Danny Masterson: Jury hears opening statements in retrial of '70s Show' actor accused of rape
LOS ANGELES - A prosecutor told jurors in the retrial of "That '70s Show" actor Danny Masterson Monday that they will hear about the alleged drugging and forcible rapes of three women between 2001 and 2003, while the entertainer's attorney questioned the statements made by the women.
"What this case involves is the sexual assaults of three women ... the forcible rape of three women," Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told the seven-woman, five-man panel that was sworn in last week to hear the case against Masterson. "The evidence will show that they were drugged."
Masterson, now 47, was charged in 2020 with three counts of rape by force or fear involving the three women on separate alleged occasions.
Danny Masterson. (Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Netflix)
The prosecutor said jurors will also hear from a fourth woman who alleges she was raped by Masterson after he handed her a mixed drink and she began feeling "dizzy" and "light-headed" during a wrap party in Toronto for the movie "Dracula 2000." He is not charged with a crime involving that woman, Mueller noted.
The deputy district attorney told jurors the panel will see what it took for the women to get into court, saying they will explain what they had to go through when first reporting the allegations to the Church of Scientology — of which they were members at the time — and the alleged limitations the church put on them.
"And they're here to seek justice," Mueller said, telling the jury that he is confidence that "each of you will be able to render guilty verdicts."
Masterson's attorney, Philip Kent Cohen, countered that the case "comes down to three nights 20-plus years ago" and implored jurors to use their power "wisely" and to "pay attention" to the testimony of the three alleged victims.
The defense lawyer said the three women had ignored repeated admonitions by a Los Angeles Police Department detective not to talk to each other out of concern that it could contaminate the case, and said the fourth woman came forward about two decades later only after the case involving the other three women, including Masterson's former live-in girlfriend.
The defense lawyer noted that there would be "no DNA," "no blood," "no percipient witnesses," "no recordings" and "no video" in the case.
Cohen warned the panel that the case "should not be a trial about Scientology" — the church to which Masterson still belongs.
The actor's ex-girlfriend, identified in court only as "Christina B.," was called as the prosecution's first witness and is due back in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom for more extensive questioning Tuesday.
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Masterson's wife, actress Bijou Phillips, sat in the courtroom with his sister-in-law, "One Day at a Time" actress Mackenzie Phillips. "The King of Queens" actress Leah Remini — a former Scientologist-turned-critic of the church — was also in court.
Masterson has been free on bail since his June 2020 arrest by the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division.
During last year's trial, jurors leaned in favor of acquittal on all three counts against Masterson — 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 last Nov. 30.
Prosecutors confirmed in January that they wanted to retry the actor, and Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo rejected a defense effort to have the charges dismissed.
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 — a longtime adherent of the Church of Scientology — and the church 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."