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Danny Masterson’s rape trial culminated Tuesday with prosecutors portraying the That ’70s Show star as a serial rapist who abused his celebrity status to violently sexually assault women in his orbit and the defense suggesting that the district attorney’s office is stubbornly pursuing a losing case despite inconsistencies in the accusers’ testimony.
After weeks of several victims recounting their alleged assaults by Masterson, the two sides landed where they began: arguing over whether the incidents in question were rapes or consensual sex.
The trial is widely seen as one of the most high-profile criminal cases of the #MeToo movement. The investigation into Masterson was initiated in 2017, when three women come forward with allegations shortly after Harvey Weinstein was publicly accused of sexually assaulting several people.
Masterson, facing up to 45 years in prison, has pled not guilty to three counts of rape between 2001 and 2003. He’s chosen not to testify after four weeks of testimony from three women whose allegations are at the center of the charges and a fourth accuser who testified that Masterson raped her, though her claims didn’t lead to charges.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller recounted graphic details of multiple assaults. He detailed a pattern of Masterson inviting the Jane Doe accusers to his Hollywood Hills home and giving them a drink that quickly made them feel discombobulated before raping them.
“If you were a young woman, who each of these women were at the time, you were far from safe,” Mueller said. “Because if you were incapacitated in his bed, he would rape you. If you were incapacitated elsewhere in the house, he would come and find you. And if you were at his home and not yet intoxicated, he would offer you the alcohol to get you there and then forcibly rape you.”
In one assault, Mueller said Masterson dragged an accuser, who was in his social circle and welcomed to stay at his house after a night of drinking, into a jacuzzi before she passed out. The prosecutor stated that she woke up on a bed to Masterson penetrating her. Violence erupted when she fought back, he said.
“He put her hands around her neck, and he squeezed, and he squeezed until she passed out again,” Mueller said. “She said she felt she was going to die.”
The next time she awoke, the prosecutor claimed that Masterson brandished a gun to get her to stop resisting as he continued to rape her. “He does not point it at her, but he displays it,” he said. “He tells her ‘Don’t fucking move.'”
During closing statements, defense attorney Philip Cohen attacked alleged inconsistencies in the accuser’s testimony with some of the evidence presented in the case. He showed a picture of the Jane Doe smiling with a friend shortly after the incident despite recalling that she had bruises all over her body and that her pain was unbearable due to the rape. He asked the jury, “You look at this picture and think, ‘Hey, was she perhaps not truthful?'”
Cohen pointed to testimony from plaintiffs’ sexual assault trauma expert Dr. Mindy Mechanic. He claimed that she testified that victims have motivations to lie about rape, including money, anger and jealousy.
“Maybe it’s a pending lawsuit for general, special and punitive damages,” Cohen said, referencing a civil lawsuit by the accusers against Masterson.
Mueller also alleged that the Church of Scientology, of which Masterson is a high-ranking member, manipulated the Jane Doe accuser into not reporting the rape to law enforcement. He said that she was told that she would be declared a “suppressive person,” meaning she’d be excommunicated and isolated from her friends and family. In 2004, she wrote a letter to the church’s international justice chief seeking permission to report Masterson to the police, the prosecutor said. She, in turn, was referred to policies on “suppressive persons,” told not to use the word “rape” and to omit references to Masterson threatening her with a gun. Mueller said the accuser eventually agreed to a $400,000 settlement with a nondisclosure agreement barring her from talking about the assault until she was approached by law enforcement in 2016 while building a case against Masterson.
The Church of Scientology has played a prominent role in the trial. The three Jane Doe accusers are former Scientologists claiming that their allegations against Masterson were suppressed by the church. They were threatened with excommunication, told not to go to the police and allowed the church to address their accusations, they testified. One of the accusers ended up reporting her rape to law enforcement after becoming disheartened with the church’s internal justice system.
Cohen countered that the references to Scientology are a red herring intended to induce bias against his client. He said, “There’s a reason from the government’s standpoint why Scientology has been mentioned 700-plus times,” which led to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo telling the jury that the estimate is not in evidence.
In discussing another assault, Mueller stressed that Masterson again invited one of his accusers to his house, where he gave her a glass of wine that made her “feel fuzzy and blurry.” He proceeded to throw her into a Jacuzzi before taking her to his bedroom to rape her, despite her telling him several times that she didn’t consent to sex.
“No never means no for Mr. Masterson, not if you’re in his bed, in his house,” Mueller said.
The prosecution argued that she, along with the other accusers, didn’t immediately turn to law enforcement because she was still processing that she was raped and didn’t want to believe that Masterson assaulted her.
“These things are not black and white, especially when they know the defendant,” Mueller said. “Everyone reacts differently.”
The accuser testified during trial: “I could not think of it as rape. That would make my life horrible. I knew that would sink my whole mental and emotional life, trying to process those feelings of shame. I had to make it something else to survive it.”
Cohen pushed back against the prosecution’s characterization that she was raped when she actually “commanded to come over.” He said that she “had a fling with Masterson.”
“[The prosecution] has ignored the blatant, obvious, overwhelming contradictions and fabrications that each Jane Doe has given,” Cohen said.
Masterson is also accused of raping an ex-girlfriend while she was sleeping. He’s maintained that she consented to sex.
On Monday, one of the jurors dropped out after testing positive for COVID-19. The jury is expected to begin deliberating Wednesday.
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