Paul Haggis trial ends as jury begins deliberations over whether he raped Haleigh Breest

The two sides rocked during closing arguments in the trial of Oscar-winning director and writer Paul Haggis as a jury retired to determine his fate.

Lawyers for Haggis clashed with plaintiff attorney Haleigh Breest, the former publicist who accused the 69-year-old Canadian filmmaker of sexually assaulting her in his penthouse suite after a first after-party nearly 10 years old.

Priya Chaudhry, Haggis’ defense attorney, took aim at Breest in her closing arguments, calling the 36-year-old an “absolute liar” and a “jealous woman” whose crush on Haggis ultimately turned vindictive when he told her. “politely declined”. after a one-night stand with his client.

“There are three ‘r’ words that happened here: rejection, regret and revenge,” Chaudhry told the jury. “And none of those ‘r’ words are rape.”

“Paul Haggis is not Harvey Weinstein,” she told jurors on Wednesday. “He was never Harvey Weinstein. He will never become Harvey Weinstein.”

During the trial, which lasted 15 days, the court heard testimony from Breest and Haggis, as well as four other Canadian women who also accused the Million dollar baby writer of raping or attempting to sexually assault them in incidents between 1996 and 2015.

Paul Haggis with his two Oscars in 2006.

David Livingstone

Breest’s lawyer Ilann Maazel hit back on Wednesday afternoon, painting Haggis as a serial predator and manipulator, who used his fame and storytelling skills to prey on Breest and the four other alleged victims of the murder. ‘affair.

“We have to face the cold, hard truth: Paul Haggis is a monster,” Maazel told the jury. “He’s a psychopath. He’s cunning, deceitful and manipulative. He’s sexually assaulted five women and he has the nerve to step into that position and play the victim.

Maazel said Haggis, a “significant Hollywood director”, pressured Breest to have a drink with him at his house and Haggis got agitated when she told him to “stop it”.

“‘No’ never means no to Paul Haggis,” Maazel said.

He added: ‘This is a case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Haggis.’

At one point, Maazel suggested that Haggis deserved a third Oscar for his “performance” at the helm.

“It’s a Paul Haggis horror movie and only you can end it,” Maazel told jurors, his voice rising audibly, before Beeest’s team settled their case on Wednesday.

Jurors will now decide whether Haggis raped Breest in his luxury New York high-rise in 2013.

Haggis has long maintained that the incident involving Breest was consensual. He denied any sexual misconduct involving four Jane Does.

Chaudhry said Breest gave conflicting accounts of the 2013 incident in court records and on the witness stand, suggesting to jurors that the rape accuser may have made up the account as a fantasy – or himself. was completely mistaken in remembering the event.

“They want you to think where there’s smoke there’s fire, but sometimes there’s just a smoke machine,” Chaudhry said.

Chaudhry told jurors that Breest filed a lawsuit against his celebrity client seeking a payday. She seized on the fact that Breest never alerted authorities about the incident – and instead said Breest waited four years to file his complaint.

“Ms. Breest knows that if she went to the police and they didn’t believe her, she knew it could hurt her chances of getting the Paul Haggis money from you,” Chaudhry told the jury. This lawsuit is not about justice for her – it is a blatant cash grab.”

Chaudhry also accused Breest of falsely exploiting the momentum of the #MeToo movement to bolster his claims. She repeatedly quoted convicted sex offender and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who in 2013 Haggis disavowed on social media and in the newspapers, comments which in turn motivated Breest to file a lawsuit against Haggis.

In June, Haggis was also placed under temporary house arrest in Italy while attending a film festival after an unidentified British woman accused him of raping her ‘for days’ at a southern hotel. from Italy. His lawyers, who also denied the charges, countered that the victim had sought a role in a James Bond film. Haggis, who previously co-wrote 007 blockbusters Casino Royale and Quantum of comfort, was later released after an Italian judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to allow the case to go to trial.

As his attorney spoke, Haggis, dressed in a black suit, dark blue shirt, and navy tie, watched stoically, periodically taking sips from a yellow thermos on the table in front of him. The embattled 69-year-old producer spent three days on the stand testifying in lower Manhattan last week, contradicting and dismissing much of his accuser’s account.

Haggis, who sometimes cried on the stand during his testimony, described Breest, then 26, as a ‘caricature’ and ‘shy’ ‘Betty Boop’, whom he came to adore after months of work-related “naughty” e-mail exchanges.

Haggis claimed Breest sent “mixed signals” but willingly gave him oral sex after the pair grabbed a chauffeured SUV home following a 2013 red carpet event attended a number of high profile celebrities including Jude Law, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones.

