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Morgan Freeman says he did not assault women

Morgan Freeman says he did not assault women and that it's not right to equate misplaced compliments or humor with horrific incidents of assault.

The Academy Award-winning actor made a second statement late Friday in response to a CNN report that multiple had women accused him of inappropriate behavior.

A production assistant said Freeman tried to lift her skirt and subjected her to unwanted touching and comments. Other women said Freeman commented about their bodies, or made them uncomfortable by staring at them.

Freeman said he tries to make people feel appreciated and at ease around him. He said he made light-hearted jokes and compliments to women.

The 80-year-old actor says that clearly wasn't coming across the way he intended.

Legal hurdles may make Weinstein's prosecution an exception

Harvey Weinstein's arrest in New York Friday is a landmark moment in the #MeToo movement.

Yet as authorities work through dozens of cases against famous figures in entertainment and other industries brought on by the Weinstein-inspired wave that began in October, legal hurdles may make such prosecutions the exception.

While men including Kevin Spacey and Mario Batali remain under investigation, the next round of charges could well be against Weinstein again, who also is facing scrutiny from authorities in Los Angeles and London.

One expert said prosecutors in those jurisdictions are unlikely to stand down or shift priorities knowing that Weinstein is now charged with rape and another felony sexual assault in New York, where he pleaded not guilty Friday.

"You never know what's going to happen with the case there," said Stacey Honowitz, a longtime prosecutor of sex crimes in Broward County, Florida. "We don't go easy. Nobody's going to drop the ball and let New York do it."

She said it is more likely that authorities in other cities will be energized, and able to build off the charges.

"There's always strength in numbers," Honowitz said.

Stanley Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said last month's conviction of Bill Cosby's for sexual assault dating to 2004 has likely been propelling prosecutors forward in other places.

"I think perhaps the Bill Cosby conviction really gave them hope that the atmosphere may have changed, in the older cases where this has been hard to prove, that maybe they've got more of a chance now," Goldman said Friday.

Yet finding prosecutable #MeToo cases has proven difficult.

Los Angeles police said in December that they were investigating 27 entertainment figures, but none have yet resulted in arrests. And LA County prosecutors launched a task force in November to evaluate cases, but so far it has brought no charges.

The biggest obstacles by far are statutes of limitations, which have had special prominence amid the #MeToo and Time's Up movements because so many of the incidents involve women working up the courage to come forward after years of silence.

Hundreds of women have alleged varying degrees of sexual misconduct from Oscar-nominated writer and director James Toback, yet prosecutors declined in April to bring criminal charges against him in the five cases they reviewed, citing expired statutes of limitations in every case.

California, joining other states, recently eliminated its statute of limitations for rape, making the law a closer match for the #MeToo era, but most cases from before the changes are unaffected.

Goldman said in the past the principle has been that it's disruptive and unbalancing to society to go back and prosecute older crimes.

"If you're dealing with Kevin Spacey," Goldman said, describing the thinking, "it's disruptive to pull somebody like that out of society after all these many years where people have worked for them, and are supported by them."

That has been the case so far with several high profile cases presented to prosecutors, all of which emerged after Weinstein's downfall.

Prosecutors declined to file charges against Roman Polanski over allegations by a woman who reported in October that the Oscar-winning director molested her when she was 10 years old in 1975. Polanski's attorney has denied the allegations. Los Angeles prosecutors cited the statute of limitations, but still want Polanski to return to the United States to face sentencing in a case in which he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

A case against Hollywood agent Adam Venit, who actor Terry Crews alleged groped him at a party in February 2016, was also rejected. Crews did not report the incident until November 2017, and prosecutors said that was too late.

Earlier this week, prosecutors rejected charges in four cases it reviewed against talent agent Tyler Grasham, who has been accused of the sexual assault of men and boys as young as 15 in the film industry. Prosecutors cited the statute of limitation in two of the cases, a lack of evidence in one, and referred the fourth for possible misdemeanor prosecution.

Goldman said however the thinking around sexual crimes appears to be changing, and they are now being grouped with more serious crimes like murder.

In addition to Weinstein, there are several high-profile open cases that could still lead to criminal charges.

Authorities are still reviewing sexual assault allegations against Spacey, Los Angeles County district attorney's spokesman Greg Risling said Friday. Sheriff's investigators say the case dates to 1992, which could make prosecution difficult. London police reportedly were investigating two sexual assaults there. His former publicist has said Spacey is seeking unspecified treatment.

New York police are investigating Batali after a woman told "60 Minutes" that he drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2005. The celebrity chef denies assaulting the woman, but he is already facing business ramifications — three of his Las Vegas restaurants will close in July and his business partners have said they are actively negotiating to buy him out.

