Mistrial Declared in Actor Danny Masterson’s Trial on Rape Charges

USA News


  • ‘That 70s Show’ actor Danny Masterson was not convicted on three rape charges Wednesday.
  • Jurors couldn’t come to a consensus on any of the three charges after six days of deliberations.
  • Masterson’s month-long trial featured testimony from four accusers, all former Scientologists.

“That 70s Show” actor Danny Masterson was not found guilty on criminal rape charges Wednesday after a Los Angeles jury failed to reach a verdict, in a case where four women testified about traumatic incidents with Masterson and the invisible hand of the Church of Scientology.

After nearly six days of deliberations, the jury was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial on Wednesday afternoon. A re-trial was tentatively scheduled for March 27, the judge said.

Masterson looked down as the judge declared the mistrial, and stared off into the distance as his lawyers huddled. His wife Bijou Phillips, along with close to a dozen family members and friends supported him from the left flank of the gallery, spilling into the middle section of the courtroom.

In Masterson’s month-long trial, three charging witnesses — all former Scientologists — testified Masterson raped them, and that Scientology later silenced their accusations. However, the jury couldn’t come to a unanimous conclusion on any of the three charges. For the first count, 10 of the 12 jurors voted for acquittal. The second had eight jurors voting not guilty. The third was split, with seven voting not guilty, five voting guilty.

Masterson and his legal team had denied the allegations, calling them “outrageous,” and he pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges. 

Jurors deadlocked after several attempts

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office charged the “That 70s Show” actor with three counts of forcible rape in 2020, after a Los Angeles Police Department investigation was opened into Masterson in 2017. Prosecutors and witnesses alleged that the assaults all occurred between 2001 and 2003, when the women were at different points part of Masterson’s clique who interacted at parties or at the Church of Scientology’s celebrity center. 

The DA was able to bring charges past a statute of limitations and seek an enhanced life sentence, but at least two convictions were needed to send Masterson to prison. According to a verdict form viewed by Insider, jurors had to find that the evidence behind each charge showed beyond reasonable doubt that Masterson was guilty and they were asked whether it was true that Masterson committed the offense against more than one victim.

After the first week of deliberations, jurors were deadlocked on all three counts and were asked to return after Thanksgiving to continue deliberations. By the Monday after Thanksgiving, two alternates were seated after two original jurors contracted COVID-19, and Judge Charlaine Olmedo asked jurors to restart deliberations.

The accusers grew emotional discussing Masterson – and Scientology

Throughout the trial, jurors heard testimony from all three charging witnesses, as well as another accuser not included in the charges. All women testified to being brutally raped by Masterson, while the defense did not call a single witness and Masterson did not testify.

“This trial is one of the biggest moments in Scientology history,” Tony Ortega, a journalist who has followed Scientology since the 1990s and broke the Masterson story in 2017 for his outlet The Underground Bunker, previously told Insider.

Masterson is a second-generation Scientologist and his three accusers are all former members of the church. By the middle of the trial, the church had been mentioned by witnesses daily, and in closing arguments, Masterson defense attorney Philip Cohen stated that the prosecution mentioned Scientology at least 700 times.

Jurors were reminded throughout the trial that the women were only speaking to their knowledge of Scientology, and that they were allowed to speak about the organization to explain why they feared reporting the incidents to police, or to Scientology staff.

One of Masterson’s accusers, identified as Jane Doe 1, said that Masterson threatened her with a gun after he raped her in April 2003, and acknowledged that some 20 years after the incidents she still felt Scientology’s invisible hand.

When asked if she still feared retaliation from Scientology for speaking with authorities, she dryly, without missing a beat, said, “half of this courtroom,” referring to how many members of the organization were in the room.

Another accuser, identified as Jane Doe 3, had a panic attack while talking about how church officials gaslit and punished her for attempting to internally report a rape. Jane Doe 3’s emotions were so visceral that Judge Charlaine Olmedo offered her a chance to step outside the courtroom to compose herself.

“I don’t want to go out there,” Jane Doe 3 said, later adding that she feared retaliation from the church at that very moment.

Scientology was not a defendant but took center stage in the trial

The accusers in the Masterson case spoke at length in their testimonies about meeting with Scientology officials and confiding in them after being sexually assaulted.

Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 3 testified that Scientology chaplains and “ethics officers” turned against them for sharing information about Masterson and alleged that Masterson’s close associates wrote “knowledge reports” as kinds of witness statements denying the women’s accounts. The ultimate threat levied by the Church, the women said, was that they were told they would be declared a “suppressive person” for reporting the rapes to authorities.

According to the Scientology website, a suppressive person tries to block good things from happening and is referred to as an “antisocial” personality. 

During Jane Doe 2’s testimony, she told the court she never reported Masterson’s alleged assault to the church because she had been raped by another Scientology member before, and when she went to a church chaplain to discuss the previous assault they scolded her and made it clear she wasn’t allowed to report it to law enforcement.

Jurors got to look at official Scientology documents that the women sent or received, including a letter from a top ethics official telling a Jane Doe 1 to “consider the consequences” of reporting Masterson to the police in 2004. Later, in July 2004, Jane Doe 1 met with a Scientology attorney at her parents’ house, and was told that if she did not sign an NDA then she’d be described as a “suppressive person.” She was later paid $400,000 to stay quiet, she testified.

In a statement to Insider, a representative for the church rejected all of Jane Doe 2’s testimony about Scientology, as well as previous witness testimony about the organization.

“There is no truth to the allegations about the Church. The District Attorney is shamefully centering his prosecution on the defendant’s religion. With regard to the Church, the DA has elicited answers from the Jane Does and had them state as fact allegations about the Church — which are categorically untrue,” spokesperson Karin Pouw said. 

During closing arguments, Cohen accused the DA of “pulling on heartstrings,” throughout the trial, accusing the women and their corroborating witnesses of “inconsistencies,” encouraging the jury to make up their own minds.

Cohen said that he was proud to defend Masterson in the DA’s case against him, referring to his own sons.

“I look at my boys, and I think one day, they’re going to be sitting in a chair like that, and the government is going to put on a case like this one,” Cohen said as he sat on the stand in his demonstration. “One of my boys is gonna be sitting there and I won’t be there to help him.”

A civil suit implicating Masterson and Scientology follows this case

Though the Church of Scientology was not on trial in this case, facets of its operation have been woven throughout witness testimony, inextricable from the allegations of rape witnesses have detailed. The trial demystified the religious organization, particularly its celebrity allure and hierarchy, in a way many observers have never seen before. 

The three accusers from Masterson’s criminal case have a pending civil suit filed in 2019 which lists Scientology as a defendant, alleging that the Church has harassed and stalked them since Los Angeles Police started investigating Masterson in 2016. The accounts in the civil lawsuit led to three criminal charges of forcible rape filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in 2020

Cedric Zavala, the lead singer of the band The Mars Volta and the husband of Jane Doe 3, testified that his family is still being stalked and harassed by the Church of Scientology. 

The Church has called the allegations in the civil suit “obvious, cynical, and self-serving fictions.”

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) or visit its website to receive confidential support.



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