Jury deadlocked, mistrial declared in Danny Masterson rape trial
A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday at the rape trial of That ’70s Show actor Danny Masterson after jurors, who were leaning strongly toward acquitting him, were deadlocked following the month-long trial in which the Church of Scientology played a supporting role.
Masterson, 46, was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with the rape of three women, including a former girlfriend, in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. He pleaded not guilty and his lawyer said the acts were all consensual. All three women were members of the church at the time, and Masterson remains one.
“I find the jurors hopelessly deadlocked,” Judge Charlaine Olmedo declared after inquiring whether there was anything the court could do to move them closer to reaching a unanimous decision. She set a March date for a retrial.
Olmedo had ordered jurors to take Thanksgiving week off and keep deliberating after they said on Nov. 18 that they could not reach a consensus. The jury began deliberations anew Monday after two alternates replaced jurors who had COVID-19.
Jurors said they had voted seven times Tuesday and Wednesday without being able to reach consensus on any of the three counts.
The jury foreman said only two jurors voted for conviction on the first count, four voted for conviction on the second count and five voted to convict on the third count.
The result was a serious setback for prosecutors, and for the three women who said they were seeking long overdue justice.
Two of the alleged victims in the case issued a statement saying they were disappointed “Masterson has evaded criminal accountability for his deplorable acts. However, we are collectively resolved to continue our fight for justice.”
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 left court with his wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, without speaking to reporters.
The proceedings took place amid a flurry of cases on both coasts with #MeToo connotations, including the Los Angeles trial of Harvey Weinstein just down the hall from Masterson’s. In New York, Kevin Spacey won a sexual misconduct conduct lawsuit brought by actor Anthony Rapp in New York, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis to pay $10 million US in a civil case there.
But at the Masterson trial, as at the Haggis trial, the #MeToo implications were largely eclipsed by Scientology, despite the judge’s insistence that the church not become a de facto defendant.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said the church had tried to silence the women and that was the reason it took two decades for the case to get to trial.
Masterson attorney Philip Cohen said the church was mentioned 700 times during trial and argued that it became an excuse for the prosecution’s failure to build a believable case against Masterson, a prominent Scientologist.
Cohen said he would file a motion to dismiss the case, based on the way the jury voted. He said jurors provided additional insights after the mistrial ruling that were helpful but wouldn’t discuss what they told him.