A mistrial was called Wednesday in the criminal rap trial of That ’70s Show” star Danny Masterson, a stunning result for the panel that was frustrated and deadlocked going into the Thanksgiving break – then shaken up when two jurors caught COVID and were replaced with alternates .
The original panel deliberated nearly three full days before the holiday break, and on Nov. 18 sent a note to Judge Charlaine F. Olmeda saying they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on any of the three rape charges. The judge replied that they hadn’t deliberated long enough, and ordered them to get back at it after taking Thanksgiving week off.
But with two symptomatic, positive-testing cases among them upon their Monday return, two alternate jurors were seated and Olmeda instructed the new panel – now six men and six women – to start from scratch. By day two, observers noted an uptick in the panel’s energy and mood, which had been grim and composed before taking the week off.
Over several weeks of testimony, three different women told jurors that Masterson raped them at his Los Angeles home in separate – but chillingly similar – incidents between 2001 and 2003. A fourth Jane Doe had also testified as a support witness, but her allegations were not among the charges.
The new jury emerged Wednesday and told the judge their votes: Two guilty and 10 not on count 1; four guilty and eight not guilty on count 2; and five guilty and seven not guilty on count three. To get a conviction, the jury needed to find Masterson guilty in at least two of the charged cases – California’s statute of limitations does not allow individual sexual assault charges as old as the ones against Masterson to be prosecuted.
Masterson faced a maximum sentence of 45 years to life in prison. He was free to go, with the likelihood that prosecutors would try him again between slim and none.
Masterson’s family members and a large entourage of well-dressed Scientologists had been lingering at the courthouse since before the holiday break awaiting the verdict. Masterson, who had been free on a $3 million bail, was seen with wife Bijou Phillips and family members passing the time on the benches outside the 9th-floor courtroom; Once deliberations began, he was no longer wearing one of the ties he had worn daily with the jury present in court.
Closing arguments began Nov. 15, with prosecutors wrapping more than a month of testimony by painting the “That ’70s Show” star as an entitled “upstat” – a Scientology term for the church’s highest-ranking members – who sexually attacked young, vulnerable women by bulldozing through clear boundaries, knowing his status would protect him from consequences.
Common threads ran through the testimony of all four women: Each said Masterson was aggressive and commandeering, that he served them at least one alcoholic beverage before the assaults, and that he sexually penetrated them without consent as they later drifted in and out of consciousness. Three of the women, including a former long-term girlfriend, were Scientologists; Jane Doe 4, a non-charged witness called at the 11th hour, was not.
Masterson’s defense team, which has maintained the actor’s assertion that the relations were entirely consensual, did not call any witnesses. And Masterson – who showed little to no emotion and would often stare intently at witnesses as they spoke on the stand – did not testify.
Masterson was formally charged in 2020, but allegations first came to light in 2017 when a blogger covering Scientology reported that detectives were investigating the actor after three women came forward with accusations of rape and assault. The women each claimed they came into contact with Masterson in the early 2000s through the Church of Scientology, and were pressured by church officers to keep quiet.
Scientology has denied any such pressure campaign or policy exists, declaring in a statement as the trial began: “The Church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of Scientologists, or of anyone, to law enforcement. Remove the opposite. Church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land.”
A civil lawsuit filed by the Jane Doe witnesses (and one spouse) in 2019 against the Church of Scientology, its leader David Miscavige and Masterson tells a different story. That pending suit, which was put on hold while Masterson’s criminal trial played out, details allegations of stalking and harassing at the hands of Scientology members after the women reported Masterson and left the church.
Judge Olmeda made it clear early on that Masterson’s rape trial would not become about Scientology, and limited the scope of prosecutors’ questions about the organization. But state’s attorneys successfully argued that a church suppression campaign helped explain why the women took so long to contact police, and all three Jane Does testified that Scientology ethics officers told them it wasn’t rape, or that they had “pulled it in” – the term for being solely responsible for bad things that happen to oneself.
At one point Jane Doe 3 became highly emotional in court, hyperventilating as she testified about a “terror campaign” that she said Scientology was still pursuing against she and her husband. Though she was not allowed to share details from the witness stand, the civil case is packed with examples, from being followed and verbally harassed and threatened by Scientology members to car vandalism, credit-card theft, pet poisoning, device hacking and high-tech surveillance tactics.
The church has called those allegations “ludicrous and a sham.”
The trial was one of four Hollywood sex-assault cases that coincidentally converged around the five-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement: Kevin Spacey wriggled out unscathed from the New York civil lawsuit brought by Anthony Rapp for an alleged 1986 assault; Paul Haggis had a different outcome, as a civil jury ordered the “Crash” director to pay $10 million to a former publicist who accused him of rape in 2013.
The Los Angeles criminal trial of Harvey Weinstein, taking place just down the hall from the Masterson case, is nearing its conclusion.
Haggis’ case was also Scientology-themed, though with a very different intent. Haggis’ status as a former member and church critic made him a target of Scientology, he argued, bringing in Leah Remini and Mike Rinder to help make that case – but was unable to present any evidence or testimony to connect the church and the plaintiff, Haleigh Breest.