The defense in Paul Haggis’ rape trial had a busy start to the week Monday, calling several witnesses, including his adult daughter, a personal friend who says she once turned down Haggis’s advances without incident, a memory expert who previously testified at Harvey Weinstein’s New York. trail and a former Scientologist who testified that church officials once ordered her to dig up dirt from the Oscar-winning director “Crash.”
The jury heard nearly two weeks of testimony in the civil lawsuit brought by Haleigh Brest, a former freelance events publicist who says Haggis pushed her into her Manhattan apartment after a movie premiere in 2013 and raped her. Although the judge explained to the jury that both sides agree that Breest is not a Scientologist and she testified that the church did not support her in any way, Haggis’ team has continued to present her defense of Scientology.
On Friday, Haggis’s friend and prominent former Scientologist Mike Rinder testified that the church would pursue the destruction of its enemies “at all costs,” but did not say he had any specific knowledge linking the church to the Breest trial. That theme continued Monday when the defense called Shawna Brakefield, a documentary producer and former Scientologist, who testified via videoconference.
Brakefield was still a member of Scientology when Haggis was bitterly divorced in 2009 and later began speaking out against the church. She testified that Tom Davis, the church’s chief spokesman and head of external affairs at the time, called Brakefield and told him to collect “copies of any complaints or negative comments” regarding Haggis.
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“It was clear that he wasn’t looking for compliments and supporting material,” he said. “He wanted some kind of dirt. … It was a very scary phone call. I felt that as a member of the church, he was expected to be loyal to the group and to protect it at all costs. And if he didn’t participate, there could be consequences for me.”
Brakefield said he witnessed the church make personal attacks, post hateful material and try to emasculate people. When he first read about the Brest case, he said, “My first thought was that the church was behind it. It just has nothing to do with who Paul was.”
Earlier Monday, Paul Haggis’s daughter, Alissa, testified on behalf of her father. Alissa Haggis said she left the church at 18 when she found out he was gay. Her father followed soon after, in part because of the church’s position on gay marriage.
Alissa Haggis said she used to work as a screenwriter in Hollywood, but the Brest case put an end to that. “I don’t have much of a career right now,” she said. “Hollywood won’t hire me because I have the name Haggis.”
She testified that she believes there is circumstantial evidence that the church plans to destroy her father, but “there’s no way I could know directly.”
Breest’s attorney, Ilann Maazel, has repeatedly ridiculed the “Scientology defense.”
“Scientology has nothing to do with this matter,” he said in a statement to TheWrap. “Even Paul Haggis has admitted that he has no proof that the Church was involved. This is a cynical tactic to divert attention from Ms Brest, the other women who have come forward and the case.”
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During morning testimony in New York, the jury also heard from Sarah McNally, an independent bookseller, who said she met Haggis at a party in 2016 and they struck up a friendship. She testified that the first time the two were alone, he tried to kiss her, but she wasn’t interested and turned her head away from him.
“He shrugged and said, ‘Okay,'” McNally said. “It was the most relaxed and calm response.” Witnesses supporting the plaintiff had testified that an “excited” and highly aggressive Haggis relentlessly pursued them after initially being rebuffed.
McNally said that after ignoring Haggis’s initial advances, the two ended up dating dozens of times without incident. She read a statement she gave in 2018, a month after the Brest lawsuit was filed, at the request of Haggis’ ex-wife:
“Paul Haggis is the most human, infinitely generous, kind, supportive, wise and funny. The accusations against him surprised me because one of his most dominant traits is an instinctive devotion to making everyone around him feel happy and comfortable. In the absence of due process and in the presence of a vengeful Church of Scientology, I find these accusations very difficult to believe,” he wrote.
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The jury also heard from psychology professor and memory expert Deborah Davis, something of a serial expert witness who also testified as an adviser to the defense team for the Harvey Weinstein criminal trial in New York. Davis will also testify at Weinstein’s trial in Los Angeles.
The core of Davis’s testimony is the same in all cases; she told the jury Monday that people’s memories, affected by certain emotional states, can evolve to the point where they remember things that didn’t happen.
“What remains over time,” he said, “is the story we tell ourselves about what happened.”