LOS ANGELES — The judge in the rape trial of “That ’70s Show” star Danny Masterson dealt the defense a potential setback Monday by allowing a fourth woman who says he assaulted her to testify.
Masterson, 46, is charged with raping three women from 2001 to 2003 at his Hollywood Hills home. His trial started Oct. 18.
"I feel sandbagged," defense attorney Philip Cohen said after Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo said she would allow prosecutors to put the witness, identified as Jane Doe #4, on the stand.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller argued that Cohen opened the door by suggesting that Masterson's three accusers, all former members of the Church of Scientology, colluded against Masterson, who still belongs to the church.
Jane Doe #4 was not a Scientologist or in cahoots with Masterson's accusers, Mueller said. He said the jury should be aware another woman is "out there with similar experience with Mr. Masterson who also was interviewed" by Los Angeles police detectives.
Masterson has not been charged in the fourth alleged assault.
Olmedo agreed and denied Cohen's request for a mistrial. She had initially barred the testimony of Jane Doe #4, who told police Masterson sexually assaulted her in 1996.
"The defense is now saying the victims are almost exclusively focused on a monetary motive and is focused on collusion and changing statements," the judge said. "But besides that change, what is almost important to the court, the defense was almost exclusively focused on consent.”
The closely watched trial entered day 16 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Masterson, 46, has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty to three counts of forcible rape. He remains free on $3.3 million bail.
Throughout the trial, the jury has heard graphic testimony from the three accusers, one of whom is a former longtime girlfriend.
“This is not going to be a trial on Scientology,” Olmedo warned at a pretrial hearing, although she allowed the accusers to cite the church as a reason they waited to report the alleged rapes.
But legal analysts said earlier that Scientology looms large over the proceedings.
Two of Masterson's three accusers have testified that they were rebuffed when they told church officials he had raped them, and they have said they were subjected to stalking and other acts of retaliation after they reported the allegations to police.
Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw said last week that the church “has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of Scientologists, or of anyone, to law enforcement.”
“Quite the opposite,” Pouw wrote. “Church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land.”
Pouw also insisted that Jane Doe #3 never reported a sexual assault to the church and accused her, the two other Jane Does and former Scientologist and actor Leah Remini of making “false allegations of harassment” against the church in a civil complaint
Remini is an outspoken critic of the religion, which counts among its members Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.
Last week, when Jane Doe #2 testified, Cohen's colleague Karen Goldstein complained to the judge that the three dozen tweets Remini posted about the trial and defense strategy in recent days made it "exceedingly difficult for Mr. Masterson to get a fair trial."
Masterson's defense team asked for a mistrial, which Olmedo denied.
Scientology was started in 1952 by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The religion asserts in its official statements of beliefs that man is an immortal spiritual being with unlimited capabilities, and it offers, for a price, one-on-one “auditing” and classes designed to help members achieve a “clear” spiritual state. It strongly opposes the science of psychiatry as “disastrous.”
Masterson has been married since 2011 to actor Bijou Phillips, an active member of the Church of Scientology. She has been a constant presence at her husband's trial.
Dua Anjum and Diana Dasrath reported from Los Angeles and Corky Siemaszko from New York City.