Danny Masterson, a former star of “That ’70s show,” will be facing three women who claim he raped their two-decade-old daughters at a trial where key figures include all current or former members of Scientology.
Opening statements in Masterson’s Los Angeles trial could start Tuesday. A judge has stated her desire not to make the church the focal point of proceedings. However, it will undoubtedly be a major focus.
Masterson is accused of raping women in his home between 2001 and 2003. This was his social hub at the peak of his fame. Masterson has pleaded guilty to the charges.
Masterson had been the long-term girlfriend of one of these women. One of the women was a long-time friend and another was a new acquaintance.
Masterson is still a member of the Church of Scientology. All three of them were members of Scientology. Since then, all three accusers have left. They claimed that the church insisted on handling internal problems among members and made them hesitate to report to authorities.
At a pre-trial hearing, Charlaine F. Olmedo, Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo stated that “this is not going to be a trial of Scientology.” She said that she would let it be discussed as a reason the women had delayed reporting to authorities.
Last year’s preliminary hearing to decide whether Masterson should be tried included testimony that frequently used Scientology terminology. Lawyers had to ask witnesses to clarify this. The trial’s witness list includes former and current members of the church. It has a strong presence here in Los Angeles and has included many notable figures. Lisa Marie Presley, a former member, daughter of Elvis Presley, and ex-wife of Michael Jackson, is on the witness list.
Thomas Mesereau, Masterson’s first attorney, stressed his client’s Scientology connections and said that his arrest was due to anti-religious bias by police and prosecutors. The lawyer tried unsuccessfully to subpoena communications between the accusers, and actor Leah Remini. Remini is a former Scientologist and has been one of the church’s most vocal critics, has written a book and hosted a documentary series.
Phillip Cohen, Masterson’s lead lawyer for the trial seems to be following a different approach. He is seeking a pre-trial motion to minimize any mentions of the institution. This has been a problem because of prominent dissidents such as Remini. Based on their views of the church, some potential jurors were dismissed.
“I think it’s a good idea to leave the Church of Scientology off of it,” stated Emily D. Baker, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor now working as a legal analyst. “I don’t believe the public holds a positive view of Scientology, but I do think there is some skepticism.”
The lead prosecutor, Reinhold Mueller, is likely to be cautious about the subject.
Baker, who isn’t involved in the case, said that it can be difficult to feel weighty when the government brings someone’s faith into a prosecution. “I believe there is a fine line to be considered. You don’t want jurors to think that the church is on trial.
Masterson faces three counts of rape with force or fear. If convicted, Masterson could spend up to 45 years in prison.
One woman testified at last year’s preliminary hearing that Masterson had raped her one night in 2001, five years after they started dating.
Another friend, who was a Scientology convert, testified that Masterson had taken his former friend upstairs from his Los Angeles home’s hot tub and raped her in the bedroom.
Masterson, according to the third woman, raped her in 2003. He had sent her a text inviting her to visit his house. She said she was clear about the boundaries and that there would be no sex.
Masterson’s friend and one of the women were unhappy with the Scientology ethics Board’s handling of her complaint. She filed a 2004 police report that did not result in any charges. She connected with Masterson’s friend in 2016 and shared stories. Each of them would file a police complaint that year. Masterson’s ex-girlfriend said Masterson did this after telling her story about her rape to her husband. In 2017, the third woman reported to the police.
Masterson’s former attorneys suggested that the women had all retroactively reframed consensual sexual sex as “rape” during cross-examination. They also stated that the age of the incidents made it impossible to recall exact memories.
Unless they are willing to come forward, the Associated Press will not normally name victims of sexual abuse.
Masterson was among the first Hollywood actors to face criminal charges during the #MeToo era. He is one of many high-profile cases of sexual assault that were brought to trial in the five years since Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually assaulting him. This case marked the international turning point of #MeToo.