Cuba Gooding Jr.’s trial on groping charges, set to start Tuesday, instead was postponed until Oct. 10. Prosecutors told the judge they’re still waiting for evidence in the Oscar-winning actor’s case.
Gooding arrived in court in New York for what was supposed to be jury selection in his trial on a misdemeanor groping charge stemming from an encounter with a woman at a Manhattan roof-top bar in June.
Accompanied by lawyers, Gooding was dressed in a light gray suit and tie. He smiled and waved at waiting media cameras.
This is the second celebrity criminal case scheduled to be tried in New York in the post-#MeToo era. It’s also a rare example of pressing a groping case, says New York criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick.
“Groping charges are very uncommon in New York – except for subway perverts,” Slotnick says.
Gooding, 51, is accused of misdemeanor “forcible touching:” A 29-year-old woman told police he grabbed her breast when she sat down next to him and his girlfriend at the Magic Hour Rooftop Bar and Lounge in midtown Manhattan on June 9.
Gooding has pleaded not guilty, insisting that “nothing happened.”
His New York lawyer, Mark Heller, said in a statement posted on his website that the defense is ready and will press to start on Tuesday “considering that 77 days have elapsed since Gooding was arrested.”
It is unclear whether prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office plan to call eye-witnesses beyond the accuser herself.
But Gooding’s defense, according to court documents and Heller, is to question the accuser’s mental stability, based on what she’s written in online blogs.
He also will try to raise doubts about key evidence, including a blurry surveillance video from inside the bar that Heller says is too unclear to show Gooding touched the accuser in the manner she claims. It also shows that the accuser approached Gooding, not the other way around.
Heller plans to call witnesses who were in the bar that night, such as Gooding’s girlfriend, Claudine De Niro, who was sitting between him and the accuser and says Gooding did not grope her.
“When you watch the video, you do not understand what is happening,” Slotnick says. “And you don’t see the reaction you would expect of someone who has been inappropriately touched.”
But none of this was strong enough to persuade a judge to dismiss the charge “in the interests of justice,” as Heller sought at pretrial hearings. That motion was swatted away by Judge Phyllis Chu who said Heller failed to present required “compelling reasons” to warrant it.
“The conflicting factual allegations between the criminal court information and the defendant’s motion should be resolved at trial,” Chu wrote in her ruling.
Rarely has a misdemeanor charge achieved such worldwide attention.
How come? First, Gooding is a movie star. Second, he’s accused of a sex-crime, even if a misdemeanor. And third, prosecutors everywhere are under intense pressure from #MeToo activists to do more to pursue sexual harassment and misconduct.
“This is a well-known celebrity, instantly recognizable, and to suggest that he would, in public in a bar, commit a sexual crime is somewhat outrageous,” Slotnick says. “This case is heading for a not guilty verdict. In the legal world, it’s generally perceived as ending in a not guilty verdict. ”
As the two-year anniversary of the publication of blockbuster Harvey Weinstein exposes in The New York Times and The New Yorker approaches, prosecutors have little to point to in terms of cases won.
Weinstein, 67, who was indicted on felony sex crimes, including rape, involving two women accusers in May 2018, has gone through multiple legal teams, multiple arraignments and multiple hearings since then. His trial has been put off until January 2020 at the earliest.
Bill Cosby, 82, was convicted of three sex-crimes in Pennsylvania in April 2018, but his case began in late 2015 and his first trial ended in a mistrial in June 2017, so the influence of #MeToo is at least mixed.
Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, 60, is the other major celebrity to have been charged with a sex crime as fallout from #MeToo. Spacey was charged in December 2018 with fondling an 18-year-old bus boy in a Nantucket bar in the summer of 2016, but the prosecution collapsed in July 2019 when a key piece of evidence – a cellphone –disappeared under murky circumstances and the accuser suddenly pleaded his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify. Case dismissed.
Spacey, like Weinstein, is under investigation for alleged sex crimes elsewhere, including in Los Angeles and in London, but so far no charges have been brought.