BOSTAN – Mario Battali was found not guilty of indecent assault and beatings Tuesday after a speedy trial in which a celebrity chef waived his right to have a jury decide his fate in a criminal case sparked by the global #MeToo movement against sexual violence . and harassment.
The 61-year-old former Food Network activist quickly walked out of the courtroom with his lawyers, without commenting on the case, which was accused of aggressively kissing and touching a woman from Boston while taking a selfie at a bar in 2017.
In passing sentence, Boston Municipal Court Judge James Stanton agreed with Batali’s lawyers that the prosecutor had problems with trust and that the photos showed that the meeting was amicable.
“Photos are worth a thousand words,” he said.
But the judge also rebuked Batali, suggesting that the former star of shows such as “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America” had already paid a “high price” in terms of his declining reputation and financial losses.
“Not to say that Mr. Batali was not covered in fame that night,” Stanton said after prosecutors said he was clearly drunk in the photos. “His behavior, appearance and behavior did not correspond to a public figure of this level at the time.”
Suffolk County Attorney Kevin Hayden said he was disappointed with the verdict, but a grateful prosecutor Batali spoke.
“Victims can find it incredibly difficult to detect sexual violence,” he said in a statement. “If the person who committed such a heinous act is in a position of power or celebrity, the decision to report the attack can become even more difficult and frightening.”
Battali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and beatings in 2019, took the calculated risk that Stanton, a former Republican nominee to the state appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, would decide more favorably than the Boston jury.
Seeking a jury or a trial is often a strategy used when a defendant may find it unpleasant for a jury.
So it was with Michelle Carter, a teenager from Massachusetts, sadly accused of manslaughter for urging her suicidal boyfriend to kill herself in text messages and which was the theme of “The Plainville Girl,” a 2022 Hulu show starring El Fanning.
In the case of Carter, however, the strategy did not work and she was convicted and sentenced to more than a year in prison.
Batali was threatened with up to 2 and a half years in prison, and if convicted he would be required to register as a sex offender.
His prosecutor, who also left the courtroom without speaking to reporters, testified that at the time she felt confused and powerless to do anything to stop Batali.
But in his closing remarks, Batali’s attorney, Anthony Fuller, described the 32-year-old Boston resident as a “recognized liar” who is financially motivated because she filed a lawsuit demanding more than $ 50,000 from Batali.
“In her world, truth is a flexible concept,” he said, referring to a woman’s recent confession in an attempt to avoid the jury service, arguing she was insightful, which was the focus of the two-day trial.
Prosecutor Nina Banelli denied in her closing statement that Batali’s lawyers tried to “demonize” the woman when it was their client who was being tried for his behavior.
She said the woman tried to “remove the escalation” of unwanted touches by simply “smiling” in the photos.
“Kisses, touch. She never asked for it. She never agreed to it, ”she said. “She just wanted to take a selfie.”
Batali was perhaps the most famous chef and restaurateur accused of sexual abuse at the height of the #MeToo movement, which particularly shocked the food and beverage industry.
After four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, he gave up day-to-day operations in his restaurant empire and left the discontinued ABC cooking show “The Chew”.
Batali also apologized, acknowledging that the charges “coincide” with the way he acted.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” he said in an e-mail at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility. “
Last year, Batali, his business partner and their New York restaurant company agreed to pay $ 600,000 to complete a four-year investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office into allegations that Batali and other employees sexually harassed employees.
In Boston, he opened a branch of the popular Italian food market Eataly and Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the urban area of the seaport. But since then it has been redeemed from its stake in Eataly, and the Babbo restaurant in Boston has closed.