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Celebrity chef Mario Batali faces trial over woman’s #MeToo-era groping claim

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Celebrity chef Mario Batali, 58, is arraigned on a charge of indecent assault and battery at Boston Municpal Court in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. May 24, 2019. David L Ryan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – Celebrity chef Mario Batali goes on trial on Monday over allegations that he forcibly groped and kissed a woman in the only criminal case to result from multiple #MeToo-era claims of sexual harassment and assault that helped fuel his downfall.

Batali will appear in Boston Municipal Court on Monday on a 2019 charge of indecent assault and battery of a woman at a bar who came forward to report her experience after other women accused the chef of sexually aggressive behavior.

The woman, Natali Tene, said Batali assaulted her after posing with her in 2017 for “selfie” photographs at Towne Stove and Spirits, a bar located near Boston’s Eataly, the Italian market and restaurant chain he at the time partly owned.

Batali’s lawyers have called those claims fabricated and argue Tene went to the police to bolster a lawsuit she is pursuing against him to win a monetary settlement. “Our defense is she lies and lies all the time,” Anthony Fuller, Batali’s lawyer, said at an April hearing.

Tene’s lawyer declined to comment.

The case is one of a handful of criminal prosecutions of celebrities following the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, which exposed widespread patterns of sexual harassment or abuse of women in multiple spheres of American life.

If convicted, Batali would face up to 2-1/2 years in jail and having to register as a sex offender.

Prosecutors said Tene came forward with her account after the food website Eater.com in December 2017 detailed allegations by four women who said Batali touched them inappropriately over at least two decades.

That report prompted Batali’s firing from the ABC cooking and talk show “The Chew,” and Batali later cut ties with restaurants like New York’s Babbo and Del Posto he partly owned. He denied allegations of sexual assault but apologized for “deeply inappropriate” behavior.

Batali and his business partner in July agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees to resolve claims by New York’s attorney general that their Manhattan restaurants were rife with sexual harassment.

In the run-up to the trial, Batali’s lawyers and prosecutors have jockeyed over what evidence Judge James Stanton, who is overseeing the trial, would allow jurors to hear.

While prosecutors say Tene came forward to show solidarity with other women, Stanton ruled they may not ask her about the allegations that Eater reported.

But, Stanton also ruled Batali’s lawyers may not at trial play a voicemail left with police by a friend of Tene who was at the bar saying he did not want to see “some guy go up the river for something that’s not exactly true or correct.”

The judge said Batali’s lawyers can, however, ask Tene about a questionnaire she filled out in February 2018 during jury selection in an unrelated assault case in which she said nothing about being a crime victim while claiming to be clairvoyant.

Text messages Batali’s lawyers obtained show that she then wrote to a friend that she looked the defendant up online and that he “totally did it,” despite instructions not to conduct outside research and to keep an open mind.

When the text messages emerged, prosecutors in Middlesex County consented to vacating the man’s conviction due to jury taint and charged Tene herself with contempt. On Thursday, she struck a deal to have that case dismissed in a year following a period of administrative probation, court records show.

Sports & General

Dallas hair salon shooting suspect had delusions about Asians, police say

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© Reuters. An image shows the suspect in the shooting at the Hair World Salon in Dallas on May 11, 2022. Dallas Police/via REUTERS

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By Maria Caspani and Tyler Clifford

(Reuters) -A Dallas man suspected of shooting three women in the city’s Koreatown neighborhood last week harbored delusions about Asian people, police officials said on Tuesday, as the FBI launched a hate crime investigation into the attack.

Police identified the suspect as Jeremy Theron Smith, 36, and booked him on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Smith, who is Black, was being held at Dallas County jail.

Since a crash involving an Asian male two years ago, “Smith has had panic attacks and delusions when he is around anyone of Asian descent,” Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia told reporters.

Garcia said it was too early to tell if mental health may have been a factor in the shooting.

“I can tell you that I know our community sees it as a hate crime,” Garcia said. “I see it as a hate crime, and so do our men and women.”

The FBI along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas and the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice have opened a federal hate crime investigation into the incident. Garcia said state prosecutors could bring state hate crime charges against Smith as well.

The Texas incident echoed last year’s Atlanta-area shooting spree that targeted women of Asian descent, sending waves of fear and distrust within the Asian American community.

Attacks against people of Asian descent have escalated across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began, fueled in part by rhetoric blaming China for the spread of the virus, advocates for Asian-American communities say.

The shooter, armed with a 22-caliber rifle, entered the Hair World Salon last Wednesday, opened fire and wounded the owner, a stylist and a customer, police said. All three were women of Korean descent. They were taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening wounds and were recovering.

Four other people who were at the salon at the time of the shooting were not injured, Garcia added.

He said investigators were able to piece together evidence linking Smith to two prior shootings targeting Asian businesses in the Dallas area. In all three shootings, a red minivan was spotted near the crime scene.

Surveillance video helped police find identifying features of the vehicle including a luggage rack and sticker on the lower back windshield, authorities said.

Smith has not yet been charged in the two other shootings, which occurred last week and in early April, and investigators are still working on those cases, he said.

The Korean American community in the Dallas area ranks among the largest in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, and Koreatown is the historic hub of the area’s Asian and Asian American residents.

