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Harvey Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison

Judge James Burke ignored the pleas of Weinstein's defence team to give their client the minimum of five years behind bars.

In this file photo taken on 24 January 2020 Harvey Weinstein arrives at the Manhattan Criminal Court for his rape and sexual assault trial in New York City. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK - Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison by a New York judge Wednesday for rape and sexual assault in a landmark case for the #MeToo movement.

Justice James Burke ignored the pleas of Weinstein's defence team to give their client the minimum of five years behind bars, issuing a heavy sentence close to the maximum 29 years allowed.

Earlier, Weinstein told the court he was "totally confused" about what was happening.

"I'm worried about this country," he said, adding that his "empathy" had increased in the three years since accusations against him ignited the #MeToo global reckoning against men abusing positions of power.

The sentencing capped a sensational downfall for the once-powerful 67-year-old, who lost much of his personal fortune estimated at $150 million as he became a pariah in the entertainment industry.

Nearly 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek, have come forward alleging 40 years of vile predatory behavior by the Oscar-winning producer of Shakespeare in Love and numerous other critical and box office hits.

The Silence Breakers - a group of 24 Weinstein accusers that includes Ashley Judd, Lauren Sivan, Rosanna Arquette and Rose McGowan - said in a statement circulated to US entertainment media Weinstein's legacy would always be that he was a convicted rapist.

"He is going to jail - but no amount of jail time will repair the lives he ruined, the careers he destroyed, or the damage he has caused," they said.

Weinstein was brought from the notorious Rikers Island jail into the Manhattan criminal court in a wheelchair shortly before 9:30 am (1330 GMT) to learn his fate.

'NO LONGER HIDING'

He was found guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree on 24 February, in a verdict hailed by the #MeToo movement.

Seven men and five women convicted him of raping ex-actress Jessica Mann in 2013 and of forcibly performing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006.

Mann, 34, and Haleyi, 42, delivered powerful victim impact statements in court.

Haleyi said being attacked by Weinstein had "diminished my confidence and faith in people."

Mann said his conviction had given her the strength to rebuild her life.

"My monsters are no longer hiding in my closet," she told the court.

Weinstein appeared confident during the trial, laughing and smiling for journalists as he shuffled into and out of court every day using a walking frame following back surgery.

The producer - famous for his hard-nosed approach to work and Oscars campaigns - was cleared of the most serious charges of predatory sexual assault, as well as rape in the first degree.

Prosecutors called on Burke to issue a lengthy jail term, saying Weinstein engaged in a "lifetime of abuse" and had shown "a total lack of remorse" for his actions.

In a pre-sentencing letter, the prosecution asked the judge to consider 36 other sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Weinstein dating back to the 1970s that were not part of the trial.

"He got drunk on the power," lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the court.

"He held all cards and played them at his will," she added.

Weinstein's team suggested Burke should take into account the achievements of a man whose films received more than 300 Oscar nominations and 81 statuettes.

"His life story, his accomplishments, and struggles are simply remarkable and should not be disregarded in total because of the jury's verdict," the lawyers wrote in a pre-sentencing memo.

LIFE SENTENCE

They said anything longer than five years would mean a de facto life sentence for Weinstein who turns 68 next week.

The lawyers also cited the father-of-five's children, the youngest two of whom are under 10-years-old.

Weinstein's counsel regularly clashed with Burke during the trial, even claiming at one point that he was biased against their client.

On the eve of the hearing, New York media published previously unsealed court documents which showed that Weinstein appealed to billionaires Jeff Bezos and Michael Bloomberg for help as allegations against him snowballed in October 2017.

The reports added that when Weinstein heard, incorrectly, that Friends star Jennifer Aniston had accused him of groping her, he wrote to his representative: "Jen Aniston should be killed."

Following his conviction, Weinstein spent 10 days in hospital where he had a stent inserted after complaining of chest pains.

He was transferred to the infamously violent Rikers, which once held Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and rapper Tupac Shakur, on Thursday last week to await sentencing.

Weinstein is expected to be incarcerated outside New York City and will likely later be taken to Los Angeles where he faces other sex crimes charges.

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