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Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. will turn himself in to police after an alleged groping incident at a New York City bar.
USA TODAY

Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is set to go on trial Thursday on a misdemeanor groping charge stemming from a New York City bar encounter in June.

But that’s what the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said in September when jury selection was supposed to begin – and instead the case was postponed because prosecutors said they were still waiting for evidence in the case.

Could another delay be in the cards? Justin Henry, spokesman for District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., declined to discuss the matter with USA TODAY, saying in an email that an “appearance” in the case was scheduled.

Mark Heller, Gooding’s New York defense attorney, said in an email: “We intend to stand ready for a trial.”

Gooding, 51, has pleaded not guilty, insisting that “nothing happened.”

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.  

Cuba Gooding Jr., arrives for trial on his groping case, Sept. 3, 2019, in New York. (Photo: ANGELA WEISS/ AFP/Getty Images)

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. “

Cuba Gooding Jr. leaves criminal court in New York on June 13, 2019. (Photo: Frank Franklin II/ AP)

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