With Harvey Weinstein’s fate hinging largely on what his accusers remember about alleged sexual assaults years ago, his lawyers Friday turned to an expert known for studying false, repressed and unreliable memories.
“It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know that memory fades over time,” cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus told jurors at Weinstein’s New York City rape trial.
As memories fade, Loftus said, people become more vulnerable to “post-event information,” including media reports that can distort what they remember. They also can distort their own memories with inferences and guesses about past events.
False memories “can be experienced with a great deal of detail, a great deal of emotion, even though they’re false,” she said. “The emotion is not a guarantee you’re dealing with an authentic memory.”
Loftus took the witness stand a day after prosecutors rested their case against Weinstein. It featured more than two weeks of testimony, including the accounts of six women who say the once powerful Hollywood boss subjected them to vile sexual behavior.
Weinstein’s lawyers are aiming to cement doubts about the women’s allegations after using cross-examination to highlight inconsistencies in some of their accounts. In some cases, the encounters the women were recalling happened a decade or longer ago.
Referring to actress Annabella Sciorra, who alleges Weinstein barged into her apartment and raped her in 1993 or 1994, Loftus said, “that’s an extraordinarily long period of time where there can be substantial fading of memory.”
Weinstein’s lawyers haven’t said whether he’ll testify.
If he does, he faces the prospect of prosecutors grilling him over the allegations and could give them an opening to bring in more witnesses in an attempt to rebut anything he says.
“That is a question that does not have an answer at this point,” attorney Arthur Aidala said. “We want to see how our defense case goes.”
Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in March 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a different woman in 2006.
Weinstein, 67, has maintained any sexual encounters were consensual.