Weinstein gets 23-year jail sentence

Brendan Pierson and Karen Freifeld
Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years behind bars for sexual assault and rape

Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual assault and rape after giving a rambling court statement sympathising with men accused of sexual misconduct during the #MeToo era.

The sentence was handed down in Manhattan criminal court by Justice James Burke, with Weinstein's lawyer Donna Rotunno afterward denouncing the prison term as "obscene" and "cowardly".

She also said the judge and jury "caved" under the pressure of the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment.

A jury on February 24 found Weinstein - once one of Hollywood's most influential men - guilty of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping former aspiring actress Jessica Mann.

The length of the sentence means Weinstein may spend the rest of his life incarcerated, considering he is 67 and has health issues.

The two women spoke of the trauma they endured since Weinstein attacked them, with Haleyi saying, "It scarred me deeply, mentally and emotionally, perhaps irreparably, perhaps forever."

Mann added, "I am forced to carry that experience until I die."

Addressing the court from a wheelchair behind the defence table, Weinstein said, "I'm totally confused."

Prosecutors portrayed Weinstein as a serial predator who had manipulated women with promises of career advancement in Hollywood, coaxing them to hotel rooms or apartments then overpowering and violently attacking them.

"The young struggling dreamers were not even people to him. He could take what he wanted knowing there was very little anyone could do about it," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi told the court.

Weinstein said he was worried about the "thousands of men who are losing due process" during the #MeToo movement just as people in the past had their careers destroyed when they were accused of being communists.

"I feel remorse for all of the men who are going through this fight," Weinstein said.

More than 100 women, including famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct stretching back decades.

Weinstein said that any sex was consensual.

Haleyi began to cry as she talked about coming forward to testify. During the trial, she testified that Weinstein invited her to his home, backed her into a bedroom and forced oral sex on her in 2006.

"I showed up not as a perfect victim, but as a human being," she said.

Weinstein said he had worked too hard and put too much pressure on himself. "I'm really trying to be a better person," he said.

Weinstein faces separate sexual assault charges in Los Angeles, where the local district attorney said he had started extradition proceedings.

A spokesman for Weinstein, Juda Engelmayer, said the defence expects to file an appeal in July.

Defence lawyer Rotunno said there are murderers who will go free sooner than Weinstein will. "I am overcome with anger at that number," Rotunno said of the 23-year sentence.

After sentencing, Weinstein was sent back to New York's Rikers Island jail, where he was moved last Thursday following a 10-day hospital stay at Bellevue Hospital where he underwent a procedure to clear a heart blockage.

Mann testified during the trial that Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013. Mann called Weinstein a "Jekyll and Hyde" character, charming in public but prone to rage when they were alone.

"I want to remind you I told Harvey, 'no,'" she told the court.

"He's baffled at finally being held accountable," she said.

The jury acquitted Weinstein on the most serious charges, a single count of first-degree rape as well as two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence.