LOS ANGELES (AP) – A prosecutor on Tuesday described the rape allegations against “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson by three women two decades ago that contain some of the same disturbing elements.
In his opening statement at Masterson’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Müller said the two women had passed out or passed out after two drinks and dumped them in the hot tub. One of them said he dragged her to his bed where she regained consciousness to have sex with him. A third woman, an ex-girlfriend, said she woke up to find him on top of her.
Masterson’s lawyer said the reason the charges are so similar is that the alleged victims violated a detective’s caution not to talk to each other and “cross-pollinated” their accounts and undermined their credibility.
“If you talk to each other, you will taint this case,” they were told, defense attorney Philip Cohen told Los Angeles Superior Court. “Talking 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 served as a social hub when he was at the height of his fame.
Cohen urged jurors not to consider Masterson’s ties to the Church of Scientology and its connection to the case, while Mueller said it helped explain why the women — all former members of the church — waited so long to report the incidents.
The two accused first went to the church to report what had happened to them and were told that it was not rape and that reporting it to the authorities or telling others would result in them being ostracized by their closest friends and even family members.
“You’ve essentially become an enemy of the church,” Muller said. “You’ve lost everything.”
Cohen said the case had nothing to do with religion and objected repeatedly when it was brought up.
Superior Court Judge Charlene F. Olmedