LOS ANGELES — A prosecutor on Tuesday detailed allegations of rape by three women against “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson from two decades ago, which contained some of the same disturbing elements.
Two women became dizzy or passed out after a few drinks and were thrown into his hot tub, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said in his opening statement at Masterson’s trial. One said he dragged her to his bed, where she regained consciousness and discovered he was 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 to each other and “cross-pollinated” their accounts and undermined their credibility.
“If you talk to each other, you’re contaminating this case,” they were told, Los Angeles Superior Court attorney Phillip Cohen said. “Speaking to each other and other witnesses is fatal to a case.”
Masterson, 46, pleaded not guilty to three counts of forced rape between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood home, which acted 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 her relationship with the case, while Mueller said it helped explain why the women — all former members of the Church — waited so long to get the case. to report incidents.
Two of the alleged victims first went to church to tell what had happened to them and were told that it was not rape and that reporting it to authorities or telling others about it would end with banishment from their closest friends and even relatives. .
“You essentially become an enemy of the church,” Mueller said. “You lose everything.”
Cohen said the matter had nothing to do with religion and repeatedly objected when it came up.
Supreme Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo sternly reminded lawyers that Scientology would not dominate the process.
The witness list to the trial is full of members and former members of the Church, which has a strong presence in Los Angeles and counted many well-known figures among its members. The list includes former member Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley and ex-wife of Michael Jackson, a friend of one of the alleged victims.
One of the women had been Masterson’s old girlfriend. Another was best friends with his personal assistant, and the third, an actress, was a newer acquaintance.
His assistant’s girlfriend filed a complaint with the police because she was not satisfied with the way the Scientology Ethics Committee handled her complaint. No charges were filed at the time.
In 2016, she made contact 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 that she had been raped. The third woman went to the police in 2017.
At a preliminary hearing last year, defense attorneys suggested that consensual sex was retroactively transformed into rape, saying the age of the incidents made accurate memories impossible.
If convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.
The Associated Press usually does not name names of people who claim to have been victims of sexual abuse unless they come forward publicly.
Masterson was one of the first Hollywood figures to be persecuted in the #MeToo era. He is one of several high-profile sexual assault cases to come to trial around the fifth anniversary of the reporting of allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, which turned the #MeToo movement into an international reckoning.
Weinstein’s second trial for rape and assault — he’s already been convicted in New York — takes place simultaneously, in Masterson’s hallway. Civil lawsuits have begun in New York against actor Kevin Spacey and screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, both of whom are being charged with sexual assault.
Haggis is himself a dissident of Scientology and the judge in that case allows him to claim that the church is behind the charges against him.
From 1998 to 2006, Masterson played Steven Hyde in Fox’s “That ’70s Show,” which starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with “That ’90s Show.”
Masterson was reunited with Kutcher in the Netflix comedy “The Ranch,” but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation was revealed in December 2017.