Five months after a deadlocked jury led to a mistrial for actor Danny Masterson, the former star of ‘That ‘70s Show’ is about to be retried in a Los Angeles court. Masterson is accused of raping three women between 2001 and 2003. He could get 45 years in prison if convicted.
Here’s the key element key elements, characters and issues that will factor into the retrial. Opening statements are set to begin on April 24.
New role for Scientology
The Church of Scientology loomed large at Masterson’s trial. It could loom larger still in his retrial, with Judge Charlaine Olmedo allowing expert testimony on Scientology that she denied the first time.
Masterson is a prominent member of the church. All three of his accusers are former members who grew disillusioned with the institution in the aftermath of their alleged assaults, saying that the institution and its policies protected Masterson while they found themselves harassed and discouraged from going to authorities. The church has said neither is true.
The two opposing experts set to testify embody the stark cultural divides the church sometimes creates. The prosecution’s expert, Claire Headley, is a former official in Scientology’s leadership group, known as the Sea Org, who became a staunch church foe, suing it in 2009 over her experience. The defence’s expert is Hugh Martin Whitt, a current high-level Scientologist who is Headley’s estranged stepfather.
Masterson, 47, an actor since childhood, got his major break when he was cast as Stephen Hyde on the retro sitcom ‘That ‘70s Show’, which also starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and would run on Fox from 1998 until 2006. At the time of the alleged assaults, his career was at its peak, and his house near Hollywood with a backyard pool and jacuzzi was a social hub. It was also, according to prosecutors, the scene of all three crimes. Masterson had pleaded not guilty and his lawyers have repeatedly denied all of the allegations.
The first accuser
One of the women Masterson is charged with raping was born into a Scientology family and was part of Masterson’s circle of friends. Nearly all of those closest to her were members, including the late Lisa Marie Presley, who also left the church long before her death in January.
In testimony she will now be asked to repeat, the woman said that when she stopped by Masterson’s house to pick up a set of keys in 2003, he gave her a drink that seemed to have druglike effects on her, and raped her in his bedroom upstairs. She first filed a police report, which did not lead to an arrest, in 2004. She returned to authorities in 2016.
The second accuser
Another woman set to retell her story is a model and actor who was Masterson’s girlfriend from 1996 to 2002. She joined the church after they began dating. She testified previously that she was living with Masterson in 2001 when he first became sexually abusive toward her. She said that about a month later she woke to find Masterson raping her. She would go to police 15 years later.
The third accuser
The third woman at the center of the trial had only recently met Masterson through mutual friends in the church, which she had joined as a teenager. She testified that in 2003 that Masterson invited her to his house, where they were alone, and raped her. She went to police in 2017.
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they were victims of sexual abuse.
Two other women who say Masterson raped them, but whose allegations are not part of the charges against him, are being allowed to take the stand to testify to his propensity for such acts.
Testimony is also planned from those who surrounded Masterson and the women at the time, most current or former church members.
The witness lists also include investigating detectives and psychologists who specialise in sexual assault and memory.
Investigation and arrest
Police revealed they were investigating Masterson in March of 2017. Hollywood’s #MeToo firestorm would begin about six months later, and in the midst of it Masterson would be written off ‘The Ranch’, a Netflix Western comedy where he had reunited with Kutcher.
He was arrested and charged with three rapes in 2020, and in 2021 a judge ruled the evidence was strong enough for him to be tried.
The first trial
Masterson’s month-long first trial began last October. Masterson, free on bail, was accompanied to court by a large group of friends and family with ties to both Scientology and the entertainment industry, including his wife and the mother of his child, actor and model Bijou Phillips.
The three accusers gave emotional and often traumatic testimony.
Prosecutor Reinhold Mueller argued that the evidence pointed clearly to Masterson being a “rapist” who created an environment in his home that allowed him to prey on women, and that the church was clearly to blame for the women taking so long to come forward.
Masterson’s attorney Phillip Cohen argued that the women’s testimony was so hopelessly riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies that prosecutors implicated Scientology to patch holes in its case.
In the end, fewer than half of jurors voted to convict on any of the counts. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office decided to try again with a new set of jurors, and the women agreed to take the stand again.
“Despite suffering years of intimidation and harassment, we are completely committed to participating in the next criminal trial,” two of them said in a joint statement.
Mueller and Cohen will reprise their roles in the retrial. But Masterson this time will also have the services of high-profile attorney Shawn Holley, whose clients have included Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Axl Rose and Lindsay Lohan. She had to miss the first trial with prior commitments representing former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer in his own sexual assault proceedings.