(L-R) Actors Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and director Paul Haggis in 2015.

Craig Barrit

The filmmaker, who presented himself as a victim in the case, said the drawn-out trial had “decimated” his finances and derailed his career. Her attorneys also argued that Haggis, who was wearing a back brace at the time of the incident involving Breest due to recent surgery, would have been physically incapable of committing the violent rape.

Meanwhile, Breest herself also offered compelling testimony earlier at trial, sometimes in graphic detail, recounting how Haggis straddled her face while orally raping her before ripping off her pantyhose and assaulting her. sexually in a guest bedroom of his SoHo loft. Breest said she felt like a “trapped animal” during the encounter.

“He’s trying to pull my tights down and I’m trying to pull them up,” Breest said. “He looked like the devil – he looked totally different than I had seen him before.”

Sometimes during cross-examination, however, Haggis’ recollection of the encounter came up vague. His lawyers also struggled to explain how his seminal fluid rolled up on tights Breest wore the night of the alleged date, although Haggis testified he had no recollection of having had any relations vaginal sex with Breest or if he had ejaculated at all that night.

Angela Butler, a forensic DNA expert, testified at trial that there was a strong likelihood that the DNA found inside the crotch of Breest’s pantyhose belonging to Haggis was his seminal fluid. Chaudhry, meanwhile, pointed out earlier that the DNA of four other men had been found on the tights in question.

The incident, Breest said, exacerbated crippling anxiety and body image issues, which his attorneys say persist to this day. Breest told jurors the alleged rape hijacked her love life, scarring her so deeply that she claimed she had only attempted sex once since the alleged encounter with Haggis.

Breest’s former therapist, Dr. Catherine Baker-Pitts, as well as Dr. Lisa Rocchio, an independent forensic psychologist, who coincidentally served as an expert witness in the recent federal sexual assault prosecution of Kevin Spacey, have testified that the alleged event triggered post-traumatic stress. disorder in the 36-year-old woman, explaining that her symptoms match those of survivors of sexual abuse.

Breest seeks unspecified damages.

The case, which was filed in 2017 on the heels of the #MeToo movement, has drawn media attention, particularly because Haggis, an ex-Scientologist and whistleblower for the controversial religion, argued that Breest – and the four Canadian Jane Does – had been paid. by the Church of Scientology to fabricate the allegations against him in a coordinated effort to smear and bankrupt him in retaliation for publicly leaving the Church in 2009.

In September, the presiding judge in the case, the Hon. Sabrina Kraus decided that Haggis’ legal team could use Scientology’s defense at trial.

Oscar-winning producer/screenwriter Paul Haggis appears with actor/screenwriter/producer Leah Remini.

Debra L Rothenberg

A number of former Scientologists and celebrities also testified at trial in defense of Haggis, including sitcom actress Leah Remini and former Scientology executive Mike Rinder, who co-hosted the Emmy-winning A&E series. Leah Remini: Scientology and the Consequences.

“You can never tell the story of Paul Haggis without talking about Scientology,” Chaudhry said Wednesday. “For most of his life – and for the rest of his life – Scientology was permanently attached to him like a dark shadow. Scientology will be the first thought he has when someone breaks into his apartment. It’s always going to be in a dark corner and it’s always true for Paul. It’s true for Mike Rinder. It’s true for Leah Remini. You can’t tell the stories of these people without talking about Scientology.

Haggis’ team, however, struggled to draw a clear and direct link to their allegations of Scientology involvement in the rape case he was accused of. Breest, his attorneys, and the four other alleged victims in the case have all denied any religious affiliation.

On Wednesday, Maazel told jurors that Haggis’ Scientology defense was a contrived, malicious and desperate attempt to distract from the sexual assault allegations.

“The Church of Scientology is a bad organization and some of them want to find dirt on Paul Haggis,” Maazel said. “The church is a cult and Mr. Haggis is a rapist. Both are true.

The Church of Scientology also denied any involvement in the sexual assault case or any connection to any of the civil lawsuit victims in a statement sent to The daily beast in October.

Shortly before 4:50 p.m., Kraus dismissed the jury to kick off deliberations starting Thursday morning.

If Haggis is found liable in the rape case, jurors will determine any damages owed by the screenwriter. Before filing the lawsuit in 2017, Breest’s attorneys unsuccessfully sought a $9 million settlement from Haggis.

Haggis, who lit a cigarette on the court steps after his trial ended, declined to comment as he left the courtroom for the day.