NEW YORK, NY—Haleigh Breest faced cross-examination from counsel for her accused rapist, screenwriter Paul Haggis, for most Tuesday morning at 60 Centre Street in Manhattan. Breest has alleged that Haggis raped her at his apartment when she was a publicist in 2013.
The defense brought up details of Breest’s personal life, which she provided in her deposition—namely that she grew up with parents who made negative comments about her body, especially when she went home for the holidays, and that she has never been in an intimate relationship (defined by her as longer than six months) in her life.
The defense also asked her the age range of all her sexual partners, accused her of going after the Oscar winner’s money, and asked if she had ever taken a polygraph about the allegations she has made (she has not).
Haggis’s lawyer then asked why she Breest didn’t go to the police after the alleged rape.
“You wanted it to be Haleigh Breest against Paul Haggis, didn’t you?” opposing counsel asked.
“Correct,” she said.
Defense intimated that she didn’t want police involvement to damage her case, so her way of dealing with the evidence was putting her soiled tights from that night with Haggis in a cloth Henri Bendel and stashing it in the back of her dresser for four years.
“I did do that,” she said.
Breest explained that she had read that the police often taint investigations, and that she wouldn’t be as much in control of the fact-finding once law enforcement got involved. Having already lost control once with being raped, she said, the idea of losing control again was too much. So she left the tights in her drawer until she was ready to file a lawsuit.
The jury heard briefly from the outcry witness—the first person who first hears an allegation of child or sexual abuse. In this case, it was a woman who met Breest through work prior to the 2013 alleged rape, and was the first person Breest told about the incident.
The second witness, referred to in court as Jane Doe #2, was one of four women who have leveled assault or rape allegations at Haggis. She said she was working as a TV journalist when she met and interviewed Haggis at a festival in September 2007. Since Jane Doe #2 and Haggis are both from Canada, she testified that she brought one of her favorite books to the interview—a story about the Canadian maritimes—thinking he could maybe make it into the movie. While she hadn’t met Haggis before, his reputation preceded him: “I knew of Mr. Haggis because he was an Academy winning filmmaker” who made movies that were “beloved.”
Haggis got in touch with her “at one point” about the book, and, “We talked until we met in April 2008,” when she told him she would be in his city of L.A. At the coffee shop meeting, they spoke about ideas of “how he could turn [the book] into a film, or a mini-series.”
Haggis arranged one more meeting before Jane Doe #2 left L.A. He blocked off time starting at 9 p.m. at his office, citing a busy schedule. She wasn’t deterred, assuming the second meeting would be as professional as the first.
When Jane Doe #2 got to the production office, she found she was the only person in the seating area. Then, people started leaving, the lights dimmed, and then she was the only person in the office.
At first, Haggis started out by talking about the book, but very quickly, lapsed into “more personal” conversation. He came over and sat beside her. He wanted to talk about his relationship with his wife. “He told me he had an open relationship with [her],” she said. “The mood had changed and I was uncomfortable with the situation.”
His demeanor, she said, also shifted very quickly. He was “different,” “angry,” and “short,” she recalled.
Standing up, Haggis announced, “I want to be inside you” and “grabbed me by my shoulders.”
That phrase was “a statement,” she said. She testified that she turned her head away from Haggis and he tried to kiss her. At that point, Jane Doe #2 panicked.
“I kept saying, ‘No, no, no, no, I have a boyfriend.” She continued backing away, holding her hands in front of her, as Haggis kept coming toward her, she alleged. He then followed her as she backed out the door, not wanting to lose eye contact him for a second. Next, Doe #2 said, she ran to her car, locked the door, and rolled up the windows. “My life was flashing in front of my eyes,” she stated.
“I couldn’t breathe,” she continued. “I was just shaking, panicked. I thought this was a kind, beloved filmmaker. And so when we started talking and his demeanor changed, it was different. And when he came to grab me, it was angry.”
She emphasized: “This was not romantic, this was not flirtatious. It was terrifying.”
Haggis has said the encounters with Breest and the Jane Does were all consensual, denies he did anything wrong, and has suggested that his bitter break from Scientology has caused the church to frame him. Breest testified Friday that she has no link to the church and is not being propped up by Scientology; the outcry witness said something similar on the stand Tuesday.
In other current #MeToo cases, the rape trial of Harvey Weinstein began on Monday in Los Angeles (he was already convicted for rape and a sexual assault in New York City in 2020, for which he is serving 23 years). Meanwhile, Danny Masterson, formerly of That 70s Show, is in the middle of a rape trial, which also has Scientology overtones, also in Los Angeles. Last week in New York, meanwhile, a jury sided with Kevin Spacey on Thursday in a sexual assault claim brought against him in the civil suit by Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp, finding he did not sexually abuse Rapp when he was 14 and Spacey was 26, when both were unknown Broadway actors in 1986.