Manhattan's district attorney dropped part of the criminal sexual assault case against Harvey Weinstein on Thursday after evidence emerged that a police detective had coached a witness to stay silent about evidence that cast doubt on the account one of his three accusers.
The development was announced in court with Weinstein looking on. The 66-year-old former movie mogul, who has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex, still faces charges over allegations that he raped an unidentified woman in his hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.
The tossed charge involves allegations made by Lucia Evans, who was among the first women to publicly accuse Weinstein of sexual assault.
In an expose published in The New Yorker one year ago Wednesday, Evans accused Weinstein of forcing her to perform oral sex when they met alone in his office in 2004 to discuss her fledgling acting career. At the time, Evans was a 21-year-old college student. She said she had initially met Weinstein at a restaurant in Manhattan earlier that summer.
Prosecutors said in a letter unsealed Thursday that they learned weeks ago that a female friend who was with Evans the night she met Weinstein had given a police detective a contradictory account of what happened.
The woman, prosecutors said, told the detective in February that Weinstein had offered them money to flash their breasts during the restaurant encounter. They initially declined but Evans later told her she had gone ahead and exposed herself to the film producer in a hallway.
The woman also told the detective that sometime after Evans' office meeting with Weinstein, she had suggested what happened was consensual. Weinstein had promised to get her an acting job if she agreed to perform oral sex and she agreed.
According to the witness, who was not named in the court filing, Evans had been drinking and "appeared to be upset, embarrassed and shaking" when she told the story.
Prosecutors said the police detective didn't share any of that information with prosecutors and urged the woman not to reveal details, saying "less is more," and that she had no obligation to cooperate with investigators.
Prosecutors also disclosed that they had discovered a draft email that Evans had written three years ago to a man who is now her husband that "describes details of the sexual assault that differ from the account" she provided to investigators.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the judge that prosecutors wouldn't oppose dismissal of the count in the case involving Evans. She insisted the rest of the case, involving two other accusers, was strong.
"In short, your honor, we are moving full steam ahead," she said.
Evans' lawyer, Carrie Goldberg, furiously said outside court that her client had been abandoned by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. for no reason.
"Let me be clear: the decision to throw away my client's sexual assault charges says nothing about Weinstein's guilt or innocence. Nor does it reflect on Lucia's consistent allegation that she was sexually assaulted with force by Harvey Weinstein," she said in a written statement. "It only speaks volumes about the Manhattan DA's office and its mishandling of my client's case."
She insisted Evans has told the truth and disputed that she either showed Weinstein her breasts or misled investigators.
Weinstein's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told the judge he believed Evans had lied both to the grand jury and to The New Yorker about her encounter with Weinstein.
"The integrity of these proceedings has been compromised," he said. Outside court, he suggested that Evans should be prosecuted criminally for perjury.
"This is an attack on the fundamental integrity of the grand jury process. If you have a person willing to commit perjury in the grand jury, that is as serious as the crime of sexual assault because it undermines the fairness of the process for all of us."
Brafman identified the detective in the case as Nicholas DiGaudio. A message left on a phone used by the detective in the past wasn't immediately returned. The union represented New York City police detectives also didn't immediately return a message.
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is free on $1 million bail.
Images of Weinstein in handcuffs were seen by many women as a cathartic moment in the #MeToo reckoning. The collapse of part of the case against him could mean trouble for the prosecutor.
Vance has already been fiercely criticized for declining to prosecute Weinstein when an Italian model accused him of grabbing her breasts in 2015. At the time, Vance cited a lack of supporting evidence, despite the existence of a clandestinely made recording of Weinstein discussing the episode with the woman.
In the months after The New York Times and The New Yorker began publishing stories about Weinstein's interactions with women, activists pressured Vance to bring charges as dozens of people came forward with claims of sexual misconduct against him.
New York Police officials poured on the pressure, too, saying publicly that they believed they had gathered ample evidence to make an arrest.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly, as Evans has done.