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Inmate No. 06581138Z: What awaits Harvey Weinstein behind bars

It could be months before Weinstein arrives at a cramped prison cell; if he is housed first at the Rikers Island medical unit, he will have a double-sized, private cell with his own TV, shower and bathroom

By Alan Feuer and Jan Ransom
Published: Feb 27, 2020

Inmate No. 06581138Z: What awaits Harvey Weinstein behind barsHarvey Weinstein arrives at State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Monday morning, Feb. 24, 2020. A day after a judge ordered him jailed for his conviction on two felony sex counts, Weinstein was still being held in a prison ward at a hospital after complaining of chest pains but once he is released, Weinstein is not likely to be housed with the general population at Rikers Island, instead, he may be sent to a special medical facility where inmates who need extra protection are jailed, at least until his sentencing next month
Image: Sarah Blesener/The New York Times

NEW YORK — A day after a judge ordered him jailed for his conviction on two felony sex counts, Harvey Weinstein was still being held in a prison ward at a hospital after complaining of chest pains.

Once he is released from that prison ward at Bellevue Hospital Center, Weinstein is not likely to be housed with the general population at Rikers Island. Instead, it’s expected that the Department of Correction will grant his lawyers’ request that he be sent to a special medical facility where inmates who need extra protection are jailed, at least until his sentencing next month.

Rikers Island would be only the first stop for Weinstein — now listed as inmate No. 06581138Z — in what is expected to be a long journey through the New York penal system.

It is also likely to be an arduous process that could last months until he finally arrives at a cramped state prison cell upstate.

On his travels through the criminal justice system, Weinstein will be advised by a prison consultant he hired two weeks ago, and once he reaches his final destination it will complete a precipitous fall for the award-winning producer, who once lived a life of luxury in Manhattan and ruled the red carpets at the Oscars and Cannes with films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

If he is housed at the medical unit at Rikers after his stay at the hospital, Weinstein — who, friends have said, is terrified of being behind bars — will have a double-sized, private cell, a former city jail official said, with his own television, shower and bathroom and possibly a private pay phone, too.

“It’s like a little hotel, like your own little apartment,” the former official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect future employment. “You have everything you need. It’s very isolated. It’s a way to guarantee his safety.”

After his conviction on Monday, Weinstein’s lawyer asked the trial judge to recommend Weinstein be sent to the special facility, known as North Infirmary Command, and the judge said he had no objection, saying the decision was up to jail officials. But he expected Weinstein to be held in “something close to protective custody.”

The city corrections department on Tuesday declined to say where Weinstein would be housed or why he was still being held at Bellevue.

Martin Horn, a former commissioner of the city’s Department of Correction, said that the North Infirmary Command was not “luxurious” but was not “draconian” either. It contains about 10 cells as opposed to the nearly 30 on a typical Rikers cell block. The facility was built in 1932 as a hospital for inmates and once housed people with acute conditions like tuberculosis.

Horn said it was not unusual that corrections officials would house Weinstein in such a secluded setting for his protection inside a jail complex known for violence. The unit houses inmates — including celebrities, transgender people and rape victims, and there is a space reserved solely for police officers — who might be a safety risk if placed in general population, according to two people with knowledge of the facility.

“We have an obligation to protect every prisoner irrespective of what they did and who they are,” Horn said.

On Tuesday afternoon, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, Arthur Aidala, went to visit him at Bellevue, telling reporters that the former film producer “looked like he was in good shape.”

“He is somewhat flabbergasted by the verdict,” Aidala said, adding that Weinstein wanted to continue to fight the charges.

Aidala and his partners on the defense team are working along two separate lines of legal attacks. Their primary goal is to get him out of jail on bail before he is sentenced at a hearing scheduled for March 11 in front of Justice James M. Burke. At the same time, they are marshaling arguments for a broad appeal they hope will overturn his conviction.

During the trial and at the hearings leading up to it, the defense objected strongly to several rulings by Burke and called for a mistrial more than once, laying the groundwork for an appeal. Among other things, they complained the judge was biased, the prosecutors withheld evidence and one of the jurors was not objective.

Danny Frost, a spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment.

During jury selection, the lawyers accused Burke of bias after he suggested that Weinstein might end up in prison for the rest of his life for repeatedly violating an order not to use his cellphone in the courtroom. Later, they sought to derail the trial after a prosecutor in her opening statement called Weinstein a “predatory monster.”

Weinstein’s lawyers also argued twice that the trial should not be held in New York City, noting that a “carnivallike atmosphere” and a tidal wave of negative publicity about their client made it impossible for him to get a fair jury in the country’s media capital. They also objected to the judge’s decision to seat on the jury a novelist who had recently written a book about sexual predators.

The defense also asked for the trial, held in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, to be delayed a week in early January after Weinstein was indicted in Los Angeles on charges of rape and sexual assault.

His lawyers argued a weeklong “cooling off period” was needed because the California charges, widely covered by the media, had prejudiced the panelists. Burke denied the request.

“I’ve never seen a case that was so high profile where on the day jury selection was about to commence, the exact same charges were levied in another jurisdiction,” said Joseph Tacopina, a Manhattan defense lawyer. “It was on the front pages of all the papers. Everyone must have seen it.”

Speaking to reporters after the conviction on Monday, Aidala mentioned another possible avenue for appeal: the verdict sheet given to jurors.

The sheet laid out each of the five charges that Weinstein faced. The jurors were told that they could find Weinstein guilty of two out of the three lower charges in the case — one of two counts of rape and one count of criminal sexual assault — without finding him guilty of the two most serious charges, of predatory sexual assault. But to convict on the charges required determining there were also attacks on the women individually named in the lower charges.

“So many people have looked at the verdict sheet and said, ‘What exactly does this mean?’” Aidala said. “It was so convoluted, it was difficult for veteran lawyers to follow.”

But perhaps the defense’s biggest objection in the case was over Burke’s decision to allow three women to testify about sexual assaults that were not in the indictment. That decision is likely to be part of an appeal.

The accounts of these three witnesses — Dawn Dunning, Tarale Wulff and Lauren Young — were too old to lead to separate charges or happened in other jurisdictions. But the judge allowed them to be used to bolster the prosecution’s contention that Weinstein had engaged in a pattern of abusive behavior.

“This sort of evidence can tip the scale,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. “While the trial judge may have cautioned the jury not to use the testimony to draw conclusions about Weinstein’s character, the jury may find it hard to understand that instruction.”

Gillers said appeals courts generally defer to the decisions of a trial judge and often assume that jurors will follow the instructions they have been given.

But Aidala raised another question about the three additional witnesses. He noted that Burke made the highly unusual legal decision to let the prosecution call more witnesses to back their stories up, essentially corroborating the accounts of the corroborating witnesses.

“It was almost like a trial within a trial,” he said, “which is not supposed to happen.”

©2019 New York Times News Service