A jury has found That ’70s Show actor Danny Masterson guilty of raping two women at his Hollywood Hills home in the early 2000s, according to The Associated Press.
The jury was not able to come to a verdict on an additional count of rape involving a third woman.
This was the second trial for the 47-year-old actor and Scientologist. Prosecutors said Scientology officials protected Masterson for years after he drugged and sexually assaulted the women. The women, who were also Scientologists, testified that the church barred them from making reports to police.
Jurors deliberated for eight days before returning their verdict. The original trial ended on November 30, 2022, with the jury deadlocked on all counts after extended deliberations, which had to be restarted when two jurors got Covid.
Masterson pleaded not guilty to the charges and didn’t testify in his own defence in either trial.
This second jury, comprising seven women and five men, was the first to hear allegations that Masterson had drugged his victims, which Judge Charlaine Olmedo had not allowed in the original trial. That jury only heard that the women had been “incapacitated” when Masterson allegedly raped them in separate incidents at his home between 2001 and 2003.
“The defendant drugs his victims to gain control. He does this to take away his victims’ ability to consent,” deputy district attorney Ariel Anson told the jury in her closing argument on May 16, according to The Associated Press.
“You don’t want to have sex? You don’t have a choice,” Anson said. “The defendant makes that choice for these victims. And he does it over and over and over again.”
The first victim to testify said that Masterson smothered her with a pillow and threatened her with a gun during an attack in 2003, while she was semiconscious after drinking from a glass of alcohol he had served her.
Masterson claimed that he had consensual sex with the women. His defence attorney Philip Cohen sought to discredit the women in his closing argument, pointing out inconsistencies in their stories and suggesting that the prosecution focused on Scientology to distract from “other problems” with the case, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The judge ruled that more evidence related to Scientology could be heard in this second trial ― allowing former Scientology official Claire Headley to testify as an expert witness to push back on church denials about its policies and principles, which critics have described as controlling and abusive.
The women, who are no longer Scientologists, testified that the church barred them from reporting the assaults to police, blamed them for the alleged rapes, and harassed, intimidated and stalked them. Headley, who sued the church in 2009 after years of rising through the ranks of its Sea Org religious order, testified that “it is policy that you do not call police” without “specific authorisation” — and that “by the laws of Scientology, it would be a high crime” to report a fellow Scientologist to the police without permission.
Church of Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw flatly denied that such policies exist in the church. “The Church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of anyone, Scientologists or not, to law enforcement,” Pouw said in a statement to HuffPost. She also called the stalking and harassment allegations “an attempted money grab” by the alleged victims who are also suing Masterson and the church in a civil suit.
In closing arguments, Anson said: “The church taught his victims, ‘Rape isn’t rape, you caused this, and above all, you are never allowed to go to law enforcement’”, calling Masterson “untouchable” because of his celebrity status in Scientology, the AP reported.
On Thursday while the jurors were deliberating, Leah Remini posted a letter that she claimed a mother of one of the victims sent to Scientology leader David Miscavige in 2004, listing graphic details of Masterson’s alleged sexual assaults. The mother concluded by asking whether the church tried to persuade her daughter to “perjure herself so that their celeb can walk scout [sic] free” and whether “celebs are exempt” from “justice codes”.
Masterson is best known for playing Steven Hyde on all eight seasons of That ’70s Show, which aired on Fox from 1998 to 2006. Masterson was the only original member of the cast not to appear in That ’90s Show, a Netflix sequel series that debuted in January.