The Los Angeles jury for the rape retrial of actor Danny Masterson delivered guilty verdicts for two out of three rape counts against the That ’70s Show star Wednesday.
The convictions came after nearly two weeks of deliberation. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on the third count, which alleged Masterson raped a longtime girlfriend. They had voted 8-4 in favour of conviction.
Masterson, 47, who pleaded not guilty to all charges of rape against him, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. He now faces 30 years to life in prison.
No sentencing date has yet been set, but the judge told Masterson and his lawyers to return to court Aug. 4 for a hearing. Masterson will be held without bail until he is sentenced.
His wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, wept as he was led away. Other family and friends sat stone-faced.
“I am experiencing a complex array of emotions — relief, exhaustion, strength, sadness — knowing that my abuser, Danny Masterson, will face accountability for his criminal behavior,” one of the women, whom Masterson was convicted of raping at his home in 2003, said in a statement.
The woman whose count left the jury deadlocked said in the statement: “While I’m encouraged that Danny Masterson will face some criminal punishment, I am devastated that he has dodged criminal accountability for his heinous conduct against me.”
The convictions come after last year’s original trial on the same three counts ended in a mistrial when a jury deadlocked, failing to reach unanimous verdicts. Prosecutors quickly moved to hold a retrial.
During the second trial this year, deputy district attorney Reinhold Mueller and his team tried to paint Masterson as a serial rapist who has been protected by high-ranking officials in the Church of Scientology. (Masterson and his family are all members of the church.) They claimed Masterson, on separate occasions, put drugs into the drinks of a longtime girlfriend and two other women he knew through the church before he raped them.
Direct discussion of drugging was missing from last year’s original trial, with Mueller instead having to imply it through the testimony of the women, who said they were woozy, disoriented and at times unconscious on the nights they described the actor raping them. Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo allowed the direct assertion at the retrial.
Masterson did not face any drug-related charges.
Lawyers for both sides acknowledged that there is no forensic evidence of any substances Masterson may have given the women because the police investigation that led to the two trials did not begin until about 15 years after the events.
Actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, said she has been visiting the Los Angeles courtroom throughout the trial. The retrial has garnered ample attention from the public in part because of Remini’s outspoken commentary.
On May 11, she shared news of an alleged discovery material leak to Twitter and wrote that the church had “no reason at all” to possess the information.
“Scientology, which SHOULD be a co-defendant in this trial, has repeatedly lied, saying it has no covert involvement in this trial,” Remini, 52, accused in a long thread.
3. Scientology has no reason to have criminal discovery materials in its possession.
No reason at all.
Scientology, which SHOULD be a co-defendant in this trial, has repeatedly lied, saying it has no covert involvement in this trial.
— Leah Remini (@LeahRemini) May 11, 2023
Remini, who left the Church of Scientology in 2013, said the apparent leak was proof the church was “colluding” with Masterson and his lawyers.
“There is nothing Scientology and Scientologists won’t do to infiltrate government offices, organizations, and institutions,” she wrote. “There’s nothing Scientology won’t do to obtain the intel it needs to protect itself. It has literally been Scientology policy for seven decades.”
In a statement, the Church of Scientology denied allegations made by prosecutors and witnesses that it has ever prevented victims of sexual assault from reporting to police, or that it harassed Masterson’s accusers after they came forward, calling them “fabrications.”
“The Church was not a party to this case and religion did not belong in this proceeding as Supreme Court precedent has maintained for centuries,” the statement read.
Masterson did not testify, and his lawyers called no witnesses. The defense argued that the acts were consensual, and attempted to discredit the women’s stories by highlighting changes and inconsistencies over time, which they said showed signs of coordination between them.
“If you decide that a witness deliberately lied about something in this case,” defense attorney Philip Cohen told jurors, going through their instructions in his closing argument, “You should consider not believing anything that witness says.”
Testimony in this case was graphic and emotional.
Two women, who knew Masterson from social circles in the church, said he gave them drinks and that they then became woozy or passed out before he violently raped them in 2003.
The third, Masterson’s then-girlfriend of five years, said she awoke to find him raping her, and had to pull his hair to stop him.
The issue of drugging also played a major role in the retrial. At the first, Olmedo only allowed prosecutors and accusers to describe their disorientation, and to imply that they were drugged. The second time, they were allowed to argue it directly, and the prosecution attempted to make it a major factor, to no avail.
“The defendant drugs his victims to gain control,” Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson said in her closing argument. “He does this to take away his victims’ ability to consent.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.
— with files from The Associated Press
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