A psychologist called by Harvey Weinstein’s defence team said memories of an incident can become “contaminated” over time by new information, as testimony in his rape trial entered its closing stages on Friday (February 7).
Elizabeth Loftus, a University of California, Irvine professor, said leading questioning about an event sometimes causes a “misinformation effect,” where false details are incorporated into someone’s memory.
“If you are urged to remember more, in trying to produce more to satisfy that situation, you may produce something like a guess and then it starts to feel like a memory,” she testified.
Since testimony began on January 22, six women have taken the stand to say they were sexually assaulted by Weinstein.
All of the allegations against the former Hollywood titan are at least six years old, while one of them dates back three decades.
Weinstein, 67, faces life imprisonment if convicted of predatory sexual assault charges related to ex-actress Jessica Mann and former production assistant Mimi Haleyi. Mann says Weinstein raped her in March 2013 while Haleyi alleges he forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006.
Related news: Harvey Weinstein trial postponed to September
The defence says the women willingly had sex to advance their own careers and that Weinstein was in relationships with them.
Mann admitted to the court that she had had “non-coerced” sexual contact with Weinstein, producer of “Pulp Fiction” and “Sin City,” up to 2016.
Sexual assault allegations against Weinstein made headlines worldwide in October 2017, igniting the #MeToo movement.
Loftus – who testified in about 300 trials, mostly for the defense – said media coverage can lead people to change their recollection of an incident.
“If it is relabeled, it can be remembered as more upsetting and traumatic than it was at the time,” she said.
“It does not mean the person is lying but their memory could have been transformed,” Loftus added.
The psychologist said memory can also be distorted from the start by alcohol or drugs, particularly Valium, a sedative.
“The Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra testified that she was taking Valium around the time she says Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s.
Under cross-examination, Loftus said that for traumatic events it is mostly “peripheral memories” that become distorted, “not the core of the event.” The prosecution rested its case on Thursday and closing arguments are expected next week, well ahead of schedule.
The trial has raised complicated issues surrounding consent for the jury of 12 to grapple with.
“It was much more clear-cut in the Bill Cosby case. He drugged the victim,” said Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, referring to the US comedian convicted of sexual assault in 2018.
Related news: Rapist is you: Women protesters vs a macho Hindu rashtra
The jury must reach a unanimous verdict. If it can’t then the judge may be forced to declare a mistrial.
“It takes just one juror to say, I don’t buy it,” said criminal defense lawyer Julie Rendalman.
“I think it’s going to be difficult to reach a verdict,” she added.