LOS ANGELES — A prosecutor described rape allegations by three women Tuesday against “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson from two decades ago that contained some of the same disturbing elements.
Two women became woozy or passed out after a couple drinks and were tossed in his hot tub, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said in his opening statement in Masterson’s trial. One of them said he dragged her to his bed where she regained consciousness to find him having sex with her. A third woman, an ex-girlfriend, said she woke up to find him on top of her.
Masterson’s lawyer said the reason the allegations had so much in common is that the alleged victims violated a detective’s warning not to speak with each other and had “cross-pollinated” their accounts and undermined their credibility.
"If you speak to each other you will contaminate this case," they were told, defense attorney Phillip Cohen said in Los Angeles Superior Court. "Speaking to each other and other witnesses is fatal to a case."
Masterson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of forcible rape between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood home, which functioned as a social hub when he was at the height of his fame.
Cohen urged the jurors not to consider Masterson’s affiliation with the Church of Scientology and its relationship to the case while Mueller said that it helped explain why the women — all former members of the church — waited so long to report the incidents.
Two of the alleged victims first went to the church to report what happened to them and were told it wasn’t rape and that reporting it to authorities or telling others about it would end with them being ostracized by their closest friends and even family members.
“You essentially become an enemy of the church,” Mueller said. “You lose it all.”
Cohen said the case had nothing to do with the religion and he repeatedly objected when it was brought up.
Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo sternly reminded the lawyers that Scientology would not dominate the trial.
The trial’s witness list is full of members and former members of the church, which has a strong presence in Los Angeles and has counted many famous figures among its members. The list includes former member Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley and former wife of Michael Jackson, a friend of one of the alleged victims.
One of the women had been Masterson’s longtime girlfriend. Another was best friends with his personal assistant, and the third, an actress, was a newer acquaintance.
The friend of his assistant filed a police report because she was unhappy with the way the Scientology ethics board handled her complaint. No charges were brought at the time.
In 2016, she connected and shared stories with the ex-girlfriend who is one of the accusers. Each filed a police report that year. Masterson’s former girlfriend said she did so after telling her story to her husband, who helped her understand she had been raped. The third woman went to police in 2017.
At a preliminary hearing last year, defense attorneys suggested consensual sex was retroactively reframed as rape, and said the age of the incidents made accurate memories impossible.
If convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they were victims of sexual abuse unless they come forward publicly.
Masterson was one of the first Hollywood figures to be prosecuted in the #MeToo era. His is one of several high-profile sexual assault cases that have gone to trial around the fifth anniversary of the reporting of accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, which transformed the #MeToo movement into an international reckoning.
Weinstein’s second rape and sexual assault trial — he’s already been convicted in New York — is happening simultaneously, just down the hall from Masterson’s. In New York, civil trials have begun for actor Kevin Spacey and for screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, who are both being sued for sexual assault.
Haggis is himself a Scientology dissident, and the judge in that case is allowing him to argue that the church is behind the allegations against him.
From 1998 until 2006, Masterson starred as Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show,” which made stars of Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with “That ’90s Show.”
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy “The Ranch” but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation was revealed in December 2017.