Harvey Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison after addressing his accusers in court

Harvey Weinstein will be heading to prison after his sentencing hearing. The question before the judge is for how long. Harvey Weinstein, former co-chairman of the Weinstein Co., arrives at state supreme court in New York on Jan. 23, 2020. By Eric Levenson, Lauren del Valle and Sonia Moghe, CNN

(CNN) -- Harvey Weinstein was sentenced Wednesday in a New York courtroom to 23 years in prison, the culmination of a case that fueled the global #MeToo movement and encouraged women to speak out against sexual abuse.

"I really feel remorse for this situation," the former Hollywood producer said, his voice barely audible, as he addressed the court before the sentence was handed down. "I feel it deeply in my heart. I will spend my time really caring and really trying to be a better person."

"I'm not going to say these aren't great people, I had wonderful times with these people, you know," Weinstein said of his accusers. "It is just I'm totally confused and I think men are confused about all of these issues."

Weinstein, 67, arrived at his sentencing hearing in a wheelchair and in handcuffs. He had faced between five and 29 years in prison for last month's convictions on first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape.

Judge James Burke sentenced him to 20 years in prison for criminal sexual act and three years in prison for rape. The sentences will run consecutively and both come with five years of supervision after release, and Weinstein must register as a sex offender.

"This is a first conviction, but it is not a first offense," Burke said.

Weinstein wore a blank face as he was taken out of the courtroom. His accusers cried together in the front row.

Afterward, prosecutors and leaders of the #MeToo movement praised the lengthy sentence. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said it "puts sexual predators and abusive partners in all segments of society on notice."

Weinstein's defense attorneys had asked that he be sentenced to five years in prison and argued that, given his frail health, anything longer would constitute a de facto life sentence.

Defense Donna Rotunno lambasted the 23-year punishment as "obscene," "obnoxious" and "cowardly," and she argued that Weinstein did not get a fair trial.

"There are murderers who will get out of court faster than Harvey Weinstein will. "That (23-year) number spoke to the pressure of movements in the public. That number did not speak to the evidence that came out of trial," she said.

The charges were based on testimony by Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann, who both spoke at the sentencing. Haley testified that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006 at his Manhattan apartment, and Mann testified that he raped her in 2013 during what she described as an abusive relationship.

"If Harvey Weinstein had not been convicted by this jury, it would have happened again and again and again," Haley told the court Wednesday. "I'm relieved he will now know he's not above the law. I'm relieved there are women out there who are safer because he's not out there."

Weinstein also faces felony charges of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint in Los Angeles. Prosecutors say he raped one woman and sexually assaulted another in separate incidents over a two-day period in February 2013.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office has begun the process of extraditing him to California to face those charges, the agency said in a tweet. No arraignment has been set.

Weinstein's statement came as a surprise

Weinstein's comments in court were unexpected.

In general, defendants planning to appeal a guilty verdict or who face other charges do not speak at sentencing because what they say can be used against them, according to Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney who has worked in criminal defense.

Weinstein, who did not testify during the trial, spoke without prepared remarks for about 20 minutes, continuing even as defense attorney Arthur Aidala repeatedly and quietly asked him to stop talking. At one point, his attorneys asked for a pause and conferred with him; when he began speaking again, he said he'd lost his train of thought.

Weinstein said he believed the relationships with women who spoke out against him were consensual, mentioning Mann. "I really, really was under that impression that I had that kind of relationship, five years with Jessica," he said.

He lamented how the allegations had impacted his personal life.

"The thing for me is I have not seen my three older children since the newspaper, since the New Yorker article came out," he said, referring to the October 2017 story about his history of alleged sexual abuse. "I have not seen them. I just have no idea what they are doing, and I'm in no communication with them. That for me is hell on Earth."

Weinstein said he's worried about this country and people's rights to due process. He also told the judge that he wanted to testify during the trial but his attorneys warned him that it would hurt his case.

Outside court, Rotunno said Weinstein feels "terrible" and is "confused" about the sentence, adding that she supported his decision to speak in court.

