LOS ANGELES — The judge in the rape trial of That ’70s Show star Danny Masterson handed the defense a potential setback Monday by allowing a fourth woman who says she was assaulted by the actor to testify.
Masterson, 46, is accused of raping three women between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood Hills home. His trial began on October 18.
“I feel let down,” attorney Philp Cohen said after Los Angeles County Supreme Court Justice Charlaine F. Olmedo said she would allow prosecutors to testify against the witness, identified as Jane Doe# 4, to be placed on the witness 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 the actor, who still belongs to the church.
Jane Doe #4 was not in cahoots with Masterson’s accusers or any Scientologist, Mueller said. He said the jury should be aware that there is another woman “who has the same experience as Mr. Masterson, who was also interviewed” by Los Angeles Police Department detectives.
Masterson has not been charged in the fourth alleged assault.
Olmedo agreed and turned down Cohen’s request for a mistrial. The judge initially banned the testimony of Jane Doe #4, who told police she had been sexually assaulted by Masterson in 1996.
“The defense now says the victims are almost exclusively focused on a monetary motive and are aimed at conspiracy and altering statements,” the judge said. “But besides that change, which is almost important to the court, the defense was almost exclusively focused on consent.”
The developments came on day 16 of the closely watched trial in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Masterson, 46, has denied the charges and pleaded not guilty to three counts of violent rape. He remains free on $3.3 million bail.
Throughout the trial, the jury 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 pre-trial hearing for Masterson, though she allowed prosecutors to cite the church as the reason they were waiting to report the alleged rapes.
But legal analysts previously told NBC News that Scientology plays a major role in the proceedings.
Two of Masterson’s three accusers have testified that they were dismissed when they told church officials he raped them and said they had been subjected to stalking and other retaliatory acts after reporting the alleged assaults to police.
Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw stated last week that the church has “no policy that prohibits or discourages members from reporting criminal conduct by Scientologists, or anyone else, to law enforcement.”
“On the contrary,” wrote Pouw. “Church policy explicit to demand Scientologists abide by all the laws of the land.”
Pouw also insisted that Jane Doe #3 never reported a sexual assault to the church and accused her, the other two Jane Does and former Scientologist and actress Leah Remini of making “false allegations of harassment” against the church in a civil complaint
Remini is an outspoken critic of the religion that counts Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley among its members.
Last week, when Jane Doe #2 testified, Cohen’s colleague Karen Goldstein complained to the judge that the three dozen TweetWhat Remini has been posting in recent days about trial and defense strategy “makes it extremely difficult for Mr. Masterson to get a fair trial.”
Masterson’s defense team asked for a mistrial, and Olmedo turned down the request.
Scientology was founded in 1952 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The religion claims in her official statements of beliefs that man is a immortal spiritual being with unlimited possibilities, and it offers, for a priceone-on-one auditing and lessons designed to help members achieve a “clear” spiritual state. It strongly opposes the science of psychiatry as “disastrous.”
Masterson is married to actress Bijou Phillips since 2011 and she is an active member of the Church of Scientology. She has also been constantly present at her husband’s trial.
Dua Anjam and Diana Dasrath reported from Los Angeles, Corky Siemaszko from New York City