For the second time in less than a year, actor Danny Masterson sat in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday as prosecutors tried to make the case that he is a serial rapist whose accusers’ voices were quashed for years by the powerful Church of Scientology.
Masterson, 47, is charged with multiple counts of rape stemming from allegations that he sexually assaulted three women at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003, near the zenith of his fame for playing the mercurial Steven Hyde on the popular sitcom “That ’70s Show.” Prosecutors allege that he drugged two of the women before sodomizing them.
The Los Angeles Police Department began investigating Masterson in 2016, but at least one of the women’s claims was brought to the agency’s attention as early as 2003, authorities have said. Former L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey filed three counts of sexual assault against the actor in 2020. That prosecution ended in a mistrial in November, after jurors told Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo that they were deadlocked.
While church officials and Masterson’s attorneys have tried to downplay the relevance of the actor’s faith to the trial, all three accusers were active members of Scientology at the time of the alleged assaults and said the insular organization worked to protect Masterson.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Reinhold Mueller displayed images of the church’s massive Sunset Boulevard property and its celebrity center in Hollywood during his opening statement Monday, while detailing Scientology doctrines that bar members from reporting one another to law enforcement.
“If you’re a member of the Church of Scientology and you have an issue like this that’s come up with another member of the church who is in good standing of the church, you are not permitted to go to law enforcement and report,” Mueller said. “You cannot do it. There are consequences for that.”
The church has denied that it has doctrines limiting when members can contact police. Former members have said the church generally abhors outside interference from any government organization, including law enforcement.
After a 2021 preliminary hearing in Masterson’s case, the judge concluded that Scientology has “an expressly written doctrine” that “not only discourages, but prohibits” its members from reporting one another to law enforcement.
Scientology has disputed those assertions.
“Church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land, including the reporting of crimes. This is blatantly clear in the documents we understand were put before the court — and many others,” Karin Pouw, the church’s top spokeswoman, said to The Times in a 2021 statement.
She also noted that the church is not a party in the criminal case.
During his opening argument, Mueller constantly revisited the idea that Masterson’s accusers were torn between their faith and the abuse they allege.
Several women sought permission from church officials to report Masterson, according to Mueller, but were constantly rebuffed. One woman, identified as Christina B., had been in a six-year romantic relationship with Masterson, she alleges, before he sodomized her while she was unconscious in 2001. Christina B. said a church ethics officer told her that the incident wasn’t rape because the two were dating, Mueller said.
During earlier hearings, the women said they had relatives practicing Scientology and feared that reporting Masterson to police would lead to excommunication from not only their faith, but also their families. Jen B., a second-generation Scientologist who alleged that Masterson drugged and violently raped her in 2003, said her “life would be over” if she reported him at the time.
“My parents would have to disconnect from me. … I couldn’t talk to any of my friends ever again. … I wouldn’t have anywhere to work or live,” she testified at a 2021 preliminary hearing.
The Times generally does not name victims of sexual assault unless they choose to fully identify themselves. To protect their privacy, the three women accusing Masterson were identified in court by either their first name and last initial or their first initial and last name.
Masterson also was born into the faith, according to Mueller. The actor’s defense team is expected to offer its opening remarks Monday afternoon.
Masterson has contended that the allegations against him were dredged up, in part, to boost a television series launched by actress Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who has become one of the faith’s most outspoken critics.
Remini, who did not attend the initial trial last year, was in court Monday. Defense attorney Shawn Holley tried to have Remini thrown out on the grounds she might serve as a witness in the trial. Olmedo denied Holley’s request.
Holley said in court that she could call Remini — who also gained fame for her role in a sitcom, “The King of Queens” — as a witness to discuss conversations with Masterson’s accusers.
“The women who Danny raped deserve justice for what they’ve been put through, not only by Danny but by Scientology which has tried to destroy them for reporting their rapes,” Remini said on Twitter.
While the church has bemoaned being linked to the trial, that has not stopped its members from playing a part in the case and its media coverage. A Scientology group that portrays itself as fighting discrimination against the church began attacking Remini on Twitter as soon as news of her presence in court surfaced.
The prosecution’s evidence and witness list is expected to be largely similar to what was presented last year. On Monday, Mueller described a new allegation against Masterson, levied by a woman who was working on a film in Toronto in 2000 when she met the actor at a wrap party.
Mueller said the woman, Kathy J., claimed that Masterson served her a drink before she became weak. When she asked for his help to reach a bathroom, he led her to a bedroom in a hotel suite and raped her, according to Mueller.
The woman reported the rape to her husband months later and did not tell police in Toronto until Masterson was charged in Los Angeles, Mueller said.
Prosecutors reviewed five assault allegations against Masterson and brought charges from three claims. During the initial trial, the accusers said Masterson often flew into explosive rages. One woman claimed he brandished a gun and choked her unconscious while raping her. His ex-girlfriend, Christina B., said he beat her several times during their relationship and forced himself on her while she was asleep.
Despite the testimony, prosecutors seemed far from a conviction last year. Before jurors told Olmedo they were deadlocked, a poll of the panel found that fewer than half the jurors were willing to convict Masterson of any count.