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Jury clears Kevin Spacey in $40M sexual battery suit

Deliberations were swift in the trial between Kevin Spacey and "Rent" actor Anthony Rapp, who says he was just 14 when he wound up alone with the future "House of Cards" star in the bedroom after a party.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A New York jury ruled Kevin Spacey not liable on Thursday afternoon to a fellow actor who says he was just 14 when the future "House of Cards" star made unwanted sexual advances.

Anthony Rapp testified during the two-week federal trial that he felt like a “deer in the headlights” when Spacey pinned him down on a bed following a party at Spacey’s apartment in an Upper East Side high-rise. The references that the now 50-year-old Rapp made to Spacey's bedroom, however, may have impeached his credibility with the jury.

“You know the devil is in the details: This is a party that never happened,” Spacey’s attorney Jennifer Keller had told jurors earlier in afternoon before deliberations that moved swiftly. “There was no bedroom, it’s a small studio."

Rapp says the party happened in 1986, when Spacey, then 26, was acting in a Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night." Spacey, for his part agrees that he met Rapp in 1986 but denies that any assault occurred or that there was even a party.

“We’re here because Mr. Rapp has falsely alleged abuse that never occurred at a party that was never held, in a room that did not exist,” said Keller, a partner at Keller/Anderle.

“The timing of the party makes no sense,” she continued, noting that Rapp said the party at Spacey's took place after Rapp's play “Precious Sons” closed, which would have been May 11, but also claims to have a “clear memory” of seeing an episode of David Letterman’s "Late Night" from May 20 in which Molly Ringwald was a guest.

Keller proposed that Rapp’s allegations were in fact a mixed memories conflating similar moments of the plot of “Precious Sons,” in which the father of Rapp’s character, played by Ed Harris, drunkenly mistakes the child for his wife and lies on top of him in pursuit of sex.

After the jury read its verdict, Spacey was silent as he walked through a scrum of photographers outside of the courthouse. 

His lawyer told reporters he is “deeply grateful for the jury system and this jury in particular.” 

“This was a highly intelligent, highly educated jury,” Keller said after the verdict. “They’re very bright people; they could see right through this.” 

Rapp’s lawyers did not comment on the verdict. 

Actor Anthony Rapp, left, arrives at court in New York on Oct 6, 2022, for trial of his civil lawsuit against Kevin Spacey. AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

In the proceedings, Spacey’s attorneys had cast Rapp as a jealous and angry lesser-known actor who considered Spacey a fraud because he didn’t come out as gay earlier in his career. “Stardom did not follow him,” Keller said Thursday of Rapp, who played Mark in the original Broadway cast and film version of “Rent."

“There is absolutely no evidence that this happened, and plenty of evidence it didn’t,” she said at the conclusion of her 80-minute final summation.

One point on which the parties agreed is that Rapp has been privately sharing his allegations against Spacey for decades, long before Rapp went public with his story in 2017 and finally sued Spacey two years ago for $40 million.

Lawyers for the "Rent" actor insist that Spacey’s defense has been an “inconsistent” attempt to portray Rapp as “liar who’s been on 35-year crusade to bring down Kevin Spacey.” Speaking for 75 minutes, attorney Richard Steigman told jurors that Spacey had not brought any evidence at trial to prove his innocence.

“Either he’s denying what he knows or perhaps the drinking and drug use made it that he truly did not remember anything of this,” Steigman said during closing arguments Thursday morning. “The simple truth here is this happened, he shared it, and after all this time, he’s come here to share this truth with you."

In Rapp’s telling of events, he was the only kid at an adult gathering. He says he went to sit on Spacey’s bed and watch TV. After the other guests had left, he said a visibly intoxicated Spacey approached Rapp, lifted him in the air — both Rapp and his attorney likened it to a groom carrying a bride over the threshold — then placed Rapp back on the bed and climbed on top of him, pressing his groin into Rapp’s hip. 

“I was frozen. I was pinned underneath him,” Rapp testified. “I didn't know what to do.” 

It was in the wake of Rapp’s accusation in 2017 that Spacey ultimately decided to come out publicly as gay, adding to the controversy with a tweet explaining he didn’t remember the encounter but was sorry if it had happened. 

During his testimony Monday, the 63-year-old “American Beauty” star offered an explanation for his silence, revealing details about his home life for the first time. “My father was a white supremacist and a neo-Nazi,” Spacey testified. He said he and his siblings were forced to listen to “hours and hours” of lectures about their father’s beliefs, and, as his interest in theater grew, his father, a failed creative writer, would “yell at me about the idea that I might be gay.” As a result, he got used to keeping secrets, Spacey told jurors.

Steigman ridiculed the “casual assuredness” of Spacey’s testimony as “perfectly polished.”

“He laughed, he cried, he did a Jack Lemmon impression,” Rapp’s attorney recounted.

By the time the jury received the case for deliberation, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan had whittled Rapp’s claims down to a lone battery count — for forcible touching of sexual or intimate body parts — separately knocking off counts of assault and infliction of emotional distress. The charge was put to a jury of six women and five men; the 12th juror was excused from the trial Thursday morning due to a back injury.

Spacey, whose full name is Kevin Spacey Fowler, also faces four criminal counts in the U.K. of sexual assault from additional accusers. He pleaded not guilty in July.

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