‘That ’70s Show’ star Danny Masterson could get as much as 30 years to life in prison at his sentencing today for the rapes of two women two decades ago.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F Olmedo is set to sentence the 47-year-old actor after ruling on a defence motion for a new trial that she’s very likely to reject, and after hearing impact statements from the victims.
A jury of seven women and five men found Masterson guilty of two counts on May 31 after seven days of deliberations. Both attacks took place in Masterson’s Hollywood-area home in 2003, when he was at the height of his fame on the Fox network sitcom ‘That ’70s Show’.
The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on a third count, an allegation that Masterson also raped a longtime girlfriend.
The verdict came in a second trial after a jury failed to reach verdicts on three counts of rape in December and a mistrial was declared.
Prosecutors alleged that Masterson used his prominence in the Church of Scientology — where all three women were also members at the time — to avoid consequences for decades after the attacks.
The women blamed the church for their hesitancy in going to police about Masterson. They testified that when they reported him to Scientology officials, they were told they were not raped, were put through ethics programmes themselves, and were warned against going to law enforcement to report a member of such high standing.
“They were raped, they were punished for it, and they were retaliated against,” Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told jurors at the trial. “Scientology told them there’s no justice for them.”
The church said in a statement after the verdict that the “testimony and descriptions of Scientology beliefs” during the trial were “uniformly false”.
“The Church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of anyone — Scientologists or not — to law enforcement,” the statement said.
Masterson did not testify, and his lawyers called no witnesses. The defence argued that the acts were consensual, and attempted to discredit the women’s stories by highlighting changes and inconsistencies over time, which they said showed signs of coordination between them.
The women whose testimony led to Masterson’s conviction said that in 2003, he gave them drinks and that they then became woozy or passed out before he sexually assaulted them.
Olmedo allowed prosecutors and accusers to say directly in the second trial that Masterson drugged the women, while only allowing the women to describe their condition in the first.
Masterson was not charged with any counts of drugging, and there was no toxicology evidence to back up the assertion. The issue could be a factor in a planned appeal from the defence of Masterson’s conviction.
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they’ve been sexually abused.
Masterson starred with Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace in ‘That ’70s Show’ from 1998 until 2006.
He had reunited with Kutcher on the 2016 Netflix comedy ‘The Ranch’, but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation was revealed the following year.
While that investigation began before a wave of women shook Hollywood with stories about Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the conviction and sentencing of Masterson still represents a major #MeToo era success for Los Angeles prosecutors, along with the conviction of Weinstein himself last year.