She was raised on a dairy farm in Washington state. She left home as a teenager, fleeing a troubled childhood. At 25, she came to Los Angeles to become an actress. She went on auditions, got cast in a few commercials — but nothing much beyond that. In recent years, her primary job was cutting hair.
Jessica Mann is not a famous actress. But in a few days, her words will be broadcast around the world, as the star witness in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial. In a Manhattan courtroom, she will get on the witness stand and tell a messy, violent, ugly story of her relationship with world’s most despised movie producer.
The story will be complicated by years of affectionate emails and text messages she sent to Weinstein, in which she professes her love and asks if he will meet her mother. The prosecution will try to persuade jurors that she was putting a brave face on a tormented reality.
“He became more demanding… more violently disgusting,” Assistant D.A. Meghan Hast told jurors Wednesday morning. “All the while, you will learn, she was dying inside.”
She said that Mann chose to maintain a sexual relationship with Weinstein for years, both out of fear of retaliation and out of hope that he could help her career. Hast said that she will explain the emails, in which she comes off “like a child talking to her father wanting to be accepted.”
She will talk about the alleged rape on March 18, 2013. According to Hast, Weinstein showed up to her hotel in New York unannounced. She was fearful when she confronted him in the lobby, the prosecutor said.
“She was panicked like seeing her parent come home drunk because she knew what was coming next,” Hast said. “The defendant became angry and grabbed her by the arm and warned her not to embarrass him in the hotel room and said they could finish their conversation in private.”
In the hotel room, she alleges that Weinstein forced her onto a bed and raped her. Later, she found a needle in the bathroom — and realized that Weinstein had injected himself in order to get an erection, Hast said.
Later that day, Weinstein invited her to a party. She chose to go. That night, Hast said she stayed on a friend’s floor, rather than return to the hotel where Weinstein knew she was staying.
After that, Hast said that Mann kept her distance from Weinstein. But three years later, while working as a hairdresser, she went to his room at the Peninsula Hotel to cut his hair. According to Hast, Weinstein told her that she “owed him one more time,” and ripped off her jeans and violently raped her again. He forced her to perform oral sex, the D.A. alleged, and ejaculated into her mouth. “The medicine he injected into his penis was particularly vile and unforgettable,” Hast said, adding that he left her on the bathroom floor.
Hast said that Mann is still coming to terms with the trauma she experienced. “The Jessica you will meet today is a much smarter, braver woman than the one who was Harvey Weinstein’s rag doll,” Hast said.
The prosecution is expected to call an expert to testify as to why rape victims might not report their assaults, or might stay on friendly terms with their abuser. To counter that, the defense will ask jurors to summon their “God-given New York City common sense.”
Defense attorney Damon Cheronis went through emails and notes written by Mann over the years. In one note to herself, Cheronis said she referred to Weinstein as her “casual boyfriend.” She also told Weinstein about other boyfriends, and asked to meet up with him. “Thank you for your unfailing support and kindness,” she wrote in one message.
He urged jurors to consider “the other side of the power dynamic.”
“Can you imagine that someone like Harvey Weinstein — people want something from him?” he said. “They want movie roles.”
He said that Mann’s account on the witness stand will be contradicted by the contemporary record of the relationship.
“You are going to be confronted with two realities,” Cheronis said. “The one that they are going to tell you today and the one that happened in real time… What you will have to do is determine, what is the truth?”