Danny Masterson in 2017. (John Shearer/Getty Images)
Five months after a deadlocked jury led to a mistrial for actor Danny Masterson, the former star of That ’70s Show is on trial again in a Los Angeles court. Masterson is accused of raping three women between 2001 and 2003. He could get 45 years in prison if convicted.
Here are the key elements, characters and issues that will factor into the retrial.
Direct discussion of drugging
A judge is now allowing the prosecution to say directly that Masterson drugged all three women before raping them, in what may be the biggest difference from the first trial. Previously, the drugging could only be implied when the women testified to feeling disoriented, losing memory and going unconscious to a degree that could not be explained by the alcohol they had consumed.
In opening statements Monday, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said all three women had consumed drinks Masterson had given them, and that the “evidence will show that they were drugged.” The defense says there is no such evidence beyond the women’s stories. And defense attorney Philip Cohen made clear to jurors that “there is no drugging charge.”
New role for Scientology
The Church of Scientology loomed large at Masterson’s trial. It could loom larger still in his retrial, with Judge Charlaine Olmedo allowing expert testimony on Scientology that she denied the first time.
Masterson is a prominent member of the church. All three of his accusers are former members who grew disillusioned with the institution in the aftermath of their alleged assaults, saying that church officials told them what had happened to them was not rape, and that its policies prevented them from going to police. The church vehemently denied having any such policy.
The two opposing experts set to testify embody the stark cultural divides the church sometimes creates. The prosecution’s expert, Claire Headley, is a former official in Scientology’s leadership group, known as the Sea Org, who became a staunch church foe, suing it in 2009 over her experience. The defense’s expert is Hugh Martin Whitt, a current high-level Scientologist who is Headley’s estranged stepfather.
Masterson, 47, an actor since childhood, got his major break when he was cast as Stephen Hyde on the retro sitcom That ’70s Show, which also starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and would run on Fox from 1998 until 2006. At the time of the alleged assaults, his career was at its peak, and his house near Hollywood with a backyard pool and Jacuzzi was a social hub. It was also, according to prosecutors, the scene of all three crimes. Masterson had pleaded not guilty and his lawyers have repeatedly denied all of the allegations.
The first accuser
One of the women Masterson is charged with raping was born into a Scientology family and was part of Masterson’s circle of friends. Nearly all of those closest to her were members, including the late Lisa Marie Presley, who also left the church long before her death in January.
The woman said that when she stopped by Masterson’s house to pick up a set of keys in 2003, he gave her a drink that left her sick and badly disoriented, and raped her in his bedroom upstairs. She first filed a police report, which did not lead to an arrest, in 2004. She returned to authorities in 2016.
The second accuser
The first accuser to take the stand at the retrial is a model and actor who was Masterson’s girlfriend from 1996 to 2002. She previously testified that Masterson grew increasingly physically and sexually abusive in their years together. She said that it eventually led to him raping her twice late in 2001, though he is only charged with one instance, a morning when she woke to find Masterson raping her. She would go to police 15 years later.
The third accuser
The third woman at the center of the trial had only recently met Masterson through mutual friends in the church, which she had joined as a teenager. She testified that in 2003 that Masterson invited her to his house, where they were alone. She said she was clear that she wanted no sex, but he convinced her to get into his jacuzzi then took her to his bed, where he raped her. She went to police in 2017.
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they were victims of sexual abuse.
Investigation and arrest
Police revealed they were investigating Masterson in March of 2017. Hollywood’s #MeToo firestorm would begin about six months later, and in the midst of it Masterson would be written off The Ranch, a Netflix Western comedy where he had reunited with Kutcher.
He was arrested and charged with three rapes in 2020, and in 2021 a judge ruled the evidence was strong enough for him to be tried.
The first trial
Masterson’s monthlong first trial began last October. Masterson, free on bail, was accompanied to court by a large group of friends and family with ties to both Scientology and the entertainment industry, including his wife and the mother of his child, actor and model Bijou Phillips.
The three accusers gave emotional and often traumatic testimony.
Mueller argued that the evidence pointed clearly to Masterson being a “rapist” who created an environment in his home that allowed him to prey on women.
Cohen argued that the women’s testimony was hopelessly riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies.
In the end, fewer than half of jurors voted to convict on any of the counts. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office decided to try again with a new set of jurors, and the women agreed to take the stand again.
Mueller and Cohen will reprise their roles in the retrial. But Masterson this time will also have the services of high-profile attorney Shawn Holley, whose clients have included Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Axl Rose and Lindsay Lohan. She had to miss the first trial with prior commitments representing former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer in his own sexual assault proceedings.
Copyright 2023 Associated Press. To see more, visit AP.
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