"I'm happy that Harvey spoke. Harvey has been silent for years. I think Harvey could have said anything today and it wouldn't have mattered," Rotunno said. "From Harvey's perspective, Harvey needed to do that, and I'm glad that he was able to do so."

Haley, Mann and the four other women who testified against Weinstein at his trial -- actress Annabella Sciorra and three "prior bad acts" witnesses -- arrived to court with prosecutors and sat in the front row. Actress Rosie Perez, who testified in support of Sciorra's claims, walked in with them and sat in the second row.

Weinstein was acquitted of two more serious charges of predatory sexual assault, which could have come with a life sentence.

He has been in state custody since the verdict and has had several health issues. He had a heart procedure last week during which doctors inserted a stent, and on Sunday he fell while at Rikers Island jail, his publicist Juda Engelmayer told CNN.

Victims describe how Weinstein changed their lives

In court before the sentence was delivered, Haley broke down crying as she described during her victim impact statement being assaulted by Weinstein.

"I believe that when he attacked me that evening with physical force, with no regard for my cries and protests, it scarred me deeply -- mentally and emotionally," Haley said.

Haley said the past two years have been excruciating, filled with paranoia and daily fear of retaliation. And while testifying against Weinstein was difficult, it did help Haley process what had happened to her, she said.

Haley felt Weinstein showed a lack of remorse or acknowledgment for his crimes, she said, and she asked the judge to consider a sentence "long enough for Harvey Weinstein to acknowledge what he has done."

Mann minutes later asked Burke to impose the maximum sentence for rape in the third degree, with sentences served concurrently.

Mann wants the "gift" of knowing exactly where Weinstein is at all times, she said, adding she hopes he'll be rehabilitated in prison.

"Twelve people found Harvey unanimously guilty of raping me. That is not an easy task," she said.

Mann also referenced drug charges that she said carry longer sentence recommendations than third-degree rape.

"How am I not worth more than cocaine?" she said.

Weinstein has denied all allegations of "nonconsensual sexual activity" related to the New York case and other claims made against him.

Defense asked for 5 years in prison

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon referenced the submitted sentencing memo that she said detail additional accounts of victims of Weinstein's abuse and show his lack of human empathy, selfishness and a life rooted in criminality. One assistant told prosecutors Weinstein threatened to kill her and her entire family, Illuzzi-Orbon said.

The prosecutor also described the glamorous lifestyle Weinstein lived as a giant of the movie industry.

"He got drunk on the power," Illuzzi-Orbon said. "Young struggling dreamers were not real people to him."

Illuzzi-Orbon read a profile of Weinstein given to hotel employees in which they were cautioned, "Do not go near the car. Do not speak at him. Do not look at him. Stay away."

Illuzzi-Orbon also noted Weinstein's significant legal representation, saying she thought his defense team made every reasonable argument it should have and could have made on his behalf.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office argued in an 11-page court filing last week that Weinstein should receive a sentence that "reflects the seriousness of defendant's offenses." He led a "lifetime of abuse towards others, sexual and otherwise," prosecutors argued, and they highlighted three dozen uncharged incidents and accusations.

"Starting in the 1970s, he has trapped women into his exclusive control and assaulted or attempted to assault them," Illuzzi-Orbon wrote in a letter.

Weinstein's defense attorneys wrote in a sentencing letter that their client's personal charitable giving, advanced age, medical issues and lack of a criminal history should lead to a lower sentence. They wrote that his life "has been destroyed" since the article in The New Yorker that alleged systemic abuse of women in the entertainment industry.

"His wife divorced him, he was fired from The Weinstein Company, and in short, he lost everything," the attorneys wrote.

The attorneys also cited the "collateral consequences" he continues to face.

"Mr. Weinstein cannot walk outside without being heckled, he has lost his means to earn a living, simply put, his fall from grace has been historic, perhaps unmatched in the age of social media," according to the letter signed by attorneys Damon Cheronis, Rotunno and Aidala.

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