Mistrial after jury standstill in Danny Masterson rape case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial in the rape trial of “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson after a jury, which was leaning towards an acquittal, after the month-long trial in which the Church of Scientology played, stuck were supporting role.

Prosecutors said Masterson raped three women, including a former girlfriend, at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003 and the church kept them from going public for years. Masterson, 46, pleaded not guilty and his attorney said the crimes were all consensual.

“I find the jury hopelessly deadlocked,” said Judge Charlaine Olmedo after the jury foreman said there was nothing the court could do to bring them closer to a unanimous decision. She set a March date for a retrial in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Olmedo had ordered the jury to take Thanksgiving week off and continue deliberating after saying on November 18 they could not reach a consensus. A jury of six women and six men began deliberations again Monday after proxies replaced two jurors who were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the break.

The jury voted seven times Tuesday and Wednesday without being able to reach a consensus on any of the three charges, the foreman said. Two jurors voted in favor of the first charge, four in favor of the second charge, and five in favor of the third charge.

The result was a major setback for prosecutors and for the three women, who said they were seeking long-overdue justice and provided days of emotional and graphic testimony.

Two of the alleged victims in the case issued a statement saying they were disappointed: “Masterson has evaded criminal responsibility for his regrettable actions. However, together we are determined to continue our fight for justice.”

All three women were then members of the Church, and Masterson remains one.

Two of the wives and the husband of one are suing Masterson, the Church of Scientology, its leader David Miscavige and others for allegedly stalking, harassing and intimidating them after trying to expose Masterson.

Masterson left the court with his wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, without speaking to reporters. He was accompanied to court for many days by members of his showbiz family, as well as his sisters-in-law: actor Mackenzie Phillips and singer-actress Chynna Phillips, and her husband, actor William Baldwin.

The trial came amid a spate of cases on both coasts with #MeToo connotations, including Harvey Weinstein’s trial in Los Angeles, right next to Masterson’s. In New York, Kevin Spacey won a sexual misconduct lawsuit brought by actor Anthony Rapp in New York, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis to pay $10 million in a New York civil suit.

But in the Masterson trial, like the Haggis trial, the implications of #MeToo were largely eclipsed by the specter of Scientology, although the judge insisted that the church did not become the de facto defendant.

Deputy prosecutor Reinhold Mueller said the church had tried to silence the women and that’s why it took the case two decades to get to court.

Masterson’s attorney, Philip Cohen, said the church was mentioned 700 times during the trial, arguing that it was an excuse for prosecutors’ failure to build a credible case against Masterson, a prominent Scientologist.

Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said Mueller misrepresented church doctrine and beliefs and that Jane Does made false allegations about Scientology.

“Any of the testimonies that the church harassed or persecuted Jane Does is zero truth,” Pouw said.

Cohen said he will seek a motion to dismiss the case based on the way the jury voted. He said the jury provided additional findings following the verdict of the trial that were helpful but would not discuss what they told him.

“As a lawyer, you always wonder if what you do every day in court is making any inroads… on the jury,” Cohen said. “We’ve definitely made progress.”

Prosecutors said in a statement that they were disappointed with the outcome and would consider their next steps. She thanked the women for “braving forward and sharing their harrowing experiences.”

Jurors were escorted out of the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

Masterson did not testify. Cohen did not provide defense statements, instead focusing on inconsistencies in the accounts of the three accusers, who he said changed their stories over time and spoke to each other before going to the police.

“The key to this case isn’t when they reported it,” Cohen said during closing arguments. “That’s what they said when they reported it. What they said after they reported it. And what they said in court.”

Mueller argued that Masterson was a man “for whom ‘no’ never meant ‘no'”.

Two women said they were served drinks by Masterson and became light-headed or passed out before being brutally raped. One said she thought she was going to die when Masterson held a pillow over her face.

An ex-girlfriend said she woke up to find Masterson had sex with her without her consent. The defense said her claims were undermined because she later had sex with him after they broke up.

Cohen told jurors they could acquit Masterson if they felt he “actually and reasonably believed” the women consented to the sex. Mueller countered that no one would believe the actions described were consensual and reminded jurors that a woman had repeatedly told him “no,” pulled his hair, and tried to get out from under him.

Mueller told the jury not to be swayed by defense speculation, saying inconsistencies in the victims’ testimonies were marks of authenticity in contrast to accounts written in the script.

The charges 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 show made stars like Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with That ’90s Show.

Masterson had reunited with Kutcher in Netflix comedy The Ranch, but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation was uncovered in December 2017.

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