Accusers of Harvey Weinstein want new trial after overturned rape and assault conviction

When Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of two sex crimes in February 2020, the conviction was hailed as a landmark moment in the #MeToo movement.

Now, over four years later, the ruling from the New York Court of Appeals overturning that conviction has sent shockwaves through communities of sexual assault survivors, particularly the more than 100 women who have accused Weinstein of assault and harassment.

“This today is an act of institutional betrayal,” actor and activist Ashley Judd, who was among the first women to publicly accuse Weinstein of sexual harassment, said at an event at the UN for workplace safety. “Our institutions betray survivors of male sexual violence.”

Accusers who spoke with CNN on Thursday echoed Judd’s frustration with the appeals court’s decision. Some expressed gratitude that Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term in a Los Angeles courtroom on similar charges.

“This is a very sad day for countless women who suffered at the hands of a serial predator,” said Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who accused Weinstein of rape and testified in the Los Angeles trial.

“Harvey Weinstein is a serial predator and rapist,” she said. “The bravery of the women who came forward ensures that regardless of what happens in New York, Weinstein will die in prison.”

Weinstein, 72, has maintained his innocence and denied any nonconsensual sexual activity.

He was convicted in 2020 in New York of first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape, and he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. However, the state court of appeals overturned that conviction Thursday and ordered a new trial, stating that the use of “prior bad acts” witnesses should not have been allowed.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said it plans to retry the case. “We will do everything in our power to retry this case, and remain steadfast in our commitment to survivors of sexual assault,” said office spokesperson Emily Tuttle.

Weinstein’s attorney Arthur Aidala said his client will be ready for a retrial “on the first day we walk into that courtroom.”

In addition, last year, in a case out of Los Angeles, Weinstein was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of rape and sexual assault. That case has also been appealed.

Here’s a look at how some of his accusers have reacted to the decision.

‘Disheartening’ and ‘profoundly unjust’

The Silence Breakers, a group of Weinstein accusers, called the news “disheartening” and “profoundly unjust.” The group said when sexual assault survivors broke their silence in 2017, “the world changed,” adding that Weinstein’s ruling “does not diminish the validity of our experiences or our truth; it’s merely a setback.”

Elizabeth Fegan, an attorney who represented several women in the sexual abuse cases brought against Weinstein, including Siebel Newson, said, “Some thought the L.A. case to be superfluous in light of the NY verdict, but now we realize how important it was.”

“The California survivors stepped into the line of fire, putting themselves through enormous emotional pain reliving the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Weinstein,” Fegan said. “They were adamant that regardless of the New York verdict on appeal the prosecutors in California should pursue charges to ensure Weinstein stayed behind bars.”

Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, an activist and model who was one of the first women to accuse Weinstein of wrongdoing, said the ruling was another example of the “ongoing failure of the justice system – and the courts – to take survivors seriously and to protect our interests.” She said she and other survivors expect Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to “pursue Weinstein now.”

In 2015, Gutierrez filed a sexual abuse complaint with the New York Police Department against Weinstein, stating that he groped her during a meeting. The next day, the NYPD’s Special Victims Division asked her to wear a recording device and talk to him again, and in the recording, Weinstein made potentially incriminating comments to Gutierrez, apologizing for touching her breast.

Despite the recording, New York prosecutors cited a lack of evidence in the case and declined to prosecute. Gutierrez later reached an undisclosed settlement with Weinstein.

Dawn Dunning, who testified as a “prior bad acts” witness in Weinstein’s New York trial, said she was “stunned that the court threw out Weinstein’s conviction on legal technicalities.” Still, she said she was proud that she testified and “confronted that convicted rapist.”

“Preparing for the trial took two years of my life. I had to relive the trauma of the assault every day. But since today’s ruling, people have asked me if I regret having testified,” Dunning said. “And my answer is a resounding, ‘No.’

“I came forward to support other women who were also sexually abused by Weinstein and to ensure that he would be held accountable. I had nothing to gain, and much to lose in terms of loss of privacy and the trauma that comes with confronting one’s abuser in court. I am a stronger person for having done so, and I know that other women found strength and courage because I and other Weinstein survivors confronted him publicly. The culture has changed, and I am confident that there is no going back,” she said.

Actress Caitlin Dulany, who accused Weinstein of assaulting her during the Cannes Film Festival in 1996, called for reform in the justice system.

“I am deeply saddened and absolutely devastated by today’s ruling,” Dulany told CNN. “There are so many of us who lived silently with our stories for years, for fear of retribution and with the belief that we could not seek and achieve justice. What Harvey Weinstein did to us affected our lives and careers in ways that we will never recover from. What happened today is a travesty of justice – but I’m not surprised. The justice system is in deep need of reform. This is a terrible setback for survivors everywhere who are brave enough to come forward with the stories of abuse.”

Sarah Ann Masse, an actress and founder of the organization Hire Survivors Hollywood, told CNN, “Regardless of today’s ruling, the truth of what Harvey Weinstein did was never in question. Long before the trials, long before the silence was broken in the press, long before this was international news, those of us who were abused by him knew that this man was a sexual predator. The subsequent court rulings served as a form of justice, an affirmation that we were believed, and a step towards challenging societal beliefs that are built on a foundation of rape culture and victim blaming.”

Masse – who appeared in Universal’s movie “She Said,” which chronicled the journalists who broke the bombshell allegations against Weinstein – added, “Please know that nothing about today’s decision implies or states that Weinstein is innocent.”

Jessica Barth, an actress and activist who founded the organization Voices in Action, said the decision was a step backwards.

“The decision to overturn Harvey Weinstein’s conviction is a tragic step backwards in the fight for justice and accountability for victims of sexual violence and it sets a dangerous precedent concerning sexual assault cases,” she said. “Evidence of prior bad acts in order to prove a pattern of behavior is often allowed in criminal cases and should absolutely be allowed in sexual assault cases.”

Attorneys for accusers criticize ruling

Attorneys Debra S. Katz and Lisa Banks, who represented Dunning, also called on Bragg to retry the case to “ensure that Weinstein receives the punishment that he deserves.”

Miriam “Mimi” Haley, whose testimony made up the first-degree criminal sexual act charge, “would consider testifying again” in a potential retrial, her attorney Gloria Allred said in a statement.

“Even though the process of testifying was grueling and retraumatizing for Mimi, she reaffirmed to me today that she would consider testifying again if (Manhattan) District Attorney Alvin Bragg decided to proceed with a new trial of Harvey Weinstein,” Allred said. “I commend Mimi on her courage and willingness to keep standing up for the truth.”

Years before Weinstein was on trial, Anita Hill became a national figure when she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, testifying against him during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Today, Hill is the chair and president of The Hollywood Commission, which conducted a survey throughout the entertainment industry about sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors.

Reacting to Weinstein’s conviction being overturned, Hill said, “We have seen a lack of progress in addressing the power imbalances that allow abuse to occur and that sexual assault continues to be a pervasive problem. Many survivors do not pursue justice because they believe nothing will be done. Today’s decision underscores the urgent need for systemic changes in our institutions – and redoubles our commitment to survivors to push for the policies and systems that will ensure accountability and bring about workplaces free from the behavior that drives the need for these systems in the first place.”

CNN’s Gloria Pazmino, Jean Casarez and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

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