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Kevin Spacey’s Trial for Decades Old Sexual Misconduct Claims Begins in Manhattan

A civil trial about decades-old sexual misconduct claims against actor Kevin Spacey, known for leading roles in shows and movies such as “House of Cards” and “American Beauty,” began Thursday in New York City with opening statements focused intensely on how long ago the alleged incident occurred.

Spacey, 63, whose legal name is Kevin Spacey Fowler, faces federal civil battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress allegations from Anthony Rapp, 50, an actor who alleges that Spacey “made a sexual advance” in 1986 when Rapp was 14, according to court records. 

Rapp is seeking $40 million in damages – $10 million in emotional pain and suffering damages, and $30 million in punitive damages. The case is being heard in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

Rapp, represented primarily by attorney Peter Saghir, was able to file the lawsuit because the 2019 New York Child Victims Act moved the statute of limitations for sex crimes from the victim’s 23rd birthday to their 55th birthday. This change allows plaintiffs to file a lawsuit for “injury or condition suffered as a result of conduct which would constitute a sexual offense” far after the offense occured.

Spacey, represented primarily by attorneys Chase Scolnick, Jennifer Keller and Erica Wolff, has publicly denied all allegations against him. 

“If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years,” Spacey tweeted in a 2017 statement published shortly after Rapp went public with his accusations. Spacey used the same statement to come out as gay.

In his opening statement to the jury, Saghir concentrated on one key point of the allegations against Spacey: Rapp’s age and status as a minor at the time. 

“You [the jury] will see Anthony as an adult … but at the time, he was a 14-year-old child,” Saghir said, keeping a photograph of 14-year-old Rapp up on the overhead screen as he talked to jurors. 

“Kevin Spacey made a sexual act when Anthony was 14,” he said. 

Saghir told jurors that the alleged incident happened when then-26-year-old Spacey invited teenage Rapp to a party at his apartment. He said Rapp felt out of place as a minor among adults and so he retreated to Spacey’s bedroom, which Rapp says was separate from the rest of the apartment, to watch TV. Saghir said that while Rapp sat on the bed, a heavily intoxicated Spacey appeared in the bedroom doorway before entering the room, picking Rapp up “much like a groom would carry a bride over the threshold,” placing him down on the bed then climbing on top of him and pressing his pelvis into Rapp’s hip.

“This was no accident, this was not horseplay,” Saghir said. 

Spacey acted this way, Saghir said, “intentionally and to gratify his own sexual desires.” 

Saghir presented other examples of alleged predatory behavior, saying Spacey also invited Rapp and John Barrowman, a then-19-year-old friend, to a nightclub that was intended for adults, not children.

Spacey’s attorney, Jennifer Keller, opened by telling jurors that Rapp made up the entire incident due to deep-seated resentment against Spacey for the older actor’s choice to keep his sexuality secret for decades while he built a highly successful career without being openly gay. By contrast, Keller said, Rapp has been openly gay for the duration of his career and never reached the same heights.

Keller told jurors she suspects that Rapp also concocted the story because he was jealous of the attraction and flirtation between Spacey and Barrowman, leaving Rapp displaced from the center of attention. Keller also said Barrowman refuted the claim from Rapp that he was also harassed by Spacey during a deposition.

“This courtroom is a place where actual evidence is required,” Keller said. “We’re confident that once you hear both sides, you’ll decide this never happened.”

To support her argument that the story was fabricated, Keller told jurors she will present evidence that suggests that there is no closed-off bedroom in the apartment where Spacey lived at the time of the alleged incident. 

A key point in Rapp’s story, Keller said, is the separation Rapp described of the bedroom — wherein the offense allegedly occurred — from the main area of Spacey’s apartment, where the other attendees were that night. Floorplans shown in court illustrate that Spacey’s apartment was a studio setup with no separate bedroom, and no doorway for Spacey to have stood in or passed through. Rapp claims that he didn’t realize he was alone with Spacey until the older actor entered the room, at which point he says he saw enough of the main room behind Spacey to realize everyone else had left. Keller questioned in her statement how Rapp could claim that he didn’t realize everyone else had left the party if there was no bedroom. 

“This story about being ambushed after everybody left doesn’t work if you watched everybody leave,” Keller said. “Facts are a stubborn thing.”

Keller also said the play that Rapp was performing in at the time of the alleged incident, “Precious Sons,” directly mirrors Rapp’s allegations against Spacey. In the play, actor Ed Harris plays the part of a father who lifts the character that Rapp played and at one point comes in drunk and lays on top of him, mistaking Rapp’s character for his wife — all in the same manner as what Rapp alleges Spacey did to him, Keller said. 

To attempt to undercut the veracity of the 2017 BuzzFeed story that first reported Rapp’s allegations, Keller showed jurors text-messages between Rapp and a BuzzFeed reporter, where the reporter says the story will be intentionally vague and “won’t say something that Spacey could then just flatly deny.” 

Keller said Rapp admits that he went to BuzzFeed because he had a friend who worked there as an entertainment reporter and he wanted to give his story to his friend.

“Does it make something true,” Keller asked the jury, questioning Rapp’s account, “if you tell it to other people?”

The Buzzfeed story was published as the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment was gaining traction in 2017. Since then, more than 30 men have gone public in the media with allegations of assault and misconduct by Spacey, according to reporting by Vox and The Cut. Rapp addressed the similarity of his allegations against Spacey to what happens in “Precious Sons” in the Buzzfeed story by saying the similarity may have led to him normalizing the action in his mind.

This case joins a litany of legal action Spacey has recently been involved in. Over the summer, Spacey pleaded not guilty in a London court to sexual assault charges brought by men who worked with Spacey at a theater in England, according to reporting by Reuters. In another blow to the actor, a Los Angeles judge recently approved a requirement for Spacey to pay $30.9 million to the creators of “House of Cards” for his departure from the show over crew members’ allegations of sexual harassment, The Washington Post reported. In a separate case over allegations of indecent assault and battery, Massachusetts prosecutors dropped charges in 2019 against Spacey, and the man involved dropped his civil suit, according to reporting by NPR.

Rapp originally filed an assault charge alongside the claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to court records. But U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan dismissed the assault claim following a motion for summary judgment filed by Spacey.

The civil case also originally included assault allegations from an anonymous plaintiff listed in court records only as “C.D.” However, Kaplan dismissed all of C.D.’s claims due to C.D.’s refusal to be named publicly in the lawsuit.

The trial is expected to last approximately two to three weeks, according to court records, with witness testimony beginning Friday.

Written by

Jake Conley is a fellow at the Columbia Journalism School's Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. He's been working in journalism for five years.