Danny Masterson, one of the lead actors in That ‘70s Show, has been found guilty on two counts of rape at a retrial in Los Angeles where questions were also being raised about the Church of Scientology’s role in concealing the crimes.
The 47-year-old, who played Steven Hyde in the comedy series, is facing 30 years in prison over the assaults which occurred at his Hollywood Hills home.
Masterson’s wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, gasped when the verdict on two counts of rape was read, and she wept as he was led away in handcuffs.
The jury of seven women and five men reached the decision after deliberating for seven days. They could not reach a verdict on a third count, that alleged Masterson raped a longtime girlfriend.
“I am experiencing a complex array of emotions — relief, exhaustion, strength, sadness — knowing that my abuser, Danny Masterson, will face accountability for his criminal behavior,” said one of the victims, whom Masterson knew as a fellow member of the Church of Scientology.
Masterson had avoided conviction when a deadlocked jury led to a mistrial in December but prosecutors persisted and retried the actor.
Jurors were told he drugged the women’s drinks so he could rape them. Prosecutors said the actor used his prominence in the church — where all three women were also members at the time — to avoid consequences for decades.
“We want to express our gratitude to the three women who came forward and bravely shared their experiences,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement after the verdict on Wednesday. “Their courage and strength have been an inspiration to us all.”
Masterson did not testify, and his lawyers called no witnesses. The defence argued that the acts were consensual, and attempted to discredit the women’s stories by highlighting changes and inconsistencies over time, which they said showed signs of coordination between them.
The Church of Scientology played a significant role in the first trial but arguably an even larger one in the second. Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo allowed expert testimony on church policy from a former official in Scientology leadership who has become a prominent opponent.
Tensions ran high in the courtroom between current and former Scientologists, and even leaked into testimony, with the accusers saying on the stand that they felt intimidated by some members in the room.
Actor Leah Remini, a former member who has become the church’s highest-profile critic, sat in on the trial at times, putting her arm around one of the accusers.
Remini said on Twitter: The women who survived Danny Masterson’s predation are heroes. For years, they and their families have faced vicious attacks and harassment from Scientology and Danny’s well-funded legal team,” she posted. “Nevertheless, they soldiered on, determined to seek justice.”
The Church of Scientology, which counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta among its many celebrity followers, denies engaging in any harassment. It is fighting against a civil lawsuit filed by two of the accusers.
The judge kept limits on how much prosecutors could talk about the church, and primarily allowed it to explain why the women took so long to go to authorities.
The women testified that when they reported Masterson to church officials, they were told they were not raped, were put through ethics programs themselves, and were warned against going to law enforcement to report a member of such high standing.
“They were raped, they were punished for it, and they were retaliated against,” Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told jurors in his closing argument. “Scientology told them there’s no justice for them. You have the opportunity to show them there is justice.”
The church vehemently denied having any policy that forbids members from going to secular authorities.
Victims allege they were drugged
The charges date back to between 2001 and 2003, a period when Masterson was at the height of his fame as one of the core characters in That 70s Show alongside Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace.
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher on the 2016 Netflix comedy “The Ranch,” but was written off the show when an Los Angeles Police Department investigation was revealed in December 2017.
The two women whose testimony led to Masterson’s conviction said that in 2003, he gave them drinks and that they then became woozy or passed out before he violently raped them. He knew both from social circles in the church.
The third, Masterson’s then-girlfriend whose count left the jury deadlocked, said she awoke to find him raping her, and had to pull his hair to stop him.
“The defendant drugs his victims to gain control,” Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson said in her closing argument. “He does this to take away his victims’ ability to consent.”
Masterson was not charged with any counts of drugging, and there is no toxicology evidence to back up the assertion. His attorney asked for a mistrial over the issue’s inclusion.
The motion was denied, but the issue is likely to be a major factor in any potential appeal.