Harvey Weinstein Criminal Case: Alleged Withheld Evidence puts case in jeopardy
Prosecutors face a new hurdle thanks to an allegedly withholding N.Y.P.D. detective, legal experts assess the future of the case against the disgraced mogul.
Prosecutors in the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault case hit a major stumbling block this week, when they acknowledged that the New York Police Department’s lead detective in the case had withheld important evidence that could be favorable to the disgraced producer.
The revelation, which led the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to drop one of the six sex-crime charges against Weinstein, could imperil the broader indictment against him, with five other counts involving two other women.
On Thursday, Judge James Burke granted a motion to dismiss the count involving allegations by Lucia Evans, a marketing executive who had testified to a grand jury that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 during a casting meeting in his office.
In a letter unsealed Thursday, prosecutors revealed that one of Evans’s friends had told a different version of the story to an N.Y.P.D. detective in February, and said Evans told the friend she willingly performed oral sex on Weinstein in exchange for the promise of an acting job—information the detective did not pass along to prosecutors. (Evans disputes the friend’s account.)
“Now they are questioning [Evans’s] credibility, and the credibility of the detective who was investigating the case,” said New York criminal-defense attorney Julie Rendelman, a former prosecutor. “When you’re the D.A., you’d better be dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s. You don’t want something like this coming.”
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon did not push back at Weinstein attorney Benjamin Brafman’s motion to have Evans’s count dismissed, but did stand by the other five counts. “We are moving full steam ahead,” Illuzzi-Orbon said at Thursday’s hearing.
A major problem for prosecutors centers on the role the detective, Nicholas DiGaudio, may have played in the case. “I would move to dismiss the entire indictment because there may have been a taint of the entire case based on an officer who attempted to tilt the case,” said U.C.L.A. School of Law professor Peter Johnson, a criminal-defense attorney. “The integrity of the judicial system is at risk.” DiGaudio, whom the N.Y.P.D. says it has removed from the case, did not return a call for comment.
The failed communication between the N.Y.P.D. and the District Attorney’s office may point to a larger problem that reaches back to a case against Weinstein that District Attorney Cyrus Vance declined to prosecute in 2015, after Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez accused Weinstein of groping her and provided a recording of him admitting to and apologizing for the behavior.
Vance’s failure to prosecute Weinstein at the time angered the police who investigated the case, and earlier this year inspired New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to order a review of Vance’s decision.
“If the N.Y.P.D. has exculpatory information [about Weinstein], they’re obligated to tell the D.A.’s office,” Rendelman said. “The fact that they’re not indicates there’s a detective not doing his job, or that there’s something systemic in the N.Y.P.D. and the D.A.’s office not being able to work together.”
Sexual assault is notoriously hard to prosecute under the best circumstances. In the post-#MeToo era, the attorneys on both sides of the Weinstein case are treading on new terrain.
“We’re in a different arena than we were 10 years ago,” said University of Pennsylvania professor and Child USA C.E.O. Marci Hamilton. “[As prosecutors], the public and the politics are on your side now. . . . You can find juries that will convict.”
Evans’s attorney, Carrie Goldberg, expressed frustration that her client’s case had been dropped, telling the Associated Press Thursday, “Let me be clear: the decision to throw away my client’s sexual assault charges says nothing about Weinstein’s guilt or innocence.
Nor does it reflect on Lucia’s consistent allegation that she was sexually assaulted with force by Harvey Weinstein. It only speaks volumes about the Manhattan D.A.’s office and its mishandling of my client’s case.”
Weinstein maintains that he has not committed any of the crimes for which he is being tried. Brafman said Thursday that he intends to seek a full dismissal of the entire indictment, alleging that Evans’s testimony “contaminated the grand jury proceedings.”
As the case progresses, both sides are no doubt taking into account the recent Bill Cosby guilty verdict. Hamilton pointed out that in Andrea Constand’s sexual assault case against the comedian, his defense team’s strategy of attacking Constand’s credibility and shaming her supporting witnesses backfired.
“I’d be very careful if I were the attorney for the defense,” Hamilton said. “The histrionics on the side of the Cosby defense didn’t help him in the end.”
Source: Vanity Fair