Danny Masterson was convicted Wednesday of raping two women at his home in the early 2000s — the latest seismic development in a Hollywood-rattling case six years and two trials in the making.
Masterson pleaded not guilty to the charges and declined to testify in his own defense in either trial. Following the verdict, he was handcuffed and led away by sheriff’s deputies. He faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.
While Masterson showed little emotion as the verdict was handed down, his supporters, including his wife, Bijou Phillips, and actor Billy Baldwin were distraught at the outcome, according to accounts from the courtroom.
The That ’70s Show star had been charged with drugging and sexually assaulting three women — identified only as Jen B., N. Trout and Chrissy B — from 2001 to 2003. After deliberating for just over a week, the Los Angeles jury, consisting of seven women and five men, found Masterson guilty of raping Jen B. and N. Trout. The panel was deadlocked, however, on the third count involving Chrissy B.
The guilty verdicts came after a two-week trial; the second time prosecutors presented a case against Masterson, 47, in less than a year. Back in November, a mistrial was declared after a hopelessly hung jury. Prosecutors vowed to retry the case despite the six men and six women leaning towards acquittal.
The Church of Scientology loomed large over the proceedings. As one of its highest-ranking members, Masterson was protected by the church, according to his three accusers, all of whom were former Scientologists. The women claimed they were harassed and threatened by church officials after coming forward to authorities.
During the second trial, the women were allowed to discuss how their fear of Scientology played a role in how they handled reporting, or not reporting, the alleged attacks to police. Church officials refuted the accusations.
Meanwhile, Leah Remini, who left Scientology a decade ago and has become one of its biggest critics, called the verdict “a relief.”
Here’s a look at how the case against Masterson took shape.
The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed they launched an investigation after three women reported being sexually assaulted by Masterson in the early 2000s. A rep for the actor, who was starring in Netflix’s The Ranch at the time, denied the allegations and noted one of the accusers was his “longtime girlfriend.” Masterson’s spokesperson insinuated this was part of an anti-Scientology crusade and called out ex-Scientologist, Leah Remini.
We are aware of [the alleged victim’s] 16-year-old allegations. It was only after [the alleged victim] was in contact with Leah Remini that she made allegations of sexual assault by Mr. Masterson. The alleged incident occurred in the middle of their 6 year relationship, after which she continued to be his longtime girlfriend. Significantly, during their long relationship she made numerous inconsistent claims that she was previously raped by at least 3 other famous actors and musicians.
When Danny ended the relationship she continued to pursue him, even making threats to beat up his current wife Bijou Phillips unless she left him. In fact, we are informed by the church that the only demand [the alleged victim] made of the church after Danny broke up with her was asking for their help to intervene so the breakup would not be permanent.
We are aware also that approximately 14 years ago a woman referred to in the blog made allegations of sexual assault that the LADP interviewed numerous witnesses and determined the claim had no merit. Based on reading the anti-Scientology blog that posted this story, these false allegations appear to be motivated to boost Leah Remini’s anti-Scientology television series since [the alleged victim] only came forward after connecting with Leah Remini.
A fourth woman later came forward with similar allegations against Masterson.
As the #MeToo movement swept through Hollywood, Netflix fired Masterson amid the ongoing investigation. The actor said he was “very disappointed” by the decision and looked “forward to clearing my name.”
“I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused,” Masterson declared. “I understand and look forward to clearing my name once and for all. In the meantime, I want to express my gratitude to the cast and crew that I’ve worked so closely with over the past three seasons. I wish them nothing but success. I am also so thankful to the fans that have supported me and continue to do so.”
Four of Masterson’s accusers sued the actor and the Church of Scientology, including its leader David Miscavige, for allegedly stalking them in hopes to silence them.
“When those women came forward to report Masterson’s crimes,” the lawsuit read in part, “the defendants conspired to and systematically stalked, harassed, invaded their and their family’s privacy, and intentionally caused them emotional distress and silence and intimidate them.”
Both Masterson and the church deny the allegations. Despite numerous appeals, the case will go to court, not through a church-led arbitration as Scientology leaders hoped. This lawsuit was brought up at last year’s trial as the defense claims this whole thing “is a shameful money grab.”
Masterson was arrested and charged with rape, facing a possible maximum sentence of 45 years to life in state prison. He’s accused of raping a 23-year-old woman in 2001; a 23-year-old woman and a 28-year-old woman in separate incidents in 2003. All of the alleged crimes occurred at his home in the Hollywood Hills. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office noted they declined to file sexual assault charges against Masterson from two other women, one for insufficient evidence and the other based upon the statute of limitations for the alleged crime.
“Mr. Masterson is innocent, and we’re confident that he will be exonerated when all the evidence finally comes to light and witnesses have the opportunity to testify,” the actor’s high-powered defense attorney, Tom Mesereau, told Yahoo Entertainment at the time.
“Obviously, Mr. Masterson and his wife are in complete shock considering that these nearly 20-year-old allegations are suddenly resulting in charges being filed, but they and their family are comforted knowing that ultimately the truth will come out,” Mesereau continued. “The people who know Mr. Masterson know his character and know the allegations to be false.”
Masterson pleaded not guilty to three charges of forcible rape.
During a preliminary hearing, a judge heard three of Masterson’s accusers detail their alleged assaults. He ruled the actor must stand trial.
