Cuba Gooding Jr. indicted in groping case; new charge added; trial postponed
Cuba Gooding Jr. appears in NY courtroom AP Domestic
Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. has been indicted by a New York grand jury in his groping case – with a new and previously uncharged incident added to the charges. As a result, his trial on the original charge, set to begin Thursday, was postponed and a new arraignment was scheduled for Oct. 15.
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Jenna Long filed a "certificate of affirmative grand jury action" Thursday, according to Justin Henry, spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
He said the indictment and the details of the charges will not be unsealed until Gooding's arraignment on the indictment next week.
Gooding was originally charged in June with misdemeanor groping stemming from a New York City bar encounter with a 29-year-old woman.
His trial was supposed to start in September and jury selection was supposed to begin. But Court TV anchor Seema Iyer, a former New York City prosecutor-turned-defense attorney in Manhattan, says sealed indictments are not uncommon.
"The district attorneys in New York City often indict misdemeanors when they think it is possible for the charges to be upgraded to a felony, because if new evidence comes forward, a superseding indictment is possible,” Iyer said.
“The defense and/or prosecution likely asked for sealing to protect the (accuser) and/or shield the case from the public," she added. "The defense would be motivated to protect Gooding."
His 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 prosecuting a groping case, a crime seldom reported in New York, says local criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick.
But much uncertainty has arisen about what was supposed to be a cut-and-dried prosecution of Gooding for allegedly grabbing and squeezing the breast of an unnamed 29-year-old woman who sat down next to him and his girlfriend in the Magic Hour Rooftop Bar and Lounge in midtown Manhattan on June 9.
Besides the accuser, who has not been named, prosecutors had access to surveillance video inside the bar on the night in question, although the defense argues the video is too blurry to show clearly what happened.
Also, witnesses, including Gooding's girlfriend Claudine De Niro, who was sitting between Gooding and the accuser, deny that Gooding groped her.
Last month, in explaining the reason for the postponement, Assistant District Attorney Jenna Long said prosecutors intended to obtain additional evidence, such as medical records, photographs and surveillance tapes from locations other than the bar in question, to provide to Gooding's defense lawyers.
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 the surveillance video, which Heller says shows that the accuser approached Gooding, not the other way around.
Rarely has a misdemeanor charge achieved such worldwide attention. The reasons why include Gooding's movie-star status, the sex-crime nature of the accusation and the intense pressure prosecutors are under 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 told USA TODAY last month. "This case is heading for a not-guilty verdict. In the legal world, it's generally perceived as ending in a not-guilty verdict. "