By: Terri Vermeulen Keith
LOS ANGELES – “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson was convicted Wednesday of two counts of forcible rape.
The actor was originally charged with raping three women at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003, but jurors said they were deadlocked on the third rape charge against him. That charge involved a former longtime girlfriend of the actor.
Last Thursday afternoon, the downtown L.A. panel re-heard portions of testimony from the former girlfriend. The seven-woman, five-man jury had previously asked to re-watch portions of a videotaped interview and to look at transcripts from that interview between the same woman and two Los Angeles Police Department detectives in January 2017.
The jury began deliberating May 17, and deliberated for a total of about seven days before reaching its verdict Wednesday. Masterson, who had been free on bail, was taken into custody after the verdicts were read.
The jury was the second to hear the case against Masterson, 47, who was charged in 2020 with three counts of rape by force or fear involving the three women on separate occasions.
During last year’s trial, jurors leaned in favor of acquittal on all three counts — voting 10-2 on one count, 8-4 on another and 7-5 on the third — but they were unable to reach a unanimous decision, leading to the mistrial on Nov. 30.
Prosecutors confirmed in January that they wanted to retry the actor, and Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo rejected a defense effort to have the charges dismissed.
In his closing argument of the retrial, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told the jury, “This defendant drugged and raped each one of these victims. … It is time to hold Mr. Masterson accountable for what he has done.”
Defense attorney Philip Kent Cohen urged jurors during his closing argument to acquit his client, questioning the credibility of the alleged victims.
In his rebuttal argument, Mueller said the three alleged victims were – – like Masterson — members of the Church of Scientology, and told jurors that the church retaliated against them.
“What happened after they were drugged — they were raped by this man over here,” the prosecutor said, pointing across the courtroom at Masterson. “… You have an opportunity to show there is justice. It does exist.”
But Cohen questioned why the panel had heard “so much about Scientology,” asking jurors if there could be problems with the government’s case against Masterson.
Masterson’s lawyer said he was not alleging that there was some “grand conspiracy” against his client, but told jurors the alleged victims have spoken with each other despite an LAPD detective’s admonition and that their accounts have been tweaked throughout the years.
He said there was no forensic evidence to support the prosecution’s contention that the alleged victims’ drinks had been drugged by Masterson.
Outside the jury’s presence, the judge rejected Cohen’s requests for either a mistrial, another chance to argue before the jury or a special jury instruction as a result of the prosecution’s repeated references to the women allegedly being drugged.
The Church of Scientology issued a statement criticizing the prosecution’s characterizations of the church’s actions.
“The church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of anyone, Scientologists or not, to law enforcement,” according to the statement. “Quite the opposite, church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land. All allegations to the contrary are totally false.”
Masterson had been free on bail since his June 2020 arrest by the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division.
In December 2017, Netflix announced that Masterson had been fired from the Emmy-winning scripted comedy “The Ranch” amid sexual assault allegations.
The actor said then he was “very disappointed,” and added that “it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused.” He also “denied the outrageous allegations” and said he looked forward to “clearing my name once and for all.”
A civil suit filed in August 2019 against Masterson and the Church of Scientology by the three women involved in the criminal case and one woman who was not a member of the church alleges they were stalked and harassed after reporting sexual assault allegations against the actor to Los Angeles police.
Regarding the lawsuit, the Church of Scientology issued a statement saying, “The church denies the allegations of harassment as obvious, cynical and self-serving fictions, and the church knows it will be vindicated.”