LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — Prosecutors dropped a case Wednesday accusing Kevin Spacey of groping a young man at a Massachusetts bar in 2016, more than a week after the accuser refused to testify about a missing cellphone the defense says contains information that supports the actor’s claims of innocence.
Spacey was charged with indecent assault and battery last year in the only criminal case that has been brought against the actor since his career collapsed amid a slew of sexual misconduct allegations. The two-time Oscar winner was among the earliest and biggest names to be ensnared in the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment that swept across the entertainment and other industries.
Spacey denies groping the man, whose mother first went public with the allegations in 2017.
A phone message seeking comment was left with Spacey’s lawyer.
The actor’s accuser was ordered to take the stand earlier this month after he said he lost the cellphone he used the night of the alleged groping. The defense said it needed the phone to recover deleted text messages it says would help Spacey’s case.
The man denied deleting messages or manipulating screenshots of conversations he provided to investigators. But when he was pressed by the defense about whether he knew that altering evidence is a crime, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the judge said his testimony would be stricken from the record.
The judge then questioned how prosecutors would be able to bring Spacey to trial if the accuser continued to refuse to testify, and prosecutors told the judge they needed time to decide how to proceed.
“The case died because the victim pleaded the Fifth Amendment on the stand,” says former sex crimes prosecutor and KCBS/KCAL legal analyst Steve Meister, “In a sex crimes case, the only thing you as a prosecutor have going for you is the victim’s credibility. That’s all that counts, that’s all that matters. Without it, you have nothing.”
On Wednesday, Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said in court documents that they were dropping the charge “due to an unavailability of the complaining witness.”
The hearing at which the accuser testified came days after the man abruptly dropped a lawsuit he had just recently filed against the actor that sought damages for “severe and permanent mental distress and emotional injuries.” The suit was dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.
The man did not receive a settlement to drop the civil case, his mother said. His lawyer said he dropped it because he was emotionally overwhelmed and wanted only “one roller coaster ride at a time” and so chose to focus on the criminal case.
The man’s mother, former Boston TV anchor Heather Unruh, alleged in 2017 that Spacey got her son drunk and sexually assaulted him at the Club Car, a bar on Nantucket where the teen worked as a busboy.
The man told police he went over to talk to Spacey after his shift because he wanted to get a picture with the former “House of Cards” star. He said Spacey bought him several drinks and tried to persuade him to come home with him before unzipping the man’s pants and groping him for about three minutes.
Unruh’s son told police he tried to move Spacey’s hands, but the groping continued, and he didn’t know what to do because he didn’t want to get in trouble for drinking because he was underage. The man said he fled when Spacey went to the bathroom.
Shortly after Spacey was charged, he posted a video on YouTube in the voice of his “House of Cards” character who was killed off after the sexual misconduct allegations emerged, saying “I’m certainly not going to pay the price for the thing I didn’t do.”
“It would be very tough [for Spacey] to get back into the spotlight, I think, realistically,” says Jonathan Handel, a contributing editor for The Hollywood Reporter, “As far as the industry is concerned, the people can’t erase the awareness of this case although there are now huge questions hanging over it. They also can’t erase the other people who have come forward in England and at least one person in the U.S.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)