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Sports & General

Key moments in the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial

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© Reuters. Actor Johnny Depp walks into the courtroom after a break at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., May 16, 2022. Steve Helber/Pool via REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are suing each other for defamation, each claiming they were abused before and during their roughly two-year marriage. A Virginia jury is hearing the case, which is expected to run through late May.

Below are key moments in the trial so far:

— Depp testified that he never hit Heard or any other woman. He said she was the one who became abusive and “bullied” him with “demeaning name calling.”

“If I stayed to argue, eventually, I was sure it was going to escalate into violence, and oftentimes it did.”

— The pair offered differing accounts of an early 2015 argument in Australia, where Depp was filming a fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

Depp said Heard threw a vodka bottle that severed the top of his right middle finger. The actor said he went into shock and wrote messages to Heard on the wall using blood from the finger.

Heard sobbed as she told the jury that Depp sexually assaulted her that night by inserting a liquor bottle in her vagina. “I was scared,” she said. “I had just married him.”

— A few months later, Heard said, Depp broke her nose and ripped out chunks of her hair during another violent encounter.

— Heard’s attorneys introduced photos that they said showed injuries after various arguments, including scars on her arm that were visible as she posed on a red carpet, and redness and swelling around an eye that she said was struck by a phone thrown by Depp. An attorney for Depp showed images from public appearances that they said were taken around the time of their fights and appeared to show no injuries, and suggested Heard edited photos to make the redness appear more pronounced. Heard said she never edited the photos.

— Depp testified that feces were found in the couple’s bed in 2016. One of his security guards said Heard told him it was “a horrible practical joke gone wrong.” Heard denied any involvement and suggested one of the couple’s dogs was responsible.

— Heard’s lawyers introduced text messages in which Depp called Heard a “filthy whore” and said he wanted her dead.

Writing to actor Paul Bettany in 2013, Depp said: “Let’s drown her before we burn her” and “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterward to make sure she is dead.”

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Depp lawyer questions Heard about drugs, love notes in defamation case

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© Reuters. Actors Amber Heard and Johnny Depp watch as the jury leaves the courtroom at the end of the day at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Monday, May 16, 2022. Steve Helber/Pool via REUTERS

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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Johnny Depp’s attorney grilled the actor’s ex-wife Amber Heard on Tuesday, producing affectionate notes she wrote during their short-lived marriage to challenge her accounts of frequent violence and bolster the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star’s case for defamation.

Depp, 58, is suing Heard for $50 million, saying she defamed him when she claimed she was a victim of domestic abuse. He has testified that he never hit Heard and argued that she was the abuser in their relationship.

During her cross-examination, Depp lawyer Camille Vasquez showed jurors a knife Heard bought Depp as a gift in 2012. Heard, best known for her role in “Aquaman,” said Depp had already turned violent by then and often lashed out at her when he was drunk or using drugs.

“This is the knife you gave to the man who would get drunk and violent toward you?” Vasquez said to Heard, who responded that she did not think he would stab her with it.

Heard, 36, has countersued Depp for $100 million, arguing that Depp smeared her by calling her a liar. She said she only hit Depp to defend herself or her sister.

On Tuesday, Depp’s attorney read entries from a journal that Heard said the couple kept to share love notes.

“True love isn’t about just the madness of passion or instead picking the safety of peace. No, it’s about both,” Heard wrote in May 2015, two months after an argument in which the top of Depp’s right middle finger was cut off.

“I still, perhaps more than ever, want to rip you apart, devour you and savor the taste,” she added.

Depp has said Heard threw a vodka bottle that injured his finger, while Heard said it was likely Depp harmed himself when he smashed a phone into “smithereens.”

In another journal excerpt, after their July 2015 honeymoon aboard the Orient Express, Heard said she “couldn’t imagine a more gorgeous honeymoon,” and added, “I love you more and more every passing day.”

Heard had told jurors on Monday that Depp assaulted her and wrapped a T-shirt around her neck during the trip.

Asked about entries, Heard said she tried to “nurture as much peace” as possible, and that “when things were good they were really good.”

Vasquez also showed jurors a proposed schedule for her wedding to Depp. The agenda included time for a “dance party and drugs and music” after the rehearsal dinner.

“You planned to have drugs at your wedding to someone you characterize as a drug addict?” Vasquez asked.

Heard said the schedule was a draft that underwent changes.

The actors wed in February 2015 and their divorce was finalized about two years later.

The legal case centers on a December 2018 opinion piece by Heard that appeared in the Washington Post. The article never mentioned Depp by name, but his lawyer told jurors it was clear that Heard was referencing him.

Depp, once among Hollywood’s biggest stars, said Heard’s allegations cost him “everything.” A new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was put on hold, and Depp was replaced in the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise, a “Harry Potter” spinoff.

Heard’s attorneys have argued that she told the truth and that her opinion was protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Less than two years ago, Depp lost a libel case against the Sun, a British tabloid that labeled him a “wife beater.” A London High Court judge ruled that he had repeatedly assaulted Heard.

Depp’s lawyers filed the case in Fairfax County, Virginia, because the Washington Post is printed there. The newspaper is not a defendant.

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