The celebrity rape trials of Danny Masterson and Paul Haggis heavily invoked the Church of Scientology— but key accusations about the Church's alleged machinations didn't appear to move juries

The Paul Haggis and Danny Masterson trials have thrust the Church of Scientology into a renewed spotlight.
The Paul Haggis and Danny Masterson trials have thrust the Church of Scientology into a renewed spotlight.Paul Haggis/Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images / Danny Masterson/Photo by LUCY NICHOLSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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  • Two major celebrity rape trials featured the Church of Scientology prominently over the last month.

  • Danny Masterson's rape trial ended with a hung jury, and Paul Haggis was found liable for raping publicist Haleigh Breest.

  • In both cases, different parties tied Scientology to their claims — and didn't win over juries.

Two major trials dealing with allegations of rape, tailing each other from coast to coast indirectly involved the Church of Scientology, but the largely different narratives around the secretive organization failed to stick with juries.

On November 14, "Crash" director Paul Haggis was found liable in a civil suit of raping publicist Haleigh Breest in January 2013, by a jury at the New York Supreme Court and ordered to pay $7.5 million, an incident that he tried to claim was actually a smear orchestrated by Scientology after he left the Church.

Weeks later, actor Danny Masterson's month-and-a-half criminal trial on rape charges, which featured three charging witnesses — all former Scientologists — ended in a mistrial after a hung jury said that they were hopelessly deadlocked on all three charges. Masterson has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty.

The women testified Masterson raped them and claimed that Scientology later silenced their accusations and retaliated against them for speaking with law enforcement.

Ultimately, prosecutors (in the Masterson case) and the defense (in the Haggis case) in the two trials put Scientology on center stage and were unable to tie the claims about the secretive organization to either case.

With star testimony, Haggis's Scientology accusations fall flat

In November, actress and ex-Scientologist Leah Remini testified at Haggis's trial and backed his claims suggesting the lawsuit against him was the Church's way of punishing him for becoming a vocal critic of the religion after leaving.

Ultimately, her testimony that Haggis was a "victim" did not help his case in claiming that the origin of the sexual assault allegations against him was a ploy by the Church.

Haggis's lawyers were forced to admit in court that they had no evidence linking Breest — or any of the other four women who testified about similar encounters with Haggis — to Scientology.

In a statement to Insider, Haggis's attorney, Priya Chaudhry, called the November 15 verdict "terrible" and said throughout the trial her team presented evidence of Scientology's "fair game" tactic, "which it has used to utterly destroy its enemies for 70 years."

"Scientology famously frames innocent people without leaving behind a single fingerprint," the statement said.

The Church did not immediately return Insider's request for comment following the Haggis verdict. In previous statements, the Church denied having anything to do with the case.

"The church has nothing to do with the claims against Haggis nor does it have any relation to the attorneys behind the case or the accusers," a Scientology spokesperson previously told Insider. "From day one, Haggis conspired with anti-Scientologists to shame his own accusers by 'accusing' them of making their claims on behalf of the Church of Scientology. The claim is absurd and patently false."

The jury ultimately decided that Breest's lawyers proved with a preponderance of the evidence that she had been raped the night of January 31, 2013, at Haggis's apartment.

"The jury's rejection of Remini's testimony is evidenced by the $10 million awarded against Haggis," Scientology said in a statement.

Scientology's presence in the Masterson case

Masterson is a second-generation Scientologist and his three accusers are all former members of the church. By the tenth day of the trial, the church had been mentioned by witnesses daily, and by the end of the trial, it had been mentioned over 700 times, as prosecutors and witnesses discussed the church in the context of why they delayed reporting the incidents, with some of the women claiming the Church discouraged reporting the incidents to law enforcement.

Though the Church of Scientology was not on trial in this case, facets of its operation had been woven throughout witness testimony detailing allegations of rape. After nearly six days of deliberations, the jury was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial on Wednesday afternoon.

