The Me Too movement is still alive in Hollywood. The jury has found Danny Masterson, the star of the series That 70's Show, guilty of two counts of rape. It took two court processes for juries to align with the prosecution and side with the victims, who claimed to have been sexually abused by the TV star 20 years ago and who used the Church of Scientology to evade justice. Masterson, 47, left the courtroom handcuffed and under the crying gaze of his wife, actress and model Bijou Phillips. He was denied bail that would allow him to be free until the day of his sentencing. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
"I feel a set of several emotions: relief, tiredness, strength and sadness," one of the victims who won the conviction against Masterson said in a statement. "Women who survived their predatory style are heroines. For years they and their families have faced vicious attacks from the Church of Scientology and Danny's legal team," Leah Remini, an actress who has raised her voice to criticize the powerful organization that has a center of operations in Hollywood, wrote on Twitter. Those involved in this case, both Masterson and his victims (Chrissy B., Jen B. and N. Trout), were members of the congregation led by David Miscavige.
It took seven days spread over two weeks for the jury to deliberate. It was composed of seven women and five men. They did not reach agreement on the third rape charge, filed by Chrissy, who had a five-year affair at the height of Masterson's fame, who played Stephen Hyde in the television comedy. She claimed that one day she woke up to realize that he was abusing her, so she must have pulled his hair to stop him. Eight jurors voted in favor of the indictment, but unanimity was not achieved. "I am devastated that he has evaded justice for his egregious conduct against me," she said in a statement.
With each passing day, there were fears that the result would be the same as in December, when not enough votes were reached for a verdict in the first trial against Masterson after six days of deliberations. The jury was then composed of seven men and five women. The judge in the case, Charlaine Olmedo, ordered a retrial in the spring of this year.
For several weeks, the indictment virtually mirrored the legal strategy he used last fall. Prosecutors insisted on the facts: that the actor had attacked women at his Hollywood Hills residence between 2001 and 2003. To facilitate the abuse, the actor would have put drugs in the drinks of his guests, a method that was also used by comedian Bill Cosby.
"He did it to take away from his victims the possibility of consent," Ariel Anson, one of the prosecution attorneys said in closing arguments. Masteron, however, did not face charges of illicit substance use. There were also no toxicological tests to back up the victims' claims. The police investigation began 15 years after the events. The defense tried unsuccessfully to have this line of argument by the prosecution thrown out because there is no evidence. Masteron's lawyer, Philip Cohen, has said he does not rule out appealing the verdict on this ground.
The role of Scientology
Masterson has denied the facts throughout the two trials, but his defense did not make him testify at the trials. Nor did they call any witnesses. The strategy was based on highlighting the doubts and inconsistencies left by some testimonies of the victims, which were presented to the authorities in 2017. Cohen also rebuked the witnesses to find out if they were motivated by a vendetta against the Church of Scientology.
In an email, a spokeswoman for the organization said the church was not part of the trial and that the arguments against Scientology "are fabrications." "The district attorney has an orchestrated agenda, written and pushed by Leah Remini, who is anti-Scientology," says Karin Pouw. The spokeswoman claims that the women filed their demands as a form of "blackmail in search of money."
The prosecution, however, claims that Masterson avoided the weight of justice thanks to Scientology. In a letter to a church member, Chrissy B. said she lost consciousness after dining with the defendant at La Poubelle restaurant in 2001. The next day he woke up in a lot of pain in the actor's house in Hollywood. He confessed that they had had sex, which horrified her.
The victims said during the trial that Scientology downplayed the allegations, invited them to take part in ethics programs and advised them not to go to the authorities to air the abuse case. "They were raped and punished for it ... Scientology told them there would be no justice for them. They must give them a chance to show that there can be justice," Reinhold Mueller, one of the prosecutors, said in closing arguments. The organization, however, claims that there is no policy that prevents or discourages the reporting of a crime to the authorities.
Judge Olmedo allowed Claire Headley to testify during the trial, who spoke of the ways in which the organization imposes silence on members of the congregation. Scientology considers her a "discredited" source who lost a civil lawsuit for making sensational statements about the powerful church founded in 1953 by L. Ron Hubbard.
Although the church insists that it has no involvement in this process, one fact seems to show otherwise. In mid-May, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office reported that a series of evidentiary elements ended up in the hands of a Scientology lawyer, Vicki Podberesky. Counsel says she obtained the materials legitimately, but has declined to say how. He got text messages that would have crossed the victims and investigators. The fact prompted the authorities to launch an investigation. The first hearing in this case has been postponed so as not to affect the deliberations. On August 4, Masterson could know his future.