LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge on Wednesday announced the rape conviction of “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson after jurors, who had been determined to acquit him, were deadlocked after a months-long trial by the Church of Scientology. support service.
Masterson, 46, was indicted in Los Angeles Superior Court on charges of raping three women, including a former girlfriend, in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. He pleaded not guilty and his lawyer said all actions were consensual. All three women were members of the church at the time, and Masterson remains one.
“I see a hopeless jury,” Judge Charlaine Olmedo said after asking if there was anything the court could do to get closer to reaching a unanimous verdict. He set a March date for retrial.
Olmedo had instructed the judges to take the week of Thanksgiving away and continue to think after they spoke on Nov. 18 that they could not reach an agreement. The jury resumed deliberations on Monday after two replacement jurors tested positive for COVID-19.
Jurors said they voted seven times on Tuesday and Wednesday and could not agree on one of these three.
The foreman of the jury said that only two jurors voted to convict on the first count, four voted on the second count and five voted to convict on the third count.
The result was a major setback for prosecutors, and for the three women who said they were longing for justice.
Two of the alleged victims of the crime released a statement saying they were disappointed “Masterson has escaped punishment for his deplorable actions. However, we are determined together to continue our fight for justice.”
Two of the women and the husband of one are suing Masterson, the Church of Scientology, its leader David Miscavige and others accusing them of stalking, harassing and threatening them after they sought to expose Masterson.
Masterson left court with his wife, actress and model Bijou Phillips, without speaking to reporters.
The stories came amid a slew of lawsuits with #MeToo implications, including the Los Angeles trial of Harvey Weinstein just down the hall from Masterson’s. In New York, Kevin Spacey won a sexual misconduct lawsuit brought by actor Anthony Rapp in New York, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis to pay $10 million in civil lawsuits there.
But at Masterson’s trial, as at Haggis’s trial, #MeToo implications were largely overshadowed by Scientology, although the judge insisted that the church no longer be a de facto agent.
The deputy district attorney, Reinhold Mueller, said the church tried to silence the women and that is why this case took 20 years to be judged.
Masterson’s attorney Philip Cohen said the church was mentioned 700 times during the trial and argued that it was a factor in the prosecution’s failure to build a credible case against Masterson, a prominent Scientologist.
Cohen said he would file a motion to dismiss the case, depending on the jury’s votes. He said the judges gave some insight after the bad judgment which helped but he would not say what they told him.
“You always wonder as a lawyer if what you’re doing in court every day is interfering … with the jury,” Cohen said. “Obviously we got in the way.”
The lawyers were released from court without speaking to the press.
Masterson did not testify. Cohen did not testify for the defense and instead focused on inconsistencies in the accounts of the three defendants, who said they changed their stories over time and talked to each other before going to police.
“The key to this story is not when they said it,” Cohen said during closing arguments. “That’s what they said when they filed the complaint. What they said after they filed the complaint. And what they said at the trial.”
Mueller argued that Masterson was a man “whose ‘no’ never meant ‘no,'” as evidenced by the vivid and emotional testimony of the three defendants.
Two women said they were given drinks by Masterson and passed out or passed out before he was sexually assaulted. One said he thought he was going to die as Masterson held a pillow to his face.
The ex-girlfriend said she woke up to find Masterson sleeping with her without her consent. The defense said what he was saying was pointless because he slept with her after they broke up.
Cohen told jurors they could pardon Masterson if they determined he “truly and reasonably believed” the women had consented to sex. Mueller argued that no one would believe the actions described were consensual, reminding jurors that a woman repeatedly told him “no,” pulled her hair and tried to get out from under her.
Mueller told jurors not to be fooled by the defense’s presumptions and said inconsistencies in the victims’ testimony are a sign of reality as opposed to written accounts.
The charges came at a time when Masterson was at the height of his fame, starring from 1998 to 2006 as Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show.” The show starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with “The ’90s Show.”
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy “The Ranch” but was written off the show when the LAPD investigation was released in December 2017.
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