Masterson and his legal team have denied the allegations, calling them "outrageous," and he pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

In a statement to Insider, a church spokesperson disputed the testimony made in court by the witnesses. The spokesperson added the church demands that its members "abide by all laws of the land" and that the church cooperates with law enforcement. After the mistrial was declared, Scientology issued a statement saying that the DA was "dead wrong."

"Once again, a jury has rejected the fabricated, anti-Scientology propaganda and bigotry," Scientology said in a statement.

Attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel of The Simpson Tuegel Law Firm, PLLC, who has represented sexual abuse and assault survivors in high-profile cases such as the Larry Nassar litigation against The US Olympic Committee, told Insider that invoking Scientology added nuance and complexity to Masterson's case, which may have stumped the jury. Tuegel did not represent the accusers in this case.

"The defense attorney made statements reminding jurors that the trial wasn't about whether or not they like Masterson, or like or believe in Scientology," Tuegel told Insider. "But because this case took place within a religious context, that added a lot more complexity to the issues of consent."

"What many people miss in cases involving sexual abuse in a religious setting is that the church hierarchy, and the context of control, power, and coercion within it, can really matter in understanding and communicating consent," Tuegel added. "Overall, the religious context makes this a very nuanced case that might have been difficult for some to grasp."

After a mistrial was declared in Masterson's case, prosecutors said that some jurors factored in Scientology's influence in terms of why the accusers were delayed in reporting the rapes, and others didn't.

"I think some jurors indicated that they used it (Scientology) for how they viewed the delay," Ariel Anson, a prosecutor for the case, told reporters. "It (Scientology) does play a big part of why these women did not believe they were raped initially and their reason for not disclosing right away to law enforcement — I don't think it can't not be talked about."

By the end of the trial, the jury couldn't come to a unanimous conclusion on any of the three charges. For the first count, 10 of the 12 jurors voted for acquittal. The second had eight jurors voting "not guilty." The third was split, with seven voting "not guilty," and five voting "guilty."

"I think the count reflects how critical credibility was in this case," Masterson attorney Philip Cohen said after the mistrial was declared, in response to a question about how the jury factored Scientology into their decision.

Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Joshua Ritter, who is a partner with El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers and a former Los Angeles County prosecutor, told Insider that the deadlock was a "victory" for Masterson. Ritter was not involved with Masterson's defense.

"This jury deadlock is a victory for Danny Masterson even if it falls short of an acquittal," Ritter said. "This definitely gives Masterson a tremendous amount of leverage in negotiating with the DA's Office moving forward, and I wouldn't be surprised if rather than dropping the case altogether, the DA's Office finds some way to settle it and avoid a second trial."

Masterson's re-trial and a related civil suit involving Scientology now hangs in the balance

The three accusers from Masterson's criminal case have a pending civil suit filed in 2019 which lists Scientology as a defendant, alleging that the Church has harassed and stalked them since Los Angeles Police started investigating Masterson in 2016. The accounts in the civil lawsuit were tied to three criminal charges of forcible rape filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in 2020.

The Church has called the allegations in the civil suit "obvious, cynical, and self-serving fictions."

After the mistrial, Jane Doe 2, Jane Doe 3, and Jane Doe 3's husband said in a joint statement that they were "disappointed" by the deadlocked result.

"We are obviously disappointed that, at least for the time being, Daniel Masterson has evaded criminal accountability for his deplorable acts," the witnesses said in a joint statement. "However, we are collectively resolved to continue our fight for justice, including in civil court, where we have alleged that Mr. Masterson, along with the Church of Scientology, its leader David Miscavige, and others conspired to systematically stalk, harass, and intimidate us when we sought to shed light on Mr. Masterson's actions."

After the Masterson mistrial and with a potential re-trial date set for March 27, 2023, the fate of the civil trial — which more directly implicated Scientology — now hangs in the balance.

Read the original article on Insider