Celebrity chef Mario Batali acquitted of sexual misconduct

BOSTON (AP) — Celebrity chef Mario Batali has been cleared of sexual misconduct following a criminal trial in Boston.

A woman had accused Batali of forcibly kissing and groping her while taking a selfie at a restaurant in 2017. Batali’s lawyer argued that the Boston assault never happened and said the accuser has a financial incentive to lie. The judge found him not guilty on Tuesday. The chef had waived his right to a jury trial.

Batali had faced indecent assault and battery charges, which carried up to 2 1/2 years in prison. Batali’s accuser has filed a lawsuit that’s pending. The career of the 61-year-old former Food Network fixture crumbled amid sexual misconduct allegations from four women in 2017.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

BOSTON (AP) — Celebrity chef Mario Batali’s fate in his Boston sexual misconduct trial now rests in a judge’s hands.

Lawyers for both the defense and prosecution rested their cases on Tuesday, the second day of the swiftly moving trial in which the former Food Network star waived his right to have a jury decidethe verdict.

The case being heard in Boston Municipal Court is centered on a woman who says Batali kissed and groped her while she attempted to take a selfie at a Boston bar in 2017.

In his closing statements, Batali’s lawyer Antony Fuller portrayed the victim as an “admitted liar” who is financially motivated, as she’s seeking more than $50,000 in damages from Batali in a separate lawsuit.

“In her world, truth is a flexible concept,” he said, referencing the woman’s recent admission of attempting to avoid jury service by claiming to be clairvoyant, which was a focus on Monday's hearing.

Fuller also said the multiple photos the woman took with Batali suggest an “entirely consensual encounter" in which she doesn't appear to show any unease.

“Photos and video don’t lie. They don’t have a financial motivation,” he said. “But she does. ”

Prosecutor Nina Bonelli countered in her closing statement that Batali's lawyers were trying to “demonize” the woman, when it was in fact their client on trial over his conduct.

She argued it was “absolutely undeniable” from the photos that Batali was drunk and aggressively kissing the woman’s face. What’s not shown, she said, is what was happening off camera as he also grabbed her private areas.

Bonelli said the woman had tried to “de-escalate” the unwanted touching from the powerful celebrity by simply “smiling it off."

“The kissing, the groping. She never asked for it. She never consented to it,” she said. “She just wanted a selfie.”

The court session is expected to resume in the afternoon, when Judge James Stanton could potentially deliver his verdict.

The accuser, a 32-year-old software company worker, testified Monday that she’d felt confused, powerless and embarrassed to share her story until other women stepped forward to share similar encounters with Batali.

Batali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery, could face up to 2 1/2 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender if convicted.

The 61-year-old, who was once a fixture on shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America,” is among a number of high-profile men who have faced a public reckoning during the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.

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