The defense rested its case Tuesday in Harvey Weinstein's rape trial without the disgraced Hollywood mogul taking the witness stand, setting the stage for closing arguments in a landmark #MeToo trial punctuated by graphic testimony from six accusers.
As expected, Weinstein chose not to testify, avoiding the risk of having prosecutors grill him on cross-examination about the vile allegations. He confirmed the decision after returning to the courtroom from meeting with his lawyers behind closed doors for about a half-hour as speculation swirled that he was pushing to testify.
Asked as he left court if he was thinking of testifying, Weinstein said: "I wanted to."
Defense lawyer Arthur Aidala added that Weinstein "was ready, willing, able and actually quite anxious to testify and clear his name" but didn't do so because his lawyers felt prosecutors "failed miserably" to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jurors are expected to hear the defense's closing argument Thursday, followed by the prosecution's closing Friday. Jury deliberations are slated to start Tuesday. Court is closed Wednesday and again on Monday for holidays.
By not testifying, Weinstein followed the example of defendants in other high-profile sex crimes cases. They include Bill Cosby, who didn't take the witness stand either time he was tried for drugging and molesting a woman at his suburban Philadelphia home. After a mistrial in 2017, a second trial resulted in the comedian's conviction.
Weinstein, 67, is charged with forcibly performing oral sex on Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping a different woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013. Other accusers were called as witnesses as part of a prosecution effort to show he has used the same tactics to victimize many women over the years.
Weinstein has maintained any sexual encounters were consensual.
The Associated Press has a policy of not publishing the names of people who allege sexual assault without their consent. It is withholding the name of the woman accusing Weinstein of raping her in 2013 because it isn't clear if she wishes to be identified publicly.
After the jury left for the day, Weinstein's lawyers sparred with prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon over her plan to mention in her closing argument that his physical appearance has changed significantly since the time of the alleged assaults.
Weinstein has hobbled into court each day with a walker, parking the device behind the defense table. His lawyers say it's needed because of recent back surgery, but Illuzzi said it seemed more like a prop put there to sway jurors' sympathies.
"It is not a prop! Enough!" Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis said.
"You can scream all you like," Illuzzi said. "They did not have to have the walker back there."
After more bickering, Judge James Burke said it was fine for Illuzzi to mention Weinstein's physical changes, but warned: "Leave the walker out of it."
The defense case mainly relied on the testimony of three witnesses that Weinstein's lawyers used to try to cast doubt on the accounts on two of the accusers.
Talita Maia, a former roommate of the woman Weinstein is charged with raping, told the jury the woman never gave any indication that he victimized her — in fact, she said, the woman spoke highly of him and once called him her "spiritual soulmate."
"She seemed to really like him as a person," Maia said. "She would only compliment him."
Maia also gave a breezy description of how the then-aspiring actress and Weinstein first met at a Hollywood party a few months before the alleged rape. She said when the women figured out he was an industry big shot, she jokingly told him "that's why everyone is being so nice to you."
Her roommate, she added, went even further. She testified that the woman put her arm around Weinstein, pinched his cheeks and said: "No, it's because he is so cute."
Another friend of the woman testified Tuesday that she seemed like "her everyday self" when they met up for breakfast with Weinstein just a short time after she alleges he assaulted her.
Thomas Richards, a Hollywood talent agent, testified Wednesday the woman was friendly toward Weinstein during the breakfast and didn't say or do anything to indicate she'd just been raped.
The third witness, Mexican model and actress Claudia Salinas, repudiated the testimony of Lauren Marie Young, one of the women called by the prosecution to bolster the allegations of Weinstein's main accusers.
Asked about Young's claims that she stood by and did nothing while Weinstein groped her at a Beverly Hills hotel in 2013, Salinas responded that it "never happened."
Young had testified that Salinas closed the door behind her and Weinstein as they went into the bathroom, where she alleges he stripped off his clothes, grabbed her breast and masturbated. Once it was over, Young said she found Salinas standing outside the bathroom and shot her an evil look before leaving as quickly as she could.
"If I had done that, I would remember that," Salinas testified. "I would never close the door on anybody."
Actor Jussie Smollett was indicted Tuesday for a second time on charges of lying to police about a racist and anti-gay attack he allegedly staged on himself in downtown Chicago, renewing a divisive criminal case that drew worldwide attention last year.
The indictment came from a special prosecutor who was appointed after Cook County prosecutors dropped the same charges last March.
The new charges were sure to reignite many of the tensions that surrounded Smollett a year ago. When his claims first emerged, he drew a groundswell of support from fans and celebrities and gave an emotional television interview about the attack.