Steven Seagal also remains under investigation after a woman said the action star sexually assaulted her at a casting session at a Beverly Hills hotel room in 2002, when she was 17 years old. The actor's attorney says he adamantly denies the allegations.

___

Follow Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton .

Famed Ivan the Terrible painting attacked at Moscow gallery

Police in Russia have arrested a man on charges of vandalizing a famous painting by renowned Russian artist Ilya Repin in Moscow.

Russian news reports said the man claimed he drank 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of vodka in the cafe of the Tretyakov Gallery shortly before he allegedly attacked the painting with a metal stanchion on Friday night.

The painting — titled "Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581," depicts Russia's first czar cradling his dying son after striking him in a fit of rage. Media reports say the accused vandal said he damaged the painting because he thinks it is historically inaccurate.

The reports say neither the czar's or son's faces were damaged, but several holes were torn in the painting.

Alicia Silverstone files for divorce from husband of 20 years, Christopher Jarecki

Three months after they confirmed their separation, actor Alicia Silverstone and her musician husband, Christopher Jarecki, are divorcing.

According to documents obtained by The Blast, Silverstone filed for divorce Friday, citing irreconcilable differences. She requested joint legal and physical custody of the couple’s 7-year-old son, Bear Blu. Silverstone listed the date of separation as March 15, 2016.

>> Read more trending news 

Silverstone, 41, and Jarecki married in June 2005 in a lakeside ceremony after dating for eight years.

“They still deeply love and respect each other and remain very close friends but have mutually decided to separate after being together for 20 years. They have a son together whom they will continue to co-parent,” Silverstone’s representative said in February.

Hugh Grant marries producer Anna Eberstein, reports say

Actor and longtime bachelor Hugh Grant is a married man.

According to Reuters, citing British tabloid reports, the 57-year-old married Swedish television producer Anna Eberstein, 39.

>> Read more trending news 

People reported Grant married the mother of three of his children -- John Mungo, 5, a 2-year-old daughter, and a third child born in the spring whose name is not known -- Friday at the Chelsea Register Office in London. Paparazzi photos showed the pair celebrating outside the wedding venue, according to E! News. Days before the wedding, a photo of the wedding banns, a public notice displayed in the register office, was posted in multiple British tabloids.

Grant and Eberstein have dated for six years.

This is the first marriage for Grant. He has two children -- son Felix Chang, 5, and daughter Tabitha Xaio Xi, 6 -- from a previous relationship with Chinese actress Tinglan Hong.

Morgan Freeman says ‘I did not assault women’ after apology, allegations of sexual assault

Morgan Freeman has issued another statement since eight women have come forward accusing him of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

On Thursday, CNN reported that eight women said that Freeman interacted inappropriately with women in varying work environments. The report said that people described a pattern of the behavior by Freeman while on set, while promoting movies and at Freeman’s production company.

>> Read more trending news 

After the report emerged, Freeman issued an apology, saying, “Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.”

In a new statement, People reported, Freeman is denying the allegations, saying he apologized Thursday for unintentionally upsetting people with his comments in the past.

Freeman’s full statement can be read below.

“I am devastated that 80 years of my life is at risk of being undermined, in the blink of an eye, by Thursday’s media reports. All victims of assault and harassment deserve to be heard. And we need to listen to them. But it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humor.

I admit that I am someone who feels a need to try to make women — and men — feel appreciated and at ease around me. As a part of that, I would often try to joke with and compliment women, in what I thought was a light-hearted and humorous way. Clearly I was not always coming across the way I intended. And that is why I apologized Thursday and will continue to apologize to anyone I might have upset, however unintentionally.

“But I also want to be clear: I did not create unsafe work environments. I did not assault women. I did not offer employment or advancement in exchange for sex. Any suggestion that I did so is completely false.”

'Sesame Street' sues over new Melissa McCarthy puppet movie

The makers of "Sesame Street" are suing the promoter of a new Melissa McCarthy movie, saying it's abusing the famed puppets' sterling reputation to advertise the R-rated film.

A judge Friday scheduled a hearing next week to consider a request for immediate relief by Sesame Workshop, which sued Thursday in federal court in Manhattan for unspecified damages and an order forcing the film to be marketed differently.

The film, "The Happytime Murders," is scheduled for release Aug. 17. McCarthy plays a human detective who teams with a puppet partner to investigate grisly puppet murders.

The lawsuit said the "Sesame Street" brand will be harmed by a just-released movie trailer featuring "explicit, profane, drug-using, misogynistic, violent, copulating and even ejaculating puppets" along with the tagline "NO SESAME. ALL STREET."

STX Productions LLC, in a statement issued in the name of "Fred, Esq," a lawyer puppet, said it was looking forward to introducing its "adorably unapologetic characters" to adult moviegoers this summer.

