A prosecutor on Tuesday described rape allegations by three women against That ’70s Show actor Danny Masterson from two decades ago that contained some of the same disturbing elements.
Two women became woozy or passed out after a couple drinks and were tossed in his hot tub, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said in his opening statement in Masterson’s trial. One of them said he dragged her to his bed where she regained consciousness to find him having sex with her. A third woman, an ex-girlfriend, said she woke up to find him on top of her.
Masterson’s lawyer said the reason the allegations had so much in common is that the alleged victims violated a detective’s warning not to speak with each other and had “cross-pollinated” their accounts and undermined their credibility.
“If you speak to each other you will contaminate this case,” they were told, defense attorney Phillip Cohen said in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Speaking to each other and other witnesses is fatal to a case.”
Masterson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of forcible rape between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood home, which functioned as a social hub when he was at the height of his fame.
Cohen urged the jurors not to consider Masterson’s affiliation with the Church of Scientology and its relationship to the case, while Mueller said that it helped explain why the women – all former members of the church – waited so long to report the incidents.
Two of the alleged victims first went to the church to report what happened to them and were told it wasn’t rape and that reporting it to authorities or telling others about it would end with them being ostracised by their closest friends and even family members.
“You essentially become an enemy of the church,” Mueller said. “You lose it all.”
Cohen said the case had nothing to do with the religion and he repeatedly objected when it was brought up.
Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo sternly reminded the lawyers that Scientology would not dominate the trial.
The trial’s witness list is full of members and former members of the church, which has a strong presence in Los Angeles and has counted many famous figures among its members. The list includes former member Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley and former wife of Michael Jackson, a friend of one of the alleged victims.
One of the women had been Masterson’s longtime girlfriend. Another was best friends with his personal assistant, and the third, an actress, was a newer acquaintance.
The friend of his assistant filed a police report because she was unhappy with the way the Scientology ethics board handled her complaint. No charges were brought at the time.
In 2016, she connected and shared stories with the ex-girlfriend who is one of the accusers. Each filed a police report that year. Masterson’s former girlfriend said she did so after telling her story to her husband, who helped her understand she had been raped. The third woman went to police in 2017.
Cohen said the heart of the defense was a “sizzle reel of inconsistencies” between what the women initially said and how their accounts changed over time.
For a daily dose of 9Honey, subscribe to our newsletter here.
A woman who said she was raped after passing out from drinking some of a fruity red vodka drink Masterson gave her told police she had consensual sex with him several months earlier under similar circumstances. She now says that she didn’t consent. Masterson doesn’t face charges over those allegations.
Another alleged victim went to Masterson’s house after he invited her over. She set ground rules that she wouldn’t have sex with him and told him “no sex” multiple times as fooling around progressed, Mueller said. He described Masterson’s alleged assault as being so forceful that the woman vomited in her mouth and was “limp like a rag doll.”
But Cohen asserted the woman stayed in bed with Masterson for hours talking and listening to music and thought “we’ll probably start dating” after she left. He said she was dismayed when Masterson didn’t call or text her.
The former girlfriend said that after she broke up with Masterson she had consensual sex with him two other times.
If convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit their website. In an emergency, call 000.