NEW YORK — A friend of Jessica Mann, a key accuser in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial, said on the stand Monday that Mann had described the Hollywood producer as her “spiritual soul mate” and that she had never said he had raped her.
The friend, Talita Maia, testified as a witness for the defense in an effort to discredit Mann’s testimony that Weinstein attacked her at a hotel in Manhattan in 2013.
“She would say he is a wonderful person,” Maia said, adding that Mann had a romantic relationship with the producer for years.
Maia’s account appeared to be a serious setback for prosecutors, undermining the credibility of a woman at the heart of the case. Her statements supported Weinstein’s lawyer’s position that Mann was not only friendly with Weinstein after the alleged attacks but that she continued a sexual relationship with him.
Once one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, Weinstein helped reshape the independent film business with such movies as “Shakespeare in Love” and “Pulp Fiction.” His trial is largely seen as a critical moment for the #MeToo movement, the rebuke of decadeslong sexual harassment and abuse by men against women in the workplace.
Weinstein’s lawyers have sought to undermine the characterization prosecutors have portrayed of Mann as a young, naïve woman from a dairy farm in Washington state who Weinstein manipulated and tricked into sexual encounters. The lawyers have suggested that Mann put up with his sexual demands in an effort to advance her career.
Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty in state Supreme Court in Manhattan to five felony charges, including rape, criminal sexual assault, and predatory sexual assault. If convicted on the predatory assault charge, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
Six women have testified Weinstein attacked them, though he faces charges based on the allegations of only two of them: Mann and Miriam Haley, a former production assistant who said he forced oral sex on her at his home in 2006.
The judge, Justice James M. Burke, allowed the other women to testify to allow prosecutors to establish a pattern of behavior, even though their allegations are too old to qualify as crimes under New York state law. The jury of seven men and five women is expected to begin deliberations next week.
More than 90 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct including rape, unwanted touching, and harassment. The producer is also facing sexual assault charges in Los Angeles. He maintains that all the encounters he had with his accusers were consensual.
Mann’s allegations support some of the most serious charges in the case. She accused Weinstein of trapping her at a Doubletree Hotel in Midtown Manhattan and raping her in March 2013, about a month after they met.
Maia told the jury that she met Mann in late 2012 on a movie set. Several months later, Maia said, they met Weinstein at a party in Los Angeles. Neither recognized him, she said.
When Weinstein explained who he was, Maia recounted joking, “That’s why someone is being so nice to you.”
Maia said Mann responded: “No, it’s because he’s so cute.” Maia said Weinstein and Mann then walked off together.
Mann gave Weinstein her number, Maia said.
Maia’s account revealed major inconsistencies in Mann’s testimony. Mann had said that Weinstein lured her and Maia to the Montage Beverly Hills hotel, where the producer invited them to discuss their careers. Then, Mann said, he invited them to his suite, where he forcibly performed oral sex.