Spacey, 59, had been accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a Nantucket restaurant three years ago. But in recent weeks, there had been signs that the case was in jeopardy. Last month, the accuser’s lawyer said that a smartphone being sought as evidence had gone missing, and this month, the accuser dropped a lawsuit against Spacey only six days after having filed it.
Prosecutors drop sexual assault case against Kevin Spacey
Prosecutors in Massachusetts on Wednesday dropped a sexual assault charge against actor Kevin Spacey, bringing an abrupt close to one of the few criminal cases of the #MeToo era.
Problems for the prosecution came to a head last week when Spacey’s accuser invoked the Fifth Amendment after being warned that he could be charged with a felony if he had deleted phone evidence. When the young man refused to continue his testimony, a Nantucket District Court judge said the prosecution might no longer be viable.
In a court filing Wednesday, Michael O’Keefe, the Cape and Islands district attorney, wrote that the office was dropping the prosecution “due to the unavailability of the complaining witness.”
O’Keefe’s office elaborated in a news release that the accuser and his family had met with prosecutors on Sunday to determine his willingness to cooperate through the rest of the case.
“The complaining witness was informed that if he chose to continue to invoke his Fifth Amendment right,” the district attorney’s office wrote, “the case would not be able to go forward.”
Once the accuser decided to keep invoking his right against self-incrimination, the office wrote, the only way to continue prosecuting Spacey would be to grant the accuser immunity from prosecution and force his testimony. But that would have ramifications, including damaging the accuser’s credibility.
“A grant of immunity compromises the witness to a degree which, in a case where the credibility of the witness is paramount, makes the further prosecution untenable,” the office wrote.
Mitchell Garabedian, the accuser’s lawyer, said in a statement on Wednesday that the man and his family “have shown an enormous amount of courage under difficult circumstances.” He declined to comment further.
The Nantucket case was one of a series of sexual misconduct allegations against Spacey that came to light in the early days of the #MeToo movement, which followed revelations about the behavior of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Numerous powerful men have lost their jobs after people they harassed or assaulted felt emboldened to speak out; Spacey’s acting career came to a sudden halt, with “House of Cards” cutting him out of the final season and the film “All the Money in the World” replacing him with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty.
But the accusation out of Nantucket was the only one against Spacey that had led to criminal charges. Other than a coming trial against Weinstein in New York involving two women and a charge of indecent assault and battery against the celebrity chef Mario Batali in Boston, few other #MeToo cases have been brought in the United States. In most instances, the incidents were either too old to prosecute or did not rise to the level of a criminal offense.
Spacey’s accuser had reported to the police that in July 2016, when he was 18 and working as a busboy at the Club Car restaurant in Nantucket, he had asked to be introduced to Spacey one night after his shift ended.
After he and Spacey had several drinks, the young man said, they began to sing together at the piano. The accuser said that Spacey had been trying to get him to come home with him, and that while they were standing by the piano, Spacey had unzipped the young man’s pants and rubbed his penis for about three minutes, according to a police report.
When Spacey went to the bathroom, the young man told a woman at the bar that he thought Spacey was trying to rape him, and when she advised him to leave, he ran home, according to his account to the police.
Spacey was charged in December 2018 with one count of indecent assault and battery in the case. He pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer, Alan Jackson, argued that the encounter with Spacey was “consensual flirtation.” Jackson wrote in a court filing that the accuser “concocted and exaggerated elements of a story to impress his friends.” Jackson did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
During the criminal court proceedings, the defense focused its efforts on obtaining the smartphone that the young man used the night of the incident. Throughout the night, he had been texting his girlfriend updates on what he said was happening. At one point, according to court documents, he texted her that Spacey had grabbed his penis “like eight times.”
Jackson said records of that text conversation appeared to be incomplete, suggesting that the accuser had deleted messages that could prove Spacey’s innocence. A group chat involving the accuser and several friends also appeared to be incomplete and edited, Jackson wrote in court filings.
A Nantucket District Court judge granted the defense’s request to obtain the accuser’s physical smartphone so it could be examined. But shortly before the phone was supposed to be produced, the accuser’s lawyer said it was missing.
At the hearing about the missing phone last week, the young man and his parents denied that they had manipulated screenshots of text messages from the night of the incident before handing them over to police. But when Jackson told the accuser that he could be charged with a felony if he had deleted evidence, the young man invoked the Fifth Amendment.
The Nantucket case became public in fall 2017 after the accuser’s mother, Heather Unruh, a former television news anchor in Boston, disclosed her son’s account at a news conference and asked the unidentified woman who had told him to flee the Club Car to step forward. That news conference came soon after Spacey had been publicly accused of sexual misconduct for the first time. In a BuzzFeed article, actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of having sexually assaulted him in 1986, when Rapp was 14. No criminal charges were filed.
Spacey, in a statement at the time, said he did not recall the encounter with Rapp, but that “if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
He also wrote that the accusation “encouraged me to address other things about my life,” and revealed then that he was gay. Many accused Spacey of using his coming out to deflect attention from Rapp’s accusation, and of providing fodder for the damaging conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia.
Around the same time as the Nantucket accusation was made public, the Old Vic theater in London said that 20 people had come forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior by Spacey from before and during his 11-year stint as the theater’s artistic director.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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