LOS ANGELES — A judge on Wednesday declared a false trial in the rape case of “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson, after jurors headed to acquit him came to a standstill after a month-long trial in which the Church of Scientology played a supporting role.
Prosecutors said Masterson raped three women, including an ex-girlfriend, at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003, and that the church had discouraged them from going public for years. Masterson, 46, pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer said the actions were all consensual.
“I find the jurors hopelessly at a stalemate,” said Judge Charlaine Olmedo, after the president of the jury said there was nothing the court could do to bring them closer to reaching a unanimous decision. She has set a March date for a retrial in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Olmedo ordered jurors to take time off during Thanksgiving week and continue deliberation after they said they couldn’t reach a consensus on November 18. A jury of six women and six men resumed deliberations on Monday after two jurors diagnosed with COVID-19 during the hiatus were replaced by substitutes.
The foreman said that the members of the jury voted seven times on Tuesday and Wednesday and could not reach a consensus on three issues. Two jurors voted for conviction on the first charge, four jurors voted for conviction on the second, and five voted for conviction on the third.
The result was a serious setback for prosecutors and the three women who said they were seeking long-delayed justice and provided several days of emotional and graphic testimony.
The two alleged victims in the case made a statement stating that they were disappointed: “Masterson escaped criminal responsibility for his deplorable actions. However, we are collectively determined to continue our fight for justice.”
All three women were members of the church at the time, and Masterson remains one.
Two of the women and one’s husband are suing Masterson, the Church of Scientology, its leader, David Miscavige, and others for allegedly stalking, harassing and intimidating them after they tried to expose Masterson.
Masterson walked out of court without speaking to reporters with his wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips. The court was accompanied for days by members of the show business family and sister-in-law: actor Mackenzie Phillips and singer and actress Chynna Phillips and her husband, actor William Baldwin.
The hearings took place amongst a number of lawsuits with #MeToo connotations on both shores, including Harvey Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial just below Masterson’s. In New York, Kevin Spacey won a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in New York by actor Anthony Rapp, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis to pay $10 million in a civil suit there.
But in the Masterson case, as in the Haggis case, the #MeToo allusions were largely overshadowed by the specter of Scientology, despite the judge’s insistence that the church not become a de facto defendant.
Assistant District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said the church was trying to silence the women and that’s why it took twenty years for the case to be heard.
Masterson’s lawyer, Philip Cohen, said the church was mentioned 700 times during the trial, arguing that this was an excuse for the prosecution’s inability to build a credible case against Masterson, a leading Scientologist.
Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said Mueller misrepresented church doctrine and beliefs and Jane Do made false claims about Scientology.
“There is no truth in any statement that the church harassed or stalked Jane Do,” Pouw said.
Cohen said he will petition for the case to be dropped, based on the way the jury voted. He said the jurors provided additional information that was helpful after a wrongful judgment decision but did not dispute what he said to him.
“As a lawyer, you wonder if what you do in court every day has any effect on the jury,” Cohen said. “Obviously we’ve made progress.”
The district attorney’s office said in a statement that it was disappointed with the outcome and would evaluate its next steps. He thanked the women for “boldly stepping forward and recounting their distressing experiences”.
The members of the jury were removed from the courthouse without speaking to the journalists.
Masterson did not testify. Cohen offered no defense statements and instead focused on the inconsistencies in the statements of the three accusers, who he said had changed their stories over time and talked to each other before going to the police.
“The key to this case is not when they report it,” Cohen said during the closing debates. “This is what they said when they reported it. What did they say after giving the news? And what you said at the trial.”
Mueller argued that Masterson was a man for whom “‘no’ never meant ‘no’ to him.”
The two women said they were served drinks by Masterson and were stunned or fainted before being violently raped. One said that he thought Masterson was going to die because he had a pillow over his face.
An ex-girlfriend said she found Masterson having sex with her without her consent. The defense later said that his allegations were undermined because he had sex with her after they broke up.
Cohen told jurors that Masterson could be acquitted if they thought women “really and reasonably believed” in having sex. Mueller said no one would believe the actions described were consensual, reminding jurors that a woman had repeatedly said “no” to him, pulled his hair and tried to get out from under him.
Mueller told jurors not to speculate on the defense and said the contradictions in the victims’ statements were signs of authenticity, as opposed to the written accounts.
The accusations come at a time when Masterson was at the height of his fame, starring as Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show” from 1998 to 2006. The series, starring Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Topher Grace, will soon remake on Netflix with “That ’90s Show.”
Masterson reunited with Kutcher in the Netflix comedy “The Ranch,” but was deleted from the show in December 2017 after an LAPD investigation surfaced.