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Kevin Spacey fights civil liability to Anthony Rapp on sex abuse claims

An attorney for Spacey used air quotes to describe Rapp as a “victim,” and scoffed at the MeToo movement philosophy of accepting accusers’ stories at face value. 

MANHATTAN (CN) — Kevin Spacey appeared in federal court Thursday for the start of a civil trial over allegations that he sexually abused actor Anthony Rapp when Rapp was just 14 years old and Spacey was 26. 

Rapp, who would later originate the role of Mark in the musical "Rent," says he met Spacey in 1986 during his first Broadway run and later attended a party at Spacey’s Manhattan apartment. That evening, he says, Spacey laid Rapp on his bed and got on top of him while fully clothed. 

“What happened to Anthony is something that never should have happened, something that was wrong, and quite frankly unacceptable,” Rapp’s attorney Peter Saghir said during opening statements. 

Saghir walked the jury through Rapp’s life, being raised by a single mother and excited to begin a career as an actor. Part of being in the theater community, Saghir said, involved meeting other actors. After Spacey and Rapp met, Spacey invited the teenager to an intimate party of five or 10 people. 

Rapp felt uncomfortable since he knew no one but Spacey, so he went to watch TV in Spacey’s bedroom, Saghir said. He didn’t realize the other guests had all left until he saw Spacey standing at the bedroom entrance visibly intoxicated.

“Kevin Spacey is swaying on his feet,” Saghir said. “His eyes are glassy and unfocused.” 

Then, Spacey approached Rapp: “He lifts Anthony up, much like a groom would carry a bride over the threshold,” Saghir said, and then placed Rapp back down and lied on top of with his full weight bearing on 5-foot-4, 100-pound frame. 

“Anthony is frozen. He is shocked,” Saghir said. 

As Rapp tried to leave the apartment, Saghir said, Spacey followed him to the door. “Kevin Spacey leans into Anthony," Saghir recounted, "and says, 'Are you sure you want to go?’” 

Anthony Rapp on Jan. 17, 2019, left, and actor Kevin Spacey (left) on Jan. 7, 2019. (AP file photo)

It is not disputed that Rapp had told the story to others for years, but his allegations went public in 2017 during the height of the #MeToo movement. Spacey responded on Twitter. 

“I’m beyond horrified to hear this story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology,” Spacey wrote

Adding to the controversy, Spacey came out as gay for the first time in the statement.

“I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man,” Spacey wrote. 

Saghir asked the jury, composed of six men and six women, to put aside both men’s sexuality.

“Whether it’s a 14-year-old boy or a 14-year-old girl should make no difference in this courtroom,” said Saghir, of the New York firm Gair Gair Conason. 

Spacey’s attorney characterized the openly gay Rapp, now 50, as a bitter, lesser-known actor who was angry at Spacey for keeping his sexuality a secret for so long. 

“He saw him as a fraud,” said Jennifer Keller of Keller/Anderle in Irvine, Calif. “He felt there were things he could be doing for the gay community if he came out.” 

Keller previewed Spacey’s defense by describing details about Spacey’s apartment that are different from those in Rapp’s memory — most critically, she said, that Rapp remembered a bedroom door being ajar before the incident, but Spacey’s apartment was in fact a studio. Even back in the late '80s when Rapp first told the story to a friend, he remembered a bedroom door, according to Keller. 

Spacey’s legal team noted similarities between Rapp’s account and the play the young actor was starring in at the time, "Precious Sons." The father of Rapp’s character came home drunk and mistook the child for his wife, then lied on top of him, Keller told the jury. 

Rapp first met Spacey while in New York with a friend who was 19 at the time. Spacey took both teenagers to Limelight, a famed church-turned-nightclub that closed for good in 2007. Rapp’s friend apparently caught Spacey’s eye, a detail both attorneys elicited in their openings. Keller said that fueled jealousy on Rapp’s part.

“Mr. Rapp became something of a third wheel,” Keller said. 

During her opening statement, Keller used air quotes to describe Rapp as a “victim” and said that the “so-called MeToo movement” demands accepting accusers’ stories at face value. Though Rapp told friends about the alleged encounter, he had not told the police or a parent, she noted. 

“This is a case of objective facts refuting the tale that Mr. Rapp tells,” Keller said. “I urge you, I expect you, to find that there’s no liability here.” 

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan finished jury selection before lunch on Thursday, with openings beginning just after 2 p.m. Spacey looked around the room and smiled during the process. The 63-year-old actor, whose full name is Kevin Spacey Fowler, agrees he met Rapp in 1986 but denies that the party Rapp described ever occurred. 

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

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