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Celebrity chef Mario Batali found not guilty in sex assault trial

Judge finds celebrity chef Mario Batali not guilty in sexual assault trial
Judge finds celebrity chef Mario Batali not guilty in sexual assault trial 01:08

BOSTON (CBS) – Celebrity chef Mario Batali was found not guilty of sexual assault during a bench trial that ended on Tuesday.

Judge James Stanton said he found issues with the accuser's credibility.

"The commonwealth has not met its burden to the degree it is required by law," Stanton said.

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden issues a statement following the verdict.

While we're disappointed in the judge's verdict, my office will not waiver in our support for the victim in this case.  It can be incredibly difficult for a victim to disclose a sexual assault. When the individual who committed such an abhorrent act is in a position of power or celebrity, the decision to report an assault can become all the more challenging and intimidating. I'm grateful that the victim in this case made the decision to come forward, and to every survivor of sexual assault who makes that difficult decision. My office is available to anyone who has experienced sexual violence in Suffolk County to ensure that are met with the level of compassion and care they deserve and that they have access to the services and resources they may need.

Batali, 61, was facing a misdemeanor charge of indecent assault and battery for allegedly inappropriately touching and kissing a woman without her consent at Towne Stove and Spirits in the Back Bay in 2017. The alleged incident happened while the woman, described by attorneys as a former fan, took a selfie with Batali.

Batali did not take the stand. During closing arguments, the chef's attorney argued the accuser "lied for fun and she lied for money."

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday, but Batali waived that right at the start of the session so Stanton decided his fate during a bench trial.

On Tuesday, a friend of the accuser testified about text messages they exchanged the morning after the alleged assault. The accusations were not addressed during the texts, but the woman said her friend later detailed what allegedly happened.

"At first it was just selfies. Then it turned into groping," the friend said.

The pair messaged about selling photos of the accuser and Batali to TMZ, but during her testimony the accuser's friend said it was in a joking manner.

A day earlier, Batali's accuser took the stand. She said that Batali was intoxicated during the incident, which left her "shocked" and "confused."

The chef's defense attorney argued that video evidence does not show assault and battery. Instead, Batali's defense suggested the woman had a financial motive.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the accuser did not want to be touched by Batali and "All she wanted was a selfie."

Batali, who had cooked at the White House for the Obamas, hosted several television shows, and built a food industry empire that at its peak, was worth an estimated $250 million.

He walked away from his ventures after several claims of sexual misconduct came out in 2017. Batali owned two restaurants in Boston before selling them. One was in the Seaport, the other was his stake in Eataly in the Prudential Center.

Just last year, Batali settled sexual misconduct cases for about $600,000 out of New York, according to the attorney general there.

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