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Danny Masterson to face second trial on rape charges

The DA’s office initially declined to file a case in 2004, after the first accuser gave a report to the LAPD.
Danny Masterson is arraigned on three rape charges in separate incidents in 2001 and 2003, at Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 18, 2020.
Danny Masterson is arraigned on three rape charges in separate incidents in 2001 and 2003 at Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 18, 2020.Lucy Nicholson / Pool via AFP - Getty Images file

Prosecutors announced on Tuesday that they will pursue a second trial against Danny Masterson, after a jury deadlocked on three rape charges at the actor’s first trial in November.

Masterson, 46, is accused of forcibly raping three women at his home in the Hollywood Hills from 2001 to 2003. He was a star of the Fox sitcom “That ’70s Show” at the time.

“Our office has decided to retry this case,” Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told the court.

Though they could not reach a verdict, the jurors leaned toward acquittal, with votes of 10-2, 8-4 and 7-5 on the three counts.

Mueller argued that the jury ignored supporting testimony in the case.

“Not giving these victims another chance with a jury who can sit there and consider all of the evidence — win, lose or draw –- that would be an injustice,” Mueller said.

Judge Charlaine Olmedo denied a defense request to dismiss the case. She set date of March 29 for jury selection.

Defense attorney Philip Cohen argued that it was unlikely that any jury would vote unanimously to convict. He said the first jury had thoroughly examined the evidence, and that no new evidence would be likely to change the outcome.

“It’s not that things were ignored that Mr. Mueller thinks were important or significant,” Cohen said. “It’s that things were discussed and not believed to be important to decision-making for some of the jurors.”

Olmedo held that Cohen’s arguments about what a future jury might do were “speculative and unsupported by the facts.”

“It appears there are many other witnesses the People could choose to call or different arguments the People could choose to make,” Olmedo said. “A different outcome at a retrial is at least a possibility.”

The trial put an unwelcome spotlight on the Church of Scientology, which was accused of trying to cover up the allegations against a high-profile member. Prosecutors alleged that Masterson’s success as an actor gave him a high status within the church, and that he felt “entitled” to have sex with the women regardless of their wishes.

The women each took the stand over the course of the month-long trial, giving often emotional testimony about the assaults and the harsh consequences they faced for coming forward. Two of them broke down on the stand, and one appeared to have a panic attack at one point, saying she could not breathe.

The women, who have all since left Scientology, said they feared being excommunicated from the church for going to the police.

The D.A.’s office initially declined to file a case against the actor in 2004, after the first accuser gave a report to the LAPD.

In late 2016, the three accusers found each other and collectively reported him. They initially expressed frustration with what they saw as the slow pace of the LAPD investigation. Prosecutors eventually filed the charges three years later under California’s “one strike” sex crime law, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years to life for each charge.

All three women testified that the church’s teachings made it hard for them to conceptualize the assaults as “rape.” Two of them said they reported the allegation to church authorities, and were discouraged from going to the police.

Cohen argued that Scientology was irrelevant to the case, and he sought to minimize any mention of it. Nevertheless, he said in his closing argument that Scientology was brought up more than 700 times. Cohen focused his case on discrepancies in the various accounts the women had given to investigators, and argued that the allegations were riddled with “fabrications.”

At the conclusion of the first trial, Cohen argued that the women’s credibility was a key factor in the vote count in favor of acquittal.

In court on Tuesday, Cohen said that the testimony had given rise to “a whole slew of new questions,” and said that further discovery will be needed. The court set dates of Feb. 16 and March 6 for a status update and pre-trial motions.