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Actor Danny Masterson convicted of 2 counts of rape at second LA trial

“That ‘70s Show” actor Danny Masterson and his wife, Bijou Phillips, arrive at Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Actor Danny Masterson was convicted of two counts of rape Wednesday after his second trial on charges that he sexually assaulted several women he met through the Church of Scientology in the early 2000s.

Jurors hung on a third count after deliberating for a little more than a week. They contacted Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo around 11 a.m. Wednesday to say that they had reached a verdict on two of the three rape counts against Masterson but that were hopelessly deadlocked on a third.

Jurors previously hung on all counts against Masterson during a trial in late 2022.

The courtroom was packed with a mix of Masterson’s relatives, supporters and other observers. The actor’s wife, Bijou Phillips, let out a pained cry shortly after the verdict was read and began sobbing.

Most of the allegations against Masterson aired in the roughly two-week trial first surfaced in 2017. The victims — identified in court as Chrissy B., Jen B. and N. Trout — were all practicing Scientologists when they met Masterson through the church.

Jurors convicted Masterson of sexually assaulting Jen B. and N. Trout but were unable to reach a verdict on the allegations involving Chrissy B, who was Masterson’s longtime girlfriend around the height of his fame for his role as Steven Hyde on the sitcom “That ’70s Show.”

On the count involving Chrissy B., jurors said they were deadlocked at a vote tally of 8 to 4 in favor of a conviction.

Masterson did not visibly react to the verdict and was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. His defense attorneys were not immediately available for comment and prosecutors left the courtroom without comment.

Two of the women said they waited more than a decade to come forward because church officials discouraged them from contacting law enforcement, leaving them to choose between their faith and accountability for the man who allegedly raped them.

All of the women had relatives in Scientology and said they feared they would be excommunicated and labeled “suppressive persons” if they went against Masterson and the church.

Scientology officials have repeatedly denied prohibiting members from cooperating with police. But after a 2021 preliminary hearing, L.A. Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo ruled that the church has “an expressly written doctrine” that discourages members from reporting one another to law enforcement. The church has said Olmedo’s interpretation is incorrect.

All of the women described falling prey to Masterson after he served them drinks that made them disoriented and nauseous. Phillip Cohen, one of Masterson’s defense attorneys, has repeatedly noted that prosecutors have zero forensic evidence to prove the victims were drugged.

Chrissy B. said she endured a tumultuous and abusive relationship with Masterson where he repeatedly spit on her, called her “white trash” and initiated sex with her while she was asleep. She alleged that in November 2021, she awoke to Masterson forcing himself on her. When she said no, he struck her, pinned her down and raped her, she testified.

She also alleged that she lost consciousness after Masterson served her a drink at La Poubelle restaurant in Franklin Village in 2001, waking up the next morning in serious pain at the actor’s Hollywood Hills home. Masterson told her they had had sex, to her horror, according to a letter she wrote to a Scientology official that was presented at trial.

Jen B. described becoming weak and woozy after having a drink with Masterson, who she said brought her to his home and violently raped her, wielding a gun and suffocating her with a pillow. N. Trout described a similar experience, saying that Masterson isolated her at his house once she grew weak. She alleged he groped her and digitally penetrated her in a shower before raping her so violently that she vomited.

Masterson has denied all wrongdoing. He did not testify at either trial, and his attorneys did not put forth a defense at the second trial. But across his cross-examinations and arguments, Cohen repeatedly noted that the prosecution had no way to corroborate any of the assaults and no evidence of drugging, while questioning if the victims were motivated by a bias against the church rather than anything Masterson had done.

The church has loomed large over the proceedings. In addition to the women’s allegations that Scientology officials discouraged them from reporting the rapes to police, the revelation that a church attorney obtained discovery materials in the case has sparked an LAPD investigation and allegations of impropriety from prosecutors.

The materials obtained by attorney Vicki Podberesky included redacted text messages exchanged between Masterson’s accusers and LAPD investigators, according to Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller.

A hearing to determine how Podberesky got the materials was set to take place Wednesday morning but was rescheduled by Olmedo because deliberations were ongoing. Podberesky said last month that she got the documents legally and did nothing wrong but declined to explain how they came into her possession.

The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4. A sentencing date has not been set, but Masterson faces 30 years to life in prison.


© 2023 Los Angeles Times

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