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Director Paul Haggis appears in Italian court on sex assault charges | CBC News

The British woman who has accused Canadian-born screenwriter and director Paul Haggis of two instances of sexual assault appeared Wednesday evening before a judge at the courthouse in Brindisi, in southern Italy, where she was cross-examined for more than eight hours.

The woman, 28, Haggis, 59, and their lawyers attended the pretrial hearing, where early evidence was presented so a judge can decide whether to proceed with a trial.

Haggis was arrested in Brindisi on June 19, four days after the woman was found wandering in a confused state at dawn in the city’s airport.

She reported Haggis for rape, underwent a physical examination in hospital and spent almost a week at a safe house for victims of abuse, police said.

Police told CBC News she had flown to Brindisi to meet Haggis in the nearby tourist town of Ostuni, in the heel-shaped region of Puglia.

The town was hosting the Allora film festival which Haggis played a central role in organizing and in drawing celebrities such as Marisa Tomei, Jeremy Irons, Matt Dillon, Oliver Stone and others to attend.

Under house arrest

The woman and Haggis had met in late April at another film festival, according to police, and had come to Ostuni hoping to work with him.

Instead, police say, Haggis forced her twice into non-consensual sex when they shared a B&B room from June 12 to 15.

Haggis insists the sex was consensual.

“The young woman confirmed without hesitation or uncertainty her accusation,” Claudio Strata, the complainant’s lawyer, told reporters after the closed-door hearing on Wednesday night.

Strata said the lengthy hearing, which ended around midnight, left his client exhausted.

Haggis’s lawyer, Michele Laforgia, told CBC News: “All the parties were able to question her and, in the end, she was also questioned by the judge.” 

“In our opinion, the hearing confirmed that Mr. Haggis did not commit any sexual violence,” she added. 

Laforgia told reporters that Haggis took notes throughout the hearing as the woman was questioned.

Last week, Haggis appeared in front the the same judge overseeing the preliminary investigations, Vilma Gilli, and told his version of events, which have not yet been made available to the complainant and her lawyer.

“We know absolutely nothing about the Haggis version,” Strata said. “We could only access the initial records of the police complaint, the medical certificates, the statements of the hotel staff.”

Laforgia said he has asked Gilli a second time to release Haggis from house arrest, a decision he says he expects to come in the next few days.

Haggis is staying in a luxury farmhouse outside Ostuni where he can only see family members and his legal team.

Gilli ruled last week to keep him under house arrest, saying that, based on the woman’s testimony, Haggis had demonstrated an “absolute inability to control his instincts and to desist from inclinations of prevarication and dominance.”

In her decision, she also cited a pending civil case involving a rape accusation against Haggis in New York.

Publicist Haleigh Breest is suing Haggis for allegedly raping her after a film premiere in January 2013. That trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 11. Haggis has called the case an extortion attempt.

Three other women in the U.S. have accused Haggis of sexual assault. Haggis says the encounters were consensual. 

Haggis was born in London, Ont., and began working in episodic television in Hollywood in the 1980s. He wrote and directed the Oscar-winning 2004 movie Crash, and wrote the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby, also from 2004.


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