Mistrial declared in actor Danny Masterson’s rape trial

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the rape case against “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson after jurors, who leaned heavily toward acquitting him, deadlocked following the month-long trial in which the Church of Scientology played a supporting role.

Masterson, 46, was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with raping three women, including a former girlfriend, at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. He pleaded not guilty and his attorney said the acts were all consensual. All three women were members of the church at the time, and Masterson remains one.

“I find that the jurors are hopelessly deadlocked,” Judge Charlaine Olmedo declared after asking if there was anything the court could do to bring them closer to reaching a unanimous decision. She set a March date for a new trial.

Olmedo had ordered jurors to take the Thanksgiving week off and continue deliberations after they said on Nov. 18 that they could not reach a consensus. The jury began deliberations on Monday after two alternates replaced jurors who had COVID-19.

Jurors said they had voted seven times on Tuesday and Wednesday without being able to reach an agreement on any of the three points.

The foreman said only two jurors voted to convict on the first charge, four voted to convict on the second charge and five voted to convict on the third charge.

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The result was a serious setback for prosecutors and for the three women who said they were seeking long-overdue justice.

Two of the alleged victims in the case issued a statement saying they were disappointed: “Masterson has evaded criminal responsibility for his deplorable actions. But we are collectively determined to continue our fight for justice.”

Two of the women and the husband of one are suing Masterson, the Church of Scientology, its leader David Miscavige and others for allegedly stalking, harassing and intimidating them after they tried to expose Masterson.

Masterson left court with his wife, actress and model Bijou Phillips, without speaking to reporters.

The trial came amid a flurry of cases on both coasts with #MeToo connotations, including the Los Angeles case against Harvey Weinstein just down the hall from Masterson’s. In New York, Kevin Spacey won a sexual offense lawsuit filed by actor Anthony Rapp in New York, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis to pay $10 million. in a civil case there.

But in the Masterson trial, as in the Haggis case, the #MeToo implications were largely overshadowed by the specter of Scientology, despite the judge’s insistence that the church not become a de facto defendant.

Deputy Prosecutor Reinhold Mueller said the church had tried to silence the women, which is why it took two decades for the case to come to trial.

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Masterson’s lawyer, Philip Cohen, said the church was mentioned 700 times during the trial, arguing that it became an excuse for the prosecution’s inability to build a credible case against Masterson, a prominent Scientologist.

Cohen said he would file a motion to dismiss the case based on the way the jury voted. He said jurors provided additional insights after the trial verdict that were helpful but would not discuss what they told him.

“You always wonder as a lawyer if what you do in court every day makes any dent … with the jury,” Cohen said. “Obviously we made inroads.”

Jurors were escorted out of the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

Masterson did not testify. Cohen offered no defense testimony, focusing instead on inconsistencies in the accounts of the three accusers, who he said changed their stories over time and talked to each other before going to police.

“The key to this case is not when they reported it,” Cohen said during closing arguments. “That’s what they said when they reported it. What they said after they reported it. And what they said at trial.”

Mueller argued that Masterson was a man “to whom ‘no’ never meant ‘no,'” as shown by the graphic and emotional testimony of the three prosecutors.

Two women said they were served drinks by Masterson and became lethargic or passed out before being raped. One said she thought she was going to die when Masterson held a pillow over her face.

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An ex-girlfriend said she woke up to Masterson having sex with her without her consent. The defense said her claims were undermined because she later had sex with him after they broke up.

Cohen told jurors they could acquit Masterson if they believed he “actually and reasonably believed” the women consented to sex. Mueller countered that no one would believe the acts described were consensual, reminding jurors that a woman repeatedly told him “no,” pulled his hair and tried to get out from under him.

Mueller told jurors not to be swayed by defense speculation, saying inconsistencies in the victims’ testimony were signs of authenticity as opposed to accounts that had been written.

The charges stem from a period when Masterson was at the height of his fame, starring from 1998 to 2006 as Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show.” The show stars Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with “That ’90s Show.”

Masterson reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy “The Ranch” but was written off when an LAPD investigation was revealed in December 2017.


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