LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge ruled a mistrial on Wednesday in the ‘That ’70s Show’ actor’s rape trial Danny Masterson after jurors, who leaned heavily on his acquittal, deadlocked following the month-long trial in which the Church of Scientology played a supporting role.
Prosecutors said Masterson raped three women, including a former girlfriend, at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003 and the church dissuaded them from going public for years. Masterson, 46, pleaded not guilty and his attorney said the acts were all consensual.
“I find the jurors hopelessly deadlocked,” Judge Charlaine Olmedo said after the foreman of the jury said there was nothing the court could do to bring them closer to a unanimous decision. She has set a March date for a new trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Olmedo had ordered jurors to take Thanksgiving week off and continue to deliberate after saying Nov. 18 they could not reach a consensus. A jury of six women and six men resumed deliberations on Monday after alternates replaced two jurors who were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the break.
Jurors voted seven times on Tuesday and Wednesday without reaching a consensus on any of the three counts, the foreman said. Two jurors voted to convict the first count, four voted to convict the second count, and five voted to convict the third count.
The result was a serious setback for prosecutors and for the three women who said they were seeking long-overdue justice and provided emotional and graphic testimony over several days.
Two of the alleged victims in the case released a statement saying they were disappointed “Masterson evaded criminal responsibility for his deplorable acts. However, we are collectively resolved to continue our fight for justice.
All three women were members of the church at the time, and Masterson remains one.
Two of the women and the husband of one are suing Masterson, the Church of Scientology, its leader David Miscavige, and others for allegedly stalking, harassing, and intimidating them after they sought to expose Masterson.
Masterson walked out of court with his wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, without speaking to reporters. He was accompanied to court for several days by members of his showbiz family as well as his sisters-in-law: actor Mackenzie Phillips and singer and actress Chynna Phillips, and her husband, actor William Baldwin.
The proceedings unfolded amid a flurry of cases on both coasts with #MeToo overtones, including the Harvey Weinstein trial in Los Angeles just down the hall from Masterson. At New York, Kevin Spacey won sexual misconduct lawsuit filed by actor Anthony Rapp in New York, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis pay 10 million dollars in a civil case there.
But in the Masterson trial, as in the Haggis trial, the implications of #MeToo were largely overshadowed by the specter of Scientology, despite the judge’s insistence that the church not become a de facto defendant.
Assistant District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said the church tried to silence the women and that was why it took two decades for the case to come to trial.
Masterson’s attorney Philip Cohen said the church was mentioned 700 times during the trial and argued it became an excuse for the prosecution’s failure to build a credible case against Masterson , a prominent Scientologist.
Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said Mueller misrepresented church doctrine and beliefs and Jane Does made false claims about Scientology.
“There is no truth in any of the testimony that the church harassed or stalked Jane Does,” Pouw said.
Cohen said he would file a motion to dismiss the case, based on the jury’s vote. He said the jurors provided additional information after the mistrial ruling that was helpful but would not discuss what they told him.
“As a lawyer, you always wonder if what you do in court every day makes inroads … with the jury,” Cohen said. “Obviously we’ve made breakthroughs.”
The district attorney’s office said in a statement that it was disappointed with the outcome and would consider next steps. He thanked the women for “bravely stepping forward and sharing their heartbreaking experiences”.
The jurors were escorted out of the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
Masterson did not testify. Cohen offered no defense testimony and instead focused on inconsistencies in the accounts of the three accusers, who he said changed their stories over time and spoke to each other before going to police .
“The key to this case is not when they reported it,” Cohen said during oral argument. “That’s what they said when they reported it. What they said after reporting it. And what they said at trial.
Mueller maintained that Masterson was a man “for whom ‘no’ never meant ‘no'”.
Two women said Masterson served them drinks and they became dizzy or passed out before they were violently raped. One said she thought she was going to die as Masterson held a pillow over her face.
An ex-girlfriend said she woke up to find Masterson having sex with her without her consent. The defense said her claims were undermined because she then had sex with him after they broke up.
Cohen told jurors they could acquit Masterson if they believed he “actually and reasonably believed” the women had consented to sex. Mueller countered that no one would believe the acts described were consensual, reminding jurors that a woman had repeatedly told him “no”, pulled his hair and tried to pull away from him.
Mueller told jurors not to be swayed by defense speculation and said contradictions in victims’ testimony were signs of authenticity as opposed to accounts that had been scripted.
The accusations date back to a period when Masterson was at the height of his fame, starring from 1998 to 2006 as Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show.” The show has stars in Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with “That ’90s Show.”
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher in the Netflix comedy “The Ranch,” but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation came to light in December 2017.