no reason to postpone the case.
The D.A.’s office said that the current grand jury term expires on Aug. 26, so a superseding indictment is expected before then.