"We're incredibly pleased with the early reaction to the film and how well the trailer has been received by its intended audience," it said. "While we're disappointed that Sesame Street does not share in the fun, we are confident in our legal position."

In court papers, lawyers for Sesame Workshop asked the judge to order STX not to use any of Sesame's trademarks and intellectual property, including the phrase, "NO SESAME. ALL STREET," in marketing the film.

They said the marketing materials were confusing viewers into thinking Sesame was involved with or endorsed "this subversion of its own programming — thereby irreparably harming Sesame and its goodwill and brand."

In a release before the film was made, STX said it would be produced by The Jim Henson Company's Henson Alternative banner, On The Day Productions, and STXfilms, along with individuals including Brian Henson, Lisa Henson, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, among others.

In court papers, Sesame's lawyers said Lisa Henson, chief executive and president of Henson, just days ago emailed Sesame's chief executive, Jeffrey Dunn, saying it made her "terribly sad" that the marketing campaign "has devolved to this state of affairs."

Henson said Henson Alternative disagreed with the decision to reference Muppets and Sesame and argued against it, but "contractually we don't have the right to change it," according to the court papers.

She also said the Hensons did not view the film as a parody of the Muppets and "resisted creative suggestions. ...Therefore, trading off the famous Muppets to sell the film is exactly what we did not want to have happen," the court papers said.

Alicia Silverstone is divorcing husband of nearly 13 years

Alicia Silverstone is divorcing her husband of nearly 13 years.

The "Clueless" actress filed for divorce from Christopher Jarecki on Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The two have been separated for two years.

Divorce documents say the 41-year-old Silverstone and the 47-year-old Jarecki will share custody of their 7-year-old son.

The papers cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for the split, and say spousal support will be based on a prenuptial agreement the couple signed when they were married, without giving details.

Silverstone married the rock musician Jarecki in 2005 after eight years of dating.

Vindication, triumph, also fear: Weinstein accusers react

Watching the stunning images of Harvey Weinstein walking into a courthouse Friday in handcuffs, a detective on each arm, Louisette Geiss still felt a shiver of fear in reaction to the man who, she says, once cornered her and tried to physically force her to watch him masturbate.

Yes, Weinstein had certainly fallen hard and fast. And yet, Geiss said, even in handcuffs, he still somehow looked powerful and defiant — not humbled, and certainly not remorseful.

"He's not taking responsibility for a single one of these victims," she said in an interview. "He looks like he's just going through the machinery to get to the next step. I'm still scared, even talking to you about Harvey."

To be sure, there was plenty of satisfaction and relief among the scores of Weinstein accusers as the disgraced mogul, who has consistently denied allegations of nonconsensual sex, was arraigned sex charges involving two women, including one rape count. But emotions were mixed. Actress Rose McGowan tweeted: "We got you, Harvey Weinstein." But she also expressed uncertainty about how the case would play out in what she called an "elusive" justice system.

And others, like Geiss, who is a lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Weinstein, cautioned there was a long way to go before ultimate vindication. "This is a win, but not THE win," she said. "The win would be him behind bars, not living on an estate somewhere."

Another accuser, actress Caitlin Dulany, felt more optimistic. "Today was a great day for all of us," she said, referring to what she called a sisterhood of accusers. "The fact that our voices have made a difference means so much to me and to all of us who spoke out in the MeToo movement."

Dulany, who has alleged a 1996 encounter with Weinstein in which he picked her up at her apartment before a dinner and stripped naked, before she managed to kick him out, said the day had meaning not only to those who have publicly accused Weinstein, but to other victims who haven't felt able to come forward.

"We represent a lot of women who haven't spoken out yet as well," she said. "It's a beautiful group of women. We're there for each other." The 54-year-old actress also said she hoped that younger women will see Weinstein being held accountable, and have faith that they, too, would be believed, should they find themselves in a similar scenario.

On Twitter, some were more outspoken than others.

"Today Harvey Weinstein will take his first step on his inevitable descent to hell," wrote accuser Asia Argento. Her friend, chef Anthony Bourdain, wrote: "What's on the menu for #Weinstein," with an image of a prison menu. Actress Annabella Sciorra, who has accused Weinstein of rape, tweeted, "Are you kidding me?" in reaction to Weinstein lawyer Benjamin Brafman's statement that "the casting couch in Hollywood was not invented by Harvey Weinstein." Actress Mira Sorvino saluted "all my sisters today who stood up against a monster."

A number of women spoke proudly of their conviction that the Weinstein case, and the #MeToo reckoning that it sparked, would have a profound and permanent impact on how society treats powerful abusers — and those who come forward to accuse them.

"We can't go backward," McGowan said in an interview. "The genie can't go back in the bottle. This is the first time since written history that women are being believed — begrudgingly, but still."

