NEW YORK – Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis on Thursday denied allegations in a rape trial, testifying that his accuser seemed “conflicted” at times during their first few kisses, but then began to take the initiative.
Haggis took the witness stand for a second day in a civil trial, portraying the woman Haleigh Breest as a willing partner in their solitary sexual interaction.
Breest, 36, testified early in the civil trial that she repeatedly and clearly told Haggis, 69, that she was not interested in having sex with him. She said the screenwriter of “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby” forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her when she begged him to stop.
In Haggis’ narrative, Breest — a publicist who worked at film premieres — flirted with him at a January 2013 screening afterparty before accompanying him to his Manhattan apartment for drinks. He agrees that she told him beforehand she wouldn’t be spending the night, but he said it was a “playful” remark.
When they arrived he made a pass within minutes.
In statements that lasted for hours, Haggis acknowledged that Breest sometimes hesitated in what he says were five separate episodes of kissing.
He said he once told her, “If you want to do something, do it. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.”
“She seemed kind of conflicted,” Haggis said.
But with each kiss, he said, Breest seemed to gain confidence, reassuring him by initiating the kiss as he expressed the ambivalence he was beginning to feel.
When they reached a guest room, Breest appeared “confident” as they began kissing and eventually flocked to a guest room bed, Haggis said. He recalled her “giggling” as their physical activity got heated and they shed some clothes.
He said that she finally got him in a position to receive oral sex, saying, “I’m good at it.”
“The way she said it was kind of adorable,” Haggis said.
He said he had “no knowledge” and “no recollection” of penetrating her vaginally.
“I didn’t know if it happened or not,” he said.
He said he fell asleep and eventually went to his bedroom while she slept. When he discovered she was gone that morning, he was disappointed she hadn’t left a note with her phone number, he said.
In Breest’s account, she didn’t return Haggis’ two attempts to kiss her, once pinning her against a refrigerator, but didn’t go because she didn’t want to offend a frequent premiere guest. She testified that he later pushed her onto a bed, stripped her of her clothes, aggressively demanded oral sex and – after she had showered – raped her.
Haggis emailed her the next day with photos from the previous night’s premiere. He said he hoped the reply would include her number. It didn’t.
When they met at another event 10 days later, she was smiling and friendly, Haggis recalled, adding that their encounter was “a little awkward,” as sometimes happens after a first sexual experience with someone.
He said he decided two days later that she was “too emotionally immature” and stopped responding to her emails.
After that, Haggis said, Breest would be “noticeably absent” from her usual red carpet post when he would bring a friend to events where she was working. But he said she was kind and acted normal when he didn’t have a woman on his arm in the 4 1/2 years between their sexual encounter and the filing of her lawsuit.
He said he didn’t tell anyone about his night with Breest. When his attorney asked him how often he thought about it, he replied, “Honestly, never.”
Haggis was also asked why he opposed providing DNA in connection with the lawsuit.
He said his only concern was that it would fall into the hands of Scientologists because he had “growing suspicions” that they played a role in the lawsuit. His defense has suggested the case is payback for Haggis’ public criticism of the Church of Scientology, which he left in 2009.
The church and Breest’s attorneys have called this argument a false conspiracy theory.
Haggis’ attorneys agree that Breest has no ties to Scientology. No witnesses have testified that they have specific evidence linking the church to their attorneys or four women other than Breest, who testified that Haggis also sexually assaulted them.
Haggis denied the other women’s allegations in emotional statements, adding that he felt “humiliated” as he testified about the allegations while his adult daughters looked on from the courtroom audience. At one point he asked for a short break and walked out with a daughter from the court arm around him.
“I’m scared,” he later told the jury, “because I don’t know why women, why anyone, would lie about things like this.”
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Breest has done.
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