The case came to reflect the polarized state of political discourse in America. Many Democrats initially called it a shocking instance of Trump-era racism and hate, while Republicans depicted it as yet another example of liberals rushing to judgment and disparaging the president's supporters as bigots.
Special prosecutor Dan Webb said in a statement that Smollett faces six felony counts of disorderly conduct, charges that stem from four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he contended he was a victim of a hate crime "knowing that he was not the victim of a crime."
The statement immediately raised questions about county prosecutors' decision to drop the charges and made it clear that those prosecutors had not adequately explained to special prosecutors why they did so. But Webb stressed that he had reached no conclusions about whether anyone involved in the case had engaged in any wrongdoing.
Smollett, who is black and gay, was originally charged with disorderly conduct in February 2019 for allegedly staging the attack and lying about it to investigators. The allegations were dropped the following month with little explanation, angering police officials and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Tina Glandian, Smollett's attorney, questioned Webb's decision to file new charges.
The indictment "raises serious questions about the integrity of the investigation that led to the renewed charges" Glandian said, citing the use of the same detectives who were part of the original investigation into the attack to conduct the latest probe, despite Smollett's pending civil claims against the city and police officers for malicious prosecution.
He is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on Feb. 24.
Smollett told police he was walking home early on Jan. 29, 2019, when two masked men approached him, made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He said his assailants, at least one of whom he described as white, told him he was in "MAGA country" — a reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."
Several weeks later, authorities alleged that Smollett had paid two black friends $3,500 to help him stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary as an actor on "Empire," a Fox series about that follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry. Smollett was accused of using the scheme to drum up publicity for his career.
A judge in August appointed Webb, a former U.S. attorney, to look into why the original charges were dropped. Webb also was investigating whether phone calls that Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx had with a Smollett relative and a former aide of former first lady Michelle Obama unduly influenced the decision to drop charges. Foxx recused herself from the case but continued to weigh in.
At the time, Judge Michael Toomin, who assigned the case to Webb, raised the possibility that Smollett could be charged again. According to the judge and attorneys, double jeopardy does not apply because Smollett was never prosecuted.
In his news release, Webb said he concluded that prosecuting Smollett was "in the interest of justice" for a number of reasons, including the extensive details of Smollett's false account as well as the resources that the police department threw at the investigation.
When the first indictment against Smollett was returned, Webb wrote, the state's attorney's office had concluded that the evidence in the case was "strong." But the office failed to offer any new evidence to explain why authorities dropped the charges just a few weeks later, Webb said.
Further, Webb took issue with an assertion in a news release issued when the charges were dropped that Smollett had not received special treatment and that the case was resolved "under the same criteria that would be available for any defendant with similar circumstances." Webb asked for but never received any examples of other such cases, he wrote.
The city has sued Smollett, seeking reimbursement of more than $130,000 for overtime paid to officers who were involved in investigating Smollett's report. Smollett's attorneys have said the city should not be allowed to recover costs from Smollett because it accepted $10,000 from the actor "as payment in full in connection with the dismissal of the charges against him."
It was not immediately clear what sentence Smollett faces if convicted. When he was originally charged with disorderly conduct, it was reported that he could be placed on probation or sent to prison for one to three years per count.
Smollett's case has become an issue in Foxx's bid for a second term. Those looking to unseat the first black woman to hold the county's highest law enforcement position, have blasted her handling of the matter as haphazard and indecisive. They say it indicates she has bad judgment and favors the rich and powerful in deciding who will be prosecuted.
Foxx's campaign committee issued a biting statement Tuesday referring to former FBI Director James Comey's decision to briefly reopen an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's email shortly before the presidential election in 2016 that Donald Trump would win.
"What's questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision"…which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive," the statement from Friends for Foxx said.
Smollett's attorney also raised political implications.
The attempt to re-prosecute Smollett "on the eve of the Cook County State's Attorney election is clearly all about politics not justice," she said.
Smollett, 37, has not had any notable film or television roles announced since his departure from the TV series was made public in April 2019. Producers have the option to bring him back during the sixth and final season but have said they have no plans to do so.
"Empire" has 10 episodes left. It is scheduled to return March 3.
American songwriter Diane Warren and Russian soprano Anna Netrebko are the winners of this year's Polar Music Prizes, the Swedish award often described as the Nobel Prizes of music.
The judging panel for the 2020 prizes announced Tuesday called Warren "a master of writing for the human voice" and said her songs "embody the rare combination of being catchy and yet complex enough to be heard hundreds of times"
"Diane Warren is the reigning Queen of the American popular song," it added in its citation.
Warren who has written songs for multiple singers, as well as for several films has "perfected the art of the power ballad. "As a singer, to be given a Diane Warren song, is a gift."