When the trial began, Scientology was a hot-button topic. The defense wanted the court to bar any mention of the church while the prosecution argued the three women, all of whom were Scientologists at the time of the alleged attacks, should be able to say whatever they want. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo landed in the middle, permitting the women to discuss the church when relevant to the incidents.
“Evidence presented in criminal cases often involve subject matters that many of the public view with disdain, including gangs, guns and violence,” Olmedo said. “The fact that any individual has a negative view of any particular subject matter does not, per se, render that person unfit to serve as a juror.”
When Jane Doe #1 took the stand as the prosecution’s first witness, she testified that a church ethics officer forced her “to make peace” with Masterson after she claimed she was penetrated anally by the actor her against her will in 2002.
“My understanding, my entire life, was that you can never be a victim,” the woman explained. “Nothing ever happens to you that you didn’t cause. No matter what condition you find yourself in life, no matter how horrible, you are responsible. You created that.”
Jane Doe #1 continued to have a relationship with Masterson and claimed she was sexually assaulted by the star at his home in April 2003. She was emotional on the stand recounting the alleged incident. The woman testified she started feeling disoriented after drinking something Masterson gave her. She passed out on his bed, and when she awoke, claimed Masterson was on top of her. The woman claimed she tried to fight him off, but the actor reached into a drawer in a nightstand and pulled out a gun and threatened by telling her to “shut the f*** up.” After the alleged rape, the woman said she went to see her ethics officer.
“My understanding is I would immediately be guilty of a high crime. A high crime comes with a penalty of expulsion from Scientology,” Jane Doe #1 said on the stand. “My life would be over. My parents would have to disconnect from me. My daughter couldn’t go to her school… I wouldn’t have anywhere to work or live. I wouldn’t have anywhere to go.”
In April 2004, Jane Doe #1 wrote a letter to the church’s International Justice Chief and asked for permission to bring criminal charges against Masterson. She believed she was told no, but did so anyway with the LAPD two months later. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office decided not to press charges at the time. The woman ultimately settled with Masterson for $400,000.
Jane Doe #3, also an ex-Scientologist, testified about the alleged “terror campaign” unleashed on her by the organization when she came forward with claims against Masterson. The woman, a longtime girlfriend of Masterson’s, alleged he raped her when she was sleeping in 2001.
“I asked him, ‘what happened last night?’ I asked him if I had fallen because I was hurting ‘down there,'” she testified. “He laughed at me and said he had sex with me there.” Masterson supposedly confirmed she was unconscious the whole time.
In 2003, Jane Doe #2 alleged she was raped at Masterson’s home after he supplied her with alcohol that left her feeling “numb.” The woman claimed he got her to his bed where he assaulted her like “a rag doll.” Jane Doe #2 did not report him to the church for fear of being declared a “suppressive person.” When she left the organization, she later realized the incident was rape.
A fourth woman was permitted to testify who claimed Masterson raped her twice in 1996. Her story was similar to the allegations from the other three women; however, her accusations didn’t lead to charges.
After more than five weeks of grueling testimony, jurors began deliberating on Nov. 15. After three days, the group, made up of seven women and five men, informed the judge they were deadlocked. They were ordered home for 10 days, but upon their return, two tested positive for COVID-19. Deliberations had to start over with two alternates, but the result was the same.
In a note to the judge, jurors said, “We are not even close to coming to a unanimous decision on any count, and are convinced this will not change.” A mistrial was declared.
Prosecutors announced Masterson will be tried for a second time with a new jury. The previous hung jury leaned towards acquittal, with votes of 10-2, 8-4 and 7-5 on the three counts. Judge Charlaine Olmedo denied the defense’s request to dismiss the case and noted how the prosecution only called 16 out of 36 potential witnesses.
“It appears there are many other witnesses people could choose,” Olmedo said. “Mr. Masterson is charged with multiple counts of serious and violent felonies – forcible rapes. If true and Masterson is convicted, society would not only be protected from a violent felon, and should be protected from a violent felon.”
Masterson’s defense team filed a motion in the eleventh hour to try and delay the April 17 start date, but were quickly denied.
When opening arguments kicked off on April 24, prosecutors had a new strategy as they honed in on Masterson allegedly drugging the women before assaulting them. In the first trial, Judge Charlaine Olmedo had not allowed the term “drugging” as prosecutors could only say the women were “incapacitated” when they said they were attacked, according to the Huffington Post. Scientology was also mentioned more as the judge ruled that further evidence related to the church could be heard in the retrial as the organization’s policies and procedures were called into question.
The trial concluded, and the second time around, jurors heard from more witnesses — but neither jury ever heard from Masterson. The prosecution painted the actor as a predator who relied on his prominence in the Church of Scientology to avoid any consequences.
“The defendant drugs his victims to gain control. He does this to take away his victims’ ability to consent,” Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson told the jury during closing arguments, per the Associated Press. “You don’t want to have sex? You don’t have a choice. The defendant makes that choice for these victims. And he does it over and over and over again.”
Anson went after Scientology, too.
“The church taught his victims, ‘Rape isn’t rape, you caused this, and above all, you are never allowed to go to law enforcement,'” she said. “In Scientology, the defendant is a celebrity and he is untouchable.”
Masterson’s attorney, Philip Cohen, called out inconsistencies in the women’s stories and said jurors cannot find his client guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
On May 31, Masterson was convicted on two of the three rape counts and faces up to 30 years in prison. Following the verdict he was handcuffed and taken from the court in sheriff’s custody. The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.
[Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally published April 17, 2023.]