The three women who accused Danny Masterson of raping them at his Los Angeles home in the early 2000s all said the same thing: The actor gave them a drink that quickly disoriented them before raping them.
In the first trial, which ended in a hung jury in November, prosecutors were not allowed to outright claim that Masterson drugged his accusers. They could only indicate that this was his method of attack by testimonies from the women, who said that the amount they drank did not correlate with their amnesia or the degree to which they felt intoxicated.
That changed in Masterson’s new trial. LA Supreme Court Justice Charlaine Olmedo gave prosecutors free rein to tell jurors that the actor drugged the women in what may have been the key difference-maker that landed the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office a conviction in one of the most high-profile cases since the beginning of the #MeToo movement.
“A lot of these things revolve around strength in numbers,” said Tre Lovell, a Los Angeles attorney. “Having different women who are not related to each other come up with the same story is very powerful for a jury in terms of credibility.”
Masterson – known for playing Steven Hyde That 1970s show – was convicted Wednesday of two counts of forced rape following a second trial on charges that he assaulted three women associated with the Church of Scientology. The jurors, seven women and five men, were tied 8-4 on an indictment involving Chrissie B., Masterson’s former girlfriend, most of whom were guilty. He faces 30 years to life in prison.
The actor was taken into custody, ending a years-long prosecution that hit a stumbling block in November when a mistrial was declared. That jury was deadlocked toward an acquittal on each of the charges.
Prosecutors opted for a second trial and cleaned up their case. They rearranged prosecutors’ testimony, introduced a new “prior witness to evil deeds” whose accusations did not lead to charges, and introduced arguments that Masterson had put substances in the women’s drinks.
“The defendant is using his victims to gain control,” Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson told jurors during her closing argument in May. That reports the Associated Press. “He’s doing this to take away his victims’ ability to consent.”
Olmedo initially rejected such claims due to the lack of toxicology reports to support them. This time, she let jurors draw their own conclusions about whether or not to believe the plaintiffs’ arguments that the women had been drugged. She also allowed a police toxicology expert to testify about the symptoms of rape drugs.
Defense attorney Philip Cohen repeatedly stressed to jurors that his client was not charged with drugging and that there was no evidence to support the claim. He disputed arguments about the consistency of the prosecutors’ accounts and also said they communicated with each other before law enforcement began investigating Masterson.
Mark Geragos, a trial attorney who has represented high-profile clients including Michael Jackson and Chris Brown, praises the district attorney’s office for revamping the prosecution, saying the most critical change leading to Masterson’s conviction was that Olmedo changed course and allowed arguments that the actor was drugging his accusers.
“That was a big change in the ground rules between the first and second tests,” says Geragos.
In addition to describing a consistent pattern of how Masterson raped his accusers, Lovell adds that allegations that the actor used rape drugs directly clash with his stance that the sex was consensual. He compares the consistency of the drug abuse allegations with allegations Bill Cosby faced from dozens of women who came forward with identical accounts of how they were assaulted. (Cosby’s conviction was overturned in 2021 on the grounds that a prosecutor promised decades ago not to charge him if he testified in a related civil case.)
“With one or two women, maybe a jury can find they’re wrong and there’s an explanation,” Lovell says. “With 40 or 50 women, the jury is going to discover that something is going on.”
Former LA County Prosecutor Joshua Ritter calls the conviction “remarkable” considering the district attorney’s office reversed a case that previously ended with a hung jury that leaned toward an acquittal.
“Prosecutors could focus more on the allegation that Masterson used drugs or intoxication to facilitate the rapes,” Ritter said. “Jurors sometimes have a hard time when an alleged rape is coupled with a relationship, as they struggle to work out how sex can be consensual in one case and rape in the other. If prosecutors can say the victims were drugged, jurors can ponder what changed to make the sex suddenly no longer consensual.
Another crucial difference was the level of evidence allowed to be presented about the Church of Scientology. The Church loomed large in the first trial. It played an even bigger role in the second.
Allegations involving the church could be considered the reason why the women, all of whom are former Scientologists, did not immediately contact police after being assaulted. They testified that they feared being labeled an “oppressive person” within the church, which would lead to their expulsion and isolation from other members, and were told that the allegations would be handled internally.
Their claims were supported in the second trial by testimony from Claire Headley, a former senior member of the Church, who was allowed to testify as an expert witness on Scientology. She said there was an “internal legal system” within the church and that it was “policy that you don’t call the police” without permission. Legal Affairs and Processes reported.
In a statement to THR, the church says the “introduction of religion into this process was an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment.” It denies having any policies that discourage or prohibit members from reporting criminal behavior to the police.
“The prosecutor unscrupulously focused his prosecution on the defendant’s religion and fabrications about the church to introduce prejudice and fuel bigotry,” the statement continues. “The prosecutor elicited testimony and descriptions of Scientology beliefs and practices that were generally false.”
Geragos says the “key rulings that changed between the two trials” will likely be the thrust of Masterson’s appeal. He notes that Olmedo “could have abused her discretion” by green-lighting the drug-taking allegations and more evidence on Scientology.
A punishment date is not planned. A hearing for post-trial motions is scheduled for Aug. 4.