In a victory for Kevin Spacey, a New York jury on Thursday afternoon found him not liable for assault over allegations that he picked up actor Anthony Rapp and briefly lay on him on a bed after a party in 1986.
The jury deliberated for about an hour and concluded that Rapp did not prove that Spacey “touched a sexual or intimate part” of Rapp.
Judge Lewis Kaplan formally dismissed the case. The attorneys sitting on either side of Spacey immediately put their hands behind his back as the verdict was read.
“We are very grateful to the jury for looking into these false accusations,” Jennifer Keller, one of Spacey’s attorneys, said later as she left court. Spacey did not speak to reporters when he left.
Best known for his role on “Star Trek: Discovery,” Rapp had alleged that in 1986, Spacey, then 26, invited Rapp, then 14, to his Manhattan home where he picked Rapp up, put him to bed , grabbed his buttocks and pressed his groin against Rapp’s body without his consent.
The judge dismissed Rapp’s assault claim before the trial began and dismissed his claim of intentionally inflicting emotional distress after Rapp’s attorneys rested their case, leaving the jury to decide only the assault claim. Under New York law, battery is touching another person, without their consent, in a way that a reasonable person would find offensive.
Rapp said Friday in a statement posted on Twitter that filing his lawsuit against Kevin Spacey “was always about shining a light, as part of a broader movement to oppose all forms of sexual violence.”
“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have my case heard before a jury, and I thank the jurors for their service,” Rapp said in the statement.
“I am committed to continuing to advocate for efforts to ensure that we can live and work in a world free from sexual violence of any kind,” he added. “I sincerely hope that survivors will continue to tell their stories and fight for accountability.”
CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson viewed Thursday’s verdict as a major victory for Spacey, one that shows a jury can ignore the noise surrounding alleged misdeeds reported by a celebrity in the Me Too movement and evaluate a case based on on the facts presented in court.
The case was also legally problematic, with two counts dismissed by the court (assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress), leaving the jury to consider only the assault claim, Jackson said.
“The jury clearly did not accept the factual claims made by Rapp and therefore did not find him credible,” Jackson added.
But the victory was a “pyrrhic victory” for Spacey because of other charges “looming over him, including criminal charges in the UK,” said Paul Callan, a CNN legal analyst.
“Spacey has now won two victories on the sexual assault charges against him, including this case and the one brought earlier on Nantucket,” Callan said. “He does, however, face an uphill battle against other accusers and more serious criminal charges in the UK.”
Spacey was charged with four counts of sexual assault against three men and one count of causing a person to engage in penetrative sexual activity without consent by Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service in May. Spacey has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In the Nantucket case, a man alleged that Spacey groped him when he was an 18-year-old busboy at a restaurant. Spacey had pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors ultimately dropped the criminal case against Spacey after the accuser pleaded guilty on the witness stand when asked about his missing cell phone and whether he deleted the text messages.
In his closing argument, Rapp’s attorney, Richard Steigman, suggested that Spacey misrepresented his trial testimony to suit his defense, pointing to Spacey’s 2017 apology to Rapp when he first came forward.
“Don’t listen to what I said in real time. I’m defending a lawsuit now. listen to me now I’ve got it fixed,” Steigman said, mocking Spacey’s attempt to convince the jury that publicists forced him to give the statement he testified that he now regrets.
Steigman called Spacey’s testimony rehearsed compared to the raw testimony given by his client.
“When you’re rehearsed, you’re a world-class actor and you’re following the script and following someone else’s testimony, you can take that position and be perfectly polished,” Steigman said. “When you just come to court and tell the truth about your experience, especially one like this that is a little complicated.”
Steigman also rejected the defense’s argument that Rapp wanted Spacey to be gay.
“The point of the story is not that Kevin Spacey is gay. It is that she sexually abused him when he was 14 years old. That is what he is sharing with people, he is sharing his experience, nothing more, nothing less. Where is the proof that he told any media outlet, you know, Kevin Spacey is gay, you really should accept this?
Keller, Spacey’s attorney, began her closing argument by addressing the shadow of the Me Too movement in the case, stating that Rapp “hitched his bandwagon” to the movement when he came forward.
“This is not a team sport where you’re on the Me Too side or you’re on the other side,” Keller told the jury. “This is a very different place. Our system requires evidence, proof, objective support for the accusations provided to an impartial jury. As polarized as society may be today, it really shouldn’t have a place here.”
Keller suggested that Rapp criticized his accusations against Spacey of a nearly identical scene from the Broadway show “Precious Sons,” in which Rapp was performing with Ed Harris in 1986 at the time of the alleged incident.
“We are here because Mr. Rapp falsely alleged abuse that never occurred at a party that never took place in a room that did not exist,” he said.
Spacey’s attorney concluded his remarks by asking the jury not to compromise their verdict by finding Spacey liable for assault but only awarding Rapp one dollar in damages.
“They are here to be judges of the facts. Happened? It didn’t happen. A penny is too much for something that didn’t happen,” Keller said.