Geiss, despite expressing fears that Weinstein might be able to escape justice, was also full of hope for a future in which women would be believed. "The tide is rising, and it's full of women!" she said.

The Los Angeles-based actress and screenwriter found herself recalling one of Weinstein's earliest responses to the growing accusations against him, shortly before The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine articles were published, when he told Variety through a spokesman: "The story sounds so good I want to buy the movie rights."

It was that comment, she said, that ultimately spurred her to go public with her own accusation.

"Well," Geiss said on Friday, "I hope he enjoys that movie from jail!"

Resentment over Trump election helped fuel Weinstein case

Throughout much of last year, millions of American women resented that a man who'd bragged about sexually assaulting women had been elected president. Then came an electrifying moment — detailed allegations that another powerful man had sexually assaulted or harassed dozens of women as one of Hollywood's leading producers.

"It just explodes. It was like throwing a match into a bucket of kerosene," said Kathy Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, describing the reaction to accusations against Harvey Weinstein that helped launch the #MeToo movement.

Donald Trump's victory in 2016 hardened the resolve of many women who, when confronted with the Weinstein case in October, saw a rare chance that a serial predator with immense prestige and clout might be held accountable.

The infamous "Access Hollywood" tape that revealed Trump's boasts helped fuel their outrage.

"We, as victims of that kind of behavior, we had all heard that kind of talk before," said Weinstein accuser Louisette Geiss. "And then you felt like, oh my gosh, now someone can treat women like that and become president! It was just, 'Enough is enough.'"

Spillar suggested that the intense response to Weinstein arose directly from Trump's election.

"The backlash to him and his election was so massive among women that that was the setup," Spillar said. "I don't think the Weinstein Effect could have happened without the Trump Effect first, and the massive women's marches and the protests."

For some women, Weinstein's arrest Friday on rape and criminal sex act charges was a relief. It was bittersweet for Danielle Campoamor, a New York-based writer and editor who says she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker five years ago.

"I watched Harvey Weinstein walk out of the police station in handcuffs and closed my eyes and thought about what it would be like to see my rapist walk out in handcuffs," she said. "It's something I will never see. But so many women today did, and that's something."

Campoamor agreed the Weinstein case should be viewed in the context of Trump's rise to the White House.

"We heard these stories (about Weinstein) after a man accused of sexual assault and harassment from multiple women ascended to the highest office in the country," she said. "Victims of sexual assault want to believe that justice will be served regardless of who the abuser is. Weinstein has shown us that it's possible."

Geiss, 44, says she had an encounter with him in a hotel room in 2008, when he undressed and tried to force her to watch him masturbate. She says she managed to elude his grasp and run out, but the incident convinced her to leave the movie business.

Though the Weinstein allegations, as initially reported by The New York Times and The New Yorker, were a catalyst for #MeToo, the movement did not emerge out of thin air. Activists involved in combatting sexual assault on campus and in the military had laid groundwork over the previous years, and were poised to help expand #MeToo once it emerged.

"It was activists on the ground who really primed our culture to be ready for this," said Jess Davidson, a sexual-assault survivor who is now interim executive director of End Rape on Campus.

For Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women, news of Weinstein's arrest brought "a tremendous sense of relief."

"Law enforcement and prosecutors are no longer protecting men," she said. "They are believing the victim and diligently prosecuting, and that gives other women the courage to come forward."

Reflecting back to October, she said the initial revelations about Weinstein were so powerful "because credible newspapers finally published the story from a women's point of view."

And it helped, she said, that some of the initial accusers were celebrities who found news outlets eager to provide coverage.

The Weinstein allegations "demonstrated that men who prey on women have handlers and enablers that allow them to assault and harass with impunity — silencing victims and ruining lives," said Debra Katz, a sex-harassment lawyer based in Washington, D.C. "Exposing not only the harassers ... but the systems that allowed them to get away with this for decades jump-started the #MeToo movement."

Gayle Goldin, a state legislator in Rhode island who's been campaigning against sexual misconduct, said multiple factors — aside from the Trump Effect — distinguished the Weinstein case from previous cases involving high-profile men.

"The story is a combination of excellent journalism, high-profile women willing to speak out publicly ... the sheer number of women who then spoke out about their own experiences with him," Goldin said in an email.

"Given that most women never report sexual assault or sexual harassment to authorities, hearing these famous women tell their stories resonates deeply with women," she added.

Goldin says she's been heartened that many high-profile women with Hollywood ties have now joined in helping create the TIMES UP Legal Defense Fund so that women without wealth and privilege can also seek justice.

That fund, administered by the National Women's Law Center, is already connecting low-wage women with attorneys who can help them pursue complaints of sexual assault and harassment.

"I think this is just the beginning," said the center's CEO, Fatima Goss Graves. "It's not going to end with seeing Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs. It's bigger than one man."

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