Women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault at his criminal trial will have to answer for two realities - the stories they will tell on the witness stand and the starkly different record preserved in emails and other records from before and after the alleged assaults.

That was the argument made by his attorney Damon Cheronis yesterday as he presented to the jury emails between Weinstein and the woman he allegedly raped at a Doubletree Hotel in Manhattan in 2013.

Cheronis said accuser Jessica Mann, an aspiring actress, maintained a five-year relationship with the movie tycoon and sent flirty, warm messages throughout. At one point she referred to him as her "casual boyfriend."

"I love you, I always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call. ;)" Mann wrote in a 2017 message to Weinstein - which was put up on a large TV screen at the back of the room in Cheronis' opening statement.

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"Ladies and gentlemen, that's not how you talk to your predator," the lawyer said. "That's not how you talk to your rapist."

Cheronis said the district attorney's office wants to convey that the women were "weak" and "couldn't stand up for themselves," that they "were lured in by Harvey Weinstein [and] tricked."

"That's a mirage, and don't take my word for it," the lawyer told the jury.

Weinstein was hunched over at the defence table during his lawyer's moment in the spotlight, chewing his way through a roll of Mentos as Cheronis offered the first official counternarrative to the depiction of Weinstein as a monster and predator that has taken hold in the media since allegations against him started the #MeToo movement in October 2017.

Donna Rotunno, attorney for Harvey Weinstein. Photo / AP
Donna Rotunno, attorney for Harvey Weinstein. Photo / AP

"The truth doesn't change when an article comes out in 2017," Cheronis told the panel, referring to some of the coverage that prompted scores of women to accuse the producer of sexual assault and sexual harassment spanning decades.

Cheronis added that what they would see in evidence "is going to be shocking."

"You're going to say, 'Oh my God, Harvey Weinstein is innocent,'" he said.

But prosecutors say Weinstein used his "power and prestige" in the film industry to bully women he sexually assaulted into silence.

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Weinstein lived "a lavish lifestyle that most of us will never know," but trial evidence "will also show that man was a sexual predator and rapist," Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast told the jury in the trial's first moments. The proceedings are expected to last two months.

Hast said Weinstein attacked three women - in 2013, 2006 and 1993 or early 1994. Three other women will take the stand to establish a history of bad conduct, though they are not part of the charges officially.

The prosecutor put photos on the screen - of Weinstein smiling for cameras on the red carpet and of the women he allegedly abused.

Harvey Weinstein at the end of the first day of his trial on rape and sexual assault charges. Photo / AP
Harvey Weinstein at the end of the first day of his trial on rape and sexual assault charges. Photo / AP

"At the end of this trial, the evidence will be clear that the man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood; he was a rapist, sexually assaulting these women when they refused to comply with his desires and his orders and then using his power and prestige in the entertainment industry to ensure their silence."

Finally, Hast said, "These women will have their voices heard."

Actress Annabella Sciorra, one of the alleged victims, said she was blindsided when Weinstein showed up at her apartment as she was readying for bed one night in the 1990s.

"He pinned her arms above her head and despite her verbal and physical attempts to stop him, he continued to hold her down . . . and raped her," Hast said. Sciorra was shaking as the unwanted encounter continued and the "Sopranos" star was tormented for decades by Weinstein's attack.

"It took 25 years before she was able to confront her nightmare and tell her story," Hast said.

Opening statements started in front of a packed house of reporters, lawyers and members of the public. A line to get into New York State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan started forming in the early-morning hours.

The judge spent about 20 minutes instructing jurors on their obligations concerning evidence and testimony.

"Throughout these proceedings, the defendant is presumed to be innocent," Justice James Burke said.

Weinstein, 67, is accused of forcing a sex act on his onetime production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Mann in 2013.

He faces the most time in prison on the top counts, predatory sexual assault, which covers a pattern of sexual misconduct and includes the Sciorra rape charge. If convicted on those charges, he could face 10 years to life in prison.

The former filmmaking powerhouse entered the courtroom around 9:15 a.m. without the aid of the walker he has been using for several weeks after recent back surgery.

A reporter in the hallway asked if he'd "get a fair trial" as he made his way down into the courtroom.

"Of course," Weinstein said. He limped down the center aisle and latched onto the arm of one of his assistants.

"We're going too fast," Weinstein said. "I have to sit down."

Weinstein's trial started on Jan. 6, and jury selection spanned two weeks. Although the sides were originally going to select six alternate jurors, they settled on three rather than going through detailed questioning, a process known as voir dire, of another set of 20 prospects.

It remains to be seen whether the relatively small number of alternates will present a problem. Should a juror have an emergency illness or unforeseen conflict, it could potentially derail the trial.