The Polar Music Prize panel paid tribute to Netrebko as "a larger-than-life singer who keeps the classics alive, sells out every performance and also catches the attention of audiences new to opera."
"When Anna Netrebko performs, it's impossible to look away," they wrote.
Previous laureates include Sting, Patti Smith, Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell, bands including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Metallica, and conductors Pierre Boulez and Mstislav Rostropovich.
Receiving the award "is a big honor," Netrebko said in a statement issued by the panel. Warren added that finding herself among past recipients and being in "that company is mind-blowing."
The winners will each receive a cash prize of 1 million kronor ($103,520). The award ceremony is in Stockholm on June 9.
The Polar Music Prizes typically recognize one classical artist and one contemporary musician each year. The awards were founded in 1989 by the late Stig Anderson, manager of Swedish pop group ABBA, have been handed out since 1992.
Bangladeshi progressive rock artist Avishek Bhattacharjee’s Tagore-tribute solo track ‘Aha, Tomar Songe Praner Khela,’ will be released on Wednesday.
An unconventional blending of traditional Tagore-song and progressive rock fusion, the song is scheduled to be released on both YouTube and Facebook. Avishek has arranged and mastered the song.
A trained graduate of Rabindra Sangeet from Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyayatan, Avishek is also releasing his first solo album this year.
Since the age of 8, Avishek mastered the art of classical music, inherited and learned directly from his mother. Born and raised in a music-centric atmosphere, Avishek acquired the ability to play a total of 18 musical instruments, just within the age of 24.
He is currently leading his own musical troop ‘The Avishek Bhattacharjee Project’ where he works on the traditional Bengali music.
At rehearsal for the Paraiso de Tuiuti samba school, a dancer poses for photos with admiring onlookers while wearing the bright yellow uniform and sky-high heels of the school's elite passista samba dancers.
Paraiso de Tuiuti has been a cradle of Carnival culture for people in the working-class area near downtown Rio de Janeiro for over 60 years. But the dancer herself is an import. Jessica Hahn-Chaplin hails from Bristol, England.
Hahn-Chaplin, 31, is part of the movement of foreigners who come to Brazil to train in the ways of hip swiveling and hot stepping. They're spending months at the samba schools that during Rio's world-famous Carnival will dance for more than an hour through Rio's 700-meter (2,300-foot) Sambadrome, delighting 70,000 spectators plus tens of millions of television viewers at home.
After the parade, the outsiders return to their home countries and spread their samba fever.
During classes, casually dressed students can be seen brushing their feet in a quick succession of steps, their hips swinging to the right and left while keeping their heads and shoulders as still as possible. On the floor before each of them lies a thin foam cylinder, which they must avoid touching with each swift step as their instructor calls out the tempo.
These are no beginners classes. All foreign applicants have passed a selective exam to join this advanced-level course and train alongside Brazilians who have danced samba since childhood. The course is free. But leaving their jobs for months at a time is not. It's a proof of their commitment to samba.
Once a week, they join the entire Paraiso de Tuiuti rehearsal on the street leading up to the school. Passistas and percussionists, all decked out in yellow costumes, temporarily turn the dark avenue into a mini-Sambadrome.
"It was very intimidating," Hahn-Chaplin said of dancing as a foreigner in front of several hundred people at the rehearsal. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the mark."
Unlike dances like salsa and tango from other Latin American countries, samba has largely remained within Brazil's borders. Hahn-Chaplin, a language teacher and dancer instructor, is one of 15 foreigners who converged from four continents to study at the feet -- literally -- of teacher Alex Coutinho. The best dancers join Paraiso de Tuiuti in its official parade, this year scheduled for Feb 23.
Coutinho, 30, said foreign participation increases every year, with dancers returning time and again to learn the latest trends.
"Samba dancers, as with any other profession, need to recycle themselves. Every year, there will be a new thing: a different arm move, a different step," Coutinho said. "They come here, do classes and return to their countries with the skills to pass on to their students. They're propagating our culture."
Hahn-Chaplin, for example, dances samba annually in Bath, England. Sashya Debrito, who runs a samba school and performs shows in Sydney, Australia, said samba down under grows more popular every year.
Another dancer, Rie Tankana, travels all the way from Japan, where she performs at Tokyo's annual Carnival celebration. She found Paraiso de Tuiuti School on Instagram last year and is participating for the first time this year.
"It's happiness in my life, it's healing," said Tanaka, 33, who is a jobs recruiter in Osaka when not flinging her hips from side to side.
A 2019 video of Tanaka in Kobe, Japan, shows her front and center, leading a line of Japanese samba dancers with butterfly wings draped on their arms.