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Harvey Weinstein trial hears from expert on unreliable memories | Film

Lawyers for Harvey Weinstein turned on Friday to an expert known for studying false, repressed and unreliable memories who has worked on behalf of clients including the serial killer Ted Bundy.

Weinstein’s fate in his rape trial in New York City largely hinges on what his accusers remember about alleged sexual assaults years ago. Testimony from Elizabeth Loftus, a cognitive psychologist, often helps undermine people who say they are victims.

“It doesn’t take a PhD to know that memory fades over time,” Loftus told jurors in the New York supreme court.

As memories fade, she 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, 75, took the witness stand a day after prosecutors rested their case. It featured more than two weeks of testimony, including the accounts of six women who say the once powerful Hollywood producer 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 accounts. In some cases, the encounters the women recalled allegedly happened a decade or more ago.

Weinstein’s lawyers have not said if he will testify. If he does, he could give prosecutors an opening to bring in more witnesses 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.

Loftus was on the stand for about an hour, her testimony curtailed by a ruling barring her from testifying about memories specific to sexual interactions. She testified that she was not asked to evaluate any of the accusers or their testimony.

Loftus is the co-author of the 1994 book The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegation of Sexual Abuse. In another book, Witness for the Defense, Loftus wrote that in her work for Bundy she seized on “leading and suggestive questions” by investigators and “hesitations and uncertainties on the part of the victim” as signs of muddled memories.

On the stand on Friday, she sounded a similar note, telling jurors interactions with law enforcement “can lead people to want to produce details”.

“Some can be accurate, and some can be false and inaccurate,” she said.

When prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon asked if she was originally asked to be a defense consultant rather than a witness, Loftus said: “I don’t remember what I was asked exactly.”

“Is that due to post-event information?” Illuzzi-Orbon quipped.

Weinstein’s lawyers skipped plans to call the Hollywood writer and director Warren Leight, to testify about Annabella Sciorra’s drug use during a shoot in the early 1990s.

Sciorra, now 59, testified that she was hooked on Valium when The Night We Never Met started shooting in late 1992, but denied defense suggestions she was still using it when she alleges Weinstein raped her in 1993 or 1994.

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