LOS ANGELES — The Church of Scientology took center stage in Danny Masterson’s trial Tuesday as it recounted how women who claimed they were violently raped by prosecutors. 70’s Show The actor feared that if they reported the allegations to the police, they would be ostracized from the institution – and the friends and family that belonged to him.
In his keynote address, Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney Reinhold Mueller gave an overview of each of the three alleged sexual assaults against Masterson, a leading Scientologist from the early 2000s, as well as other not guilty events. While detailing the women’s relationship with the actor and the steps they took to deal with the situation, Mueller explained a few different rules and terms the church uses to illustrate why they’ve been afraid of resorting to law enforcement for so long.
At least two of the women feared being labeled as “an oppressive person” or what Mueller described as an “enemy of the church.” One of the women was dating and living with Masterson at the time of the alleged assault; Prosecutors said Scientology officials told her that the actor was essentially interested in her, owed her sex and “pulled it” or did something in her life or previous life to deserve it.
“He believed them,” Mueller told the jurors. “He believed [in] scientology ‘Okay, maybe I shot this,’ he thought.
Masterson, 46, best known for his role as Steven Hyde 70’s ShowHe is facing three times forcibly or fearfully raped for allegedly sexually assaulting three women in his Hollywood Hills home in 2001 and 2003. The women say that on each occasion Masterson provided them with alcohol and took them when they were confused. He went upstairs to the bedroom and raped them violently.
Masterson denied the charges and claimed he had only consensual sex with women. If found guilty, he could face a life sentence of up to 45 years.
During Mueller’s deposition, Masterson sat cross-legged at the defense table next to his lawyers, hands on his lap. From time to time, he nodded gently and raised his eyebrows as the assistant district attorney detailed the events.
In his keynote address, Masterson’s attorney, Philip Cohen, focused on what he calls inconsistencies in the testimony women have given over the years. Cohen also suggested that the similarities in the women’s stories were partly the result of them discussing the events with each other – he said the police had specifically warned them not to.
“This conversation between women and the conversation between women and Mr. Mueller … becomes very critical to this story,” Cohen said.
During his comments, he also opposed Mueller’s suggestion that Scientology was an important part of this case, emphasizing to jurors that the church and its practices were not to blame for this.
“This case is about three women who were going to tell you about three nights about 17, 18, 20 years ago,” Cohen said, “and this case is about what you believe has been proven about those three nights.”
Cohen added that everything else is just one big “elephant in the room.” At one point during his inauguration, he showed jurors a slide with terms like Scientology and “bad boyfriend” in a gray elephant graphic.
While the church is not technically prosecuted by Masterson, its institutions and practices are expected to play an important role in the proceedings. At a preliminary hearing last year, Scientology came up again and again as three women, all former Scientologists, testified about how church officials allegedly tried to shield Masterson from liability.
In her statement, one woman recalled how she went to the church Celebrity Center in Hollywood to report sexual assault, but was warned not to use the word “rape” instead of seeking any help and said she could be excommunicated from the church. – and if he contacted the police, he was rejected by the Scientologist family and friends.
Another woman said that after Masterson allegedly raped her while she was unconscious in 2001, a church official instructed her to write a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
All three women are part of a civil suit filed against the church in 2019, alleging that they were stalked and harassed by church officials after reporting Masterson to the police. Their complaints also allege that they were spied on, their communications were monitored, their pets were killed, and their cars were trespassed, among other things.
The church, which has been heavily scrutinized for its beliefs, secrecy, and practices of physical and financial abuse, denied the women’s allegations.
For years, Masterson and his representatives have accused women of lying, saying they were motivated by anti-Scientology bias. His attorneys leading the trial fought not to mention any mention of Scientology during the trial. But in a hearing earlier this month, Los Angeles County Supreme Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo ruled that alleged victims could discuss their beliefs about how Scientology delayed reporting the incidents to authorities and that the church’s policies prevented them from speaking to the police. However, Olmedo said that the women were unable to bring up a dog that was allegedly killed and that they could only speak in general terms about the alleged abuse they faced after reporting the incidents.
But when Mueller on Tuesday began questioning one of the women whose initials JB was directly referred to during the examination, Olmedo said the prosecutor was “pushing the limits” of what was allowed. At one point, Olmedo paused the prosecutor’s questioning to instruct the jury not to accept witnesses’ statements about Scientology practices as fact, but only to consider the witnesses’ credibility and to judge whether they were telling the truth.
This came after JB, who grew up in a Scientologist family, stated that “fraternity with the enemy is not welcome” in the church community, saying that he was shown such a policy.
During an afternoon recess, a visibly frustrated Olmedo warned lawyers to abide by the rulings he made earlier this month, saying Mueller could not bring up Scientology so freely when questioning witnesses about their lives, and Cohen did not need to appeal. each time the church grew.
“This trial will not be filled with Scientology,” the judge said. “I want you both to abide by my decision, and if you don’t, I will start to excuse the jury every time I have to warn one side or the other.”
After the jurors were dismissed for that day, Cohen requested a retrial, citing statements that JB had given to Masterson during the direct review as unfairly biased.
“The jury were told from Day 1 that Masterson was a Scientologist,” he said. “The jury was told that Masterson and his religion .. despise those who do not belong to the same religion.”
Olmedo said this designation was not “unique” to Scientology, but acknowledged that he was concerned about the prosecution’s private line of inquiry. The judge, however, quickly dismissed Cohen’s misjudgement move.
After reports that Los Angeles police were investigating the allegations in 2017, Masterson was removed from Netflix. Farmemerged with 70’s Show starring Ashton Kutcher. It wasn’t until June 2020 that Masterson was arrested and charged. He was released on $3.3 million bail soon after and has not been in custody since.
The trial is expected to last four weeks and may include statements from other celebrities with ties to Scientology. A potential witness list shared with journalists last week included Lisa Marie Presley, who left the church in 2014, as well as actor Brie Shaffer, Masterson’s former assistant and wife of prominent Scientologist Michael Peña.
In his statement Tuesday, JB talked about his interactions with Masterson in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while also talking about his relationships with Shaffer and Presley, both of whom he considers part of his core group of friends.
At the time, she described her relationship with Masterson as “intimate” and “friendly,” and said that she would sometimes go home with Shaffer when she needed to leave food for the actor or take care of other things for him.
After recess that afternoon, Mueller changed his question to ask JB about the September 2002 incident that negatively affected his relationship with Shaffer. In this case, Masterson was allegedly sexually assaulted at JB’s home after the two of them went out for drinks with a group after an event at the Vista Theater in Los Feliz. (In this case, the event is not to blame.)
JB tearfully recalled the pain and shock he felt after the two kissed and had vaginal sex, after Masterson had allegedly had anal sex without his consent.
“I just lay down, I was in pain because it hurt so bad,” he said, choking as he spoke. “I took it, I held it – I put my hand on the sheet to get away from him. At first I didn’t even know what was going on.”
JB said he laughed a lot while kissing Masterson before the alleged attack. She said it was “stupid” and “incestuous” to her, as her friend was her boss and more of a brother figure in her life.
“He was like a rude brother sometimes, but it varied depending on whether he was drinking or not,” JB said. Across the courtroom, Masterson was nodding gently again.
He is expected to continue his testimony Wednesday morning.