US actor Danny Masterson, known for his role in the TV series That 70’s Show, has been found guilty on two out of three counts of rape by a jury in Los Angeles. Masterson, who was led away from the court in handcuffs, now faces a maximum prison sentence of up to 30 years. The accusations were made by three women, all former members of the Church of Scientology, who alleged that Masterson sexually assaulted them at his Hollywood home between 2001 and 2003.
Masterson's Status and Prosecution's Allegations: Prosecutors argued that Masterson had relied on his status as a prominent Scientologist to evade accountability for his actions. Throughout the trial, they presented evidence suggesting that the actor had used his position within the Church of Scientology to avoid facing consequences.
Jury Verdict and Deadlock: The jury, consisting of seven women and five men, deliberated for a week but was unable to reach a verdict on the third count, resulting in a deadlock at 8-4. However, Masterson was found guilty on the other two rape counts.
Survivor's Emotional Statement: One of the victims, who was assaulted in 2003, expressed a range of emotions, including relief, exhaustion, strength, and sadness upon hearing the verdict. The survivor emphasized the significance of Masterson facing accountability for his criminal behavior.
Impact on Masterson's Family and Friends: Masterson's wife, actress and model Bijou Phillips, reportedly wept as he was led away from the court. Other family members and friends maintained a solemn demeanor throughout the proceedings.
Retrial and New Evidence: This was not the first trial related to the allegations against Masterson. In an earlier trial in December 2022, the jury was also unable to reach a verdict. However, prosecutors decided to retry the case, and this time, the judge permitted the presentation of new evidence that had been excluded from the first trial.
Testimony on Drugging: Although Masterson was not charged with drugging his victims, the jury heard testimonies indicating that the women had been drugged before the sexual assaults occurred.
Initial Accusations and Investigation: The accusations against Masterson first emerged in 2017, during the height of the #MeToo movement. The Los Angeles Police Department conducted a three-year investigation that led to the filing of charges. Prosecutors did not pursue charges in two other cases due to insufficient evidence and the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Allegations of Church of Scientology's Involvement: Throughout the trial, prosecutors argued that the Church of Scientology played a role in covering up the assaults. They claimed that the organization discouraged the victims from reporting the rapes to the police and instead forced them to rely on the Church's "internal justice system." The Church has vehemently denied these allegations.
Impact on Church of Scientology: Although the Church of Scientology was not a defendant in the case, the portrayal of the organization during the retrial prompted a lawyer with ties to the Church to complain to the district attorney's office before closing arguments.
Defense Strategy and Counterarguments: Masterson's defense aimed to undermine the credibility of the accusers by highlighting inconsistencies in their testimonies and suggesting potential motives for making false accusations. The defense also argued that the prosecution heavily relied on testimony about drugging due to an absence of evidence regarding force or violence.
With Danny Masterson being found guilty on two counts of rape, the outcome represents a significant moment for the survivors and the #MeToo movement. The case highlights the allegations against the actor and the related accusations regarding the Church of Scientology's involvement.