UNITED STATES: The Church of Scientology played a significant role in the second trial of Danny Masterson, which concluded with a jury finding him guilty on two out of three charges of rape. Danny Masterson, who was taken into custody in handcuffs, now faces a potential prison sentence of 30 years to life. His wife, Bijou Phillips, reacted with shock as the verdict was read and broke down in tears when Masterson was placed in custody.
The jury, comprised of five men and seven women, voted 8 to 4 in favor of convicting the 47-year-old Masterson. He will remain in custody until the sentencing, for which no date has been set.
Danny Masterson had been found guilty of raping a woman at his home in 2003. One of the victims expressed a mix of relief, exhaustion, strength, and sadness following the verdict. However, a second woman, whose case resulted in a hung jury, expressed disappointment that Masterson had escaped criminal accountability for his abhorrent actions. Masterson’s legal team is expected to file an appeal.
Prosecutors pursued a retrial in January, alleging that Masterson had drugged and violently raped three women at his Hollywood Hills residence. The first trial ended in a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury. Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón expressed gratitude towards the three courageous women who came forward to share their harrowing experiences.
During the retrial, Danny Masterson chose not to testify, and his defense did not present any witnesses. The defense argued that the sexual encounters were consensual and attempted to undermine the credibility of the women by highlighting inconsistencies and changes in their testimonies over time, suggesting possible collusion.
Philip Cohen, Danny Masterson’s defense attorney, urged the jury to distrust any witness they believed had deliberately lied. In the first trial, the Church of Scientology had a prominent role, with a former high-ranking member permitted to provide expert testimony on church policies by Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo.
The Church argued that including religious aspects in the trial violated the First Amendment and their due process rights, as they were not a party to the case.
Leah Remini, an actress and former member of the Church, attended the trial and offered support to one of the accusers. The two guilty verdicts in the retrial bring a sense of relief, as Danny Masterson had been harassing and intimidating them and their families for years. Nonetheless, they persevered and remained determined to seek justice.
The Church of Scientology has denied allegations of harassing the accusers. Founded in 1953 by L. Ron Hubbard, the organization faced restrictions imposed by the judge on the amount of information that could be disclosed by the prosecution.
When the women reported Masterson’s assaults to Church authorities, they were informed that they had not been sexually assaulted, and instead, were required to undergo ethics training while discouraged from involving law enforcement.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told the jury that those who were raped, punished, and subjected to retaliation often do not receive justice. The Church of Scientology labeled the testimonies and descriptions of their beliefs as uniformly false, asserting that they have no policy preventing or discouraging members from reporting criminal acts to law enforcement.
The Church’s attorney may gain access to information shared by the prosecution with the defense during a hearing. It is customary for those claiming to be victims of sexual abuse to remain unnamed in Associated Press reports.
Although Masterson was convicted of raping two women and drugging one, no charges related to drugging were brought against him. Judge Olmedo only allowed the women to describe their state during the initial trial.
Masterson reached the height of his career while portraying Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show” from 1998 to 2006. He also collaborated with Kutcher on a 2016 Netflix comedy, which was later canceled due to an LAPD investigation.