Trial of Danny Masterson: Jury hears opening statement in ‘That ’70s Show’ actor’s rape trial

LOS ANGELES — A prosecutor on Tuesday described rape allegations made by three women against “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson two decades ago that contained some of the same troubling elements.

Two women became groggy or passed out after a few drinks and were thrown into his hot tub, Assistant District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said in his opening statement at Masterson’s trial. One of them said he dragged her to his bed, where she regained consciousness to find him having sex with her. A third woman, an ex-girlfriend, said she woke up to find him lying on her.

Masterson’s attorney said the reason the allegations had so much in common was because the alleged victims flouted a detective’s warning not to speak to each other, “cross-pollinating” their accounts and undermining their credibility.

“If you talk to each other, you will contaminate this case,” they were told, defense attorney Phillip Cohen said in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Talking to each other and other witnesses is fatal to a case.”

Masterson, 46, pleaded not guilty to three counts of violent rape between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood home, which was functioning as a social center at the height of his fame.

Cohen urged the jury to disregard Masterson’s Church of Scientology affiliation and her connection to the case, while Mueller said it helped explain why the women — all former members of the Church — waited so long to hear the to report incidents.

Two of the alleged victims first went to church to report what had happened to them and were told it was not a rape and that reporting it to authorities or telling others would result in them being released from their closest ones friends and even family members would be ostracized.

“One becomes the enemy of the church, so to speak,” said Müller. “You lose everything.”

Cohen said the case had nothing to do with religion, and he repeatedly disagreed when brought up.

Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo sternly reminded attorneys that Scientology would not dominate the trial.

The witness list at the trial is full of members and former members of the Church, which has a strong presence in Los Angeles and includes many famous people among its members. The list includes former member Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley and former wife of Michael Jackson, a friend of one of the alleged victims.

One of the women had been Masterson’s longtime girlfriend. Another was best friends with his personal assistant, and the third, an actress, was a more recent acquaintance.

His assistant’s girlfriend filed a complaint with the police because she was dissatisfied with the way the Scientology Ethics Committee was handling her complaint. No charges were filed at the time.

In 2016, she connected and shared stories with the ex-girlfriend who is one of the accusers. Each filed a police report that year. Masterson’s former girlfriend said she did so after telling her story to her husband, who helped her understand that she had been raped. The third woman went to the police in 2017.

Cohen said the heart of the defense is a “sizzling contradiction” between what the women originally said and how their accounts changed over time.

A woman who said she was raped after passing out from a fruity red vodka drink Masterson gave her told police she had had consensual sex with him several months earlier in similar circumstances. She now says that she did not consent. Masterson will not be charged with these allegations.

Another alleged victim went to Masterson’s home after he invited her. She laid down ground rules that she would not have sex with him and told him “no sex” multiple times as the fooling around progressed, Mueller said. He described Masterson’s alleged assault as so violent that the woman vomited into her mouth and was “floppy as a rag doll.”

But Cohen claimed the woman stayed in bed with Masterson for hours, talking and listening to music, thinking “we’ll probably start dating” after she left. He said she was dismayed when Masterson didn’t call or text her.

The former girlfriend said she had consensual sex with Masterson two more times after she broke up.

If convicted, Masterson faces up to 45 years in prison.

The Associated Press does not typically credit people who say they have been victims of sexual abuse unless they come forward publicly.

Masterson was one of the first Hollywood figures to face charges in the #MeToo era. He is one of several high-profile sexual assault cases brought to court around the fifth anniversary of reporting allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein that turned the #MeToo movement into an international reckoning.

Weinstein’s second trial for rape and sexual assault – he was previously convicted in New York – is taking place at the same time, right next to Masterson’s. Civil trials have begun in New York against actor Kevin Spacey and screenwriter-director Paul Haggis, both of whom face sexual assault charges.

Haggis is himself a Scientology dissident, and the judge in this case allows him to argue that the church is behind the allegations against him.

From 1998 to 2006, Masterson starred as Steven Hyde on Fox’s That ’70s Show, which starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with That ’90s Show.

Masterson had reunited with Kutcher in Netflix comedy The Ranch, but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation was uncovered in December 2017.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Trial of Danny Masterson: Jury hears opening statement in ‘That ’70s Show’ actor’s rape trial

Laura Coffey

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