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New York's highest court has overturned Harvey Weinstein's rape conviction

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today, the highest court in the state of New York overturned Harvey Weinstein's rape conviction. Now, he is not a free man. He will still serve a sentence for a sex crimes conviction in California. At this point, the former Hollywood mogul has been accused of sexual abuse by nearly a hundred women. But those allegations came from largely outside the court system, and judges today decided that his New York trial had not been fair. New York Times investigative reporter Jodi Kantor broke the allegations against Weinstein back in 2017, alongside her colleague, Megan Twohey. Jodi Kantor joins us now to discuss the latest. Welcome back to the program.

JODI KANTOR: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So you wrote that this reversal may seem shocking to a lot of people, but it isn't surprising. Explain why.

KANTOR: Look, if you took the number of women who have shocking, horrifying stories about Harvey Weinstein, they could fill an entire courtroom on their own, but very few of them were eligible to stand in the center of a New York trial. So the charges were really about two women's stories, and they were complicated because both of those women admitted to also having had consensual sex with Weinstein. So prosecutors chose to go ahead, but this case has been challenged for years. Megan and I have watched as appeals court judges in New York - many of them female - have really wrestled with the question of whether or not this trial was fair because some of the forms of evidence that were used were a little controversial.

CHANG: For example, there was testimony from women who were not directly involved in the specific events that led to the specific charges in this case, right?

KANTOR: Exactly. So outside of the courtroom, when we look at the Harvey Weinstein story, hearing the testimony from these layers of women, one story echoing the next, is so important because these stories reinforce one another. They show that there's a pattern. However, that's a hard thing to bring into criminal court because, of course, there's this universal principle in a criminal trial that the evidence is only supposed to pertain to the charges at hand. You're not supposed to talk about something different that the defendant did, say, 10 years ago.

CHANG: Right.

KANTOR: And so Harvey Weinstein and his attorneys had an argument that there was all sorts of evidence that shouldn't have been there in the first place.

CHANG: Well, now that these appeals have taken place, years after the 2020 conviction, it's important to note that this case is not over, right? Like, what comes next?

KANTOR: So the case is not over in two senses. Prosecutors have a very unattractive set of options here. On the one hand, they can walk away, which I think a lot of people would not be pleased with. But on the other hand, if they retry this case - I mean, it already failed. So what are their chances? Also, remember that Harvey Weinstein was also convicted in LA, and his attorneys there are about to file their appeal, and that appeal will echo many of the same issues as the New York one.

CHANG: Let me ask you, Jodi, if this legal strategy of calling witnesses to prove a pattern of predatory behavior - if that legal strategy is impermissible in such a high-profile case, literally the case that launched #MeToo, what do you think the implications are for future prosecutions of serial abusers?

KANTOR: This is being worked out all over the system, and even though it might not look like it, it's actually a sign of change. The change that's happening is that prosecutors, who, as you know, can be very risk averse, are bringing the kinds of cases that they never would have brought in the past. They're testing the boundaries, and that means that sometimes what they do gets rejected.

CHANG: Sure. Well, Weinstein's lawyer applauded the court for, quote, "upholding the most basic principles that a criminal defendant should have in a trial." But what have women who have been accusing Weinstein been saying about this new development?

KANTOR: So when I got the news this morning, the first person I called was Ashley Judd, who is the first actress to have come forward about Weinstein. And she said that it was hurtful, and she said that it was disappointing. But she also said, I know what really happened. So I think she and other Weinstein victims have been pretty firm in their beliefs and their conclusions.

But I'll tell you something else. Some of the most fascinating reactions this morning are actually in the opinion itself. This was an incredibly narrow decision. One vote among seven judges decided the case. And the dissents were pained, and they were fiery. The judges who disagreed with this decision said things like, you're being naive. You don't understand the reality of sex crimes prosecutions. You're failing to see what really happened here. This was a real debate among judges.

CHANG: That is New York Times investigative reporter Jodi Kantor. She and her colleague, Megan Twohey, detail their investigation in the book "She Said." Thank you so much for joining us today, Jodi.

KANTOR: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.