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Exclusive: Why the women who were shut out of Harvey Weinstein’s overturned conviction continue their fight


By Elizabeth Wagmeister, CNN

(CNN) — By the time Taralê  Wulff had testified against Harvey Weinstein in his 2020 trial, she had already sacrificed years of her life.

“It’s kind of surreal when you look back that a phone call can change your life,” Wulff told CNN, reflecting on the day she was called by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to share her story.

After reading articles that led to Weinstein’s downfall, Wulff recognized similar patterns between what had happened to her and other accusers.

“I wanted to step forward,” she said. “I wanted to help them.”

What she didn’t realize is that her life would completely transform, losing all of her anonymity and becoming one of the faces of the landmark #MeToo trial that would come to impact how society views power dynamics in the workplace.

Before Wulff put her most personal story on the world’s stage, testifying that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2005, she had barely told anyone about her allegations — not even her own father, who learned the details by reading his daughter’s testimony in the media.

“God, it’s horrible. It really is,” Wulff recalled. “My dad and I are close. I couldn’t share that with him.”

“The only people you can really talk to are your lawyers,” she continued. “For three years leading up to the trial, to me testifying, I was meeting with them regularly.”

Wulff added, “I just wanted to be normal, but there was nothing normal about it.”

By the end of the trial, it was all worth it, she said. Weinstein’s 2020 trial resulted in a rape conviction and the Hollywood producer was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Wulff felt overwhelmed and hadn’t yet processed her trauma, but knew she had contributed to justice being served.

Fast-forward four years: This April, Weinstein’s conviction was overturned.

In a 4-3 decision by the New York Court of Appeals, the overturned conviction was not based on whether Weinstin is guilty or not guilty, but on legal technicalities — largely the fact that the judge allowed what are known as Molineux witnesses, like Wulff, who testified about prior bad acts, but were not directly tied to charges Weinstein was facing.

Wulff was one of three Molineux witnesses in the 2020 trial – none of whom would be allowed to testify in Weinstein’s re-trial, which Manhattan prosecutors have said they intend to move forward with as soon as this fall.

In their successful appeal, Weinstein’s defense argued that the jury heard stories from other women that painted him as a “bad guy,” but were not relevant to their deliberations. “It was his character that was on trial. It wasn’t the evidence that was on trial,” Weinstein’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, said at the appeal hearing.

Like Wulff, Dawn Dunning — another Molineux witness from the 2020 trial — was stunned by the court’s reversal.

“I want to move on with my life… This has been such a long ordeal for me,” Dunning told CNN. “I would love to have that closure.”

Dunning’s testimony during the trial had striking similarities to Wulff’s. Both women told the jury they were aspiring actresses working as waitresses in New York when they met Weinstein, who offered to help them with their careers before assaulting them. The prosecution’s purpose in introducing them as Molineux witnesses was to establish an alleged pattern of behavior.

Weinstein, who has been publicly accused by over 100 women, has denied all sexual misconduct allegations against him.

In 16 states in the US — including California where Weinstein is currently appealing his 2022 Los Angeles conviction for sex crimes — prior bad acts testimony, like Dunning and Wulff’s, is admissible in court. In New York, where Weinstein’s conviction was overturned, it it is not.

Evidence introduced under the Molineux rule must exceed a high bar for inclusion, one not met in Weinstein’s case, according to the New York Court of Appeals. Now, both Dunning and Wulff are advocating for new legislation that would allow prior bad acts testimony into sex crimes cases.

Last week, a bill proposed by members of the New York State Assembly that would have amended the state’s criminal procedure law failed to pass the State Assembly, after having successfully passed the Senate. The bill is expected to be reintroduced at the legislature’s next session, but for now, it is dead — another setback for women like Dunning and Wulff.

“It’s going to take time for the legal system to catch up to this bigger cultural change and movement that we’ve had as a society,” Dunning said. “Unfortunately, the legal system is slow.”

Dunning added that she feels “let down” by this latest legal setback and is concerned that the bill not passing “could prevent other women from coming forward.” She hopes that the justice system continues to progress so that sex crimes will become easier to report and to prosecute.

“The thought that he would be free again is terrifying,” she said of Weinstein, acknowledging his ongoing appeal on his California conviction. “I just think he’ll stop at nothing to get back at us. He will never stop abusing women. If he gets out, I know everyone thinks he’s so old and frail and sick, but he’s never going to stop. He never will stop.”

The prospect of Weinstein walking free one day also weighs heavily on Wulff, calling the overturned conviction a “wake-up call.”

“As long as we keep talking and we don’t go back into the shadows and we don’t let setbacks set us back, we will keep that light bright on it,” Wulff said. “If you have a sister, a daughter, a mother, we’re trying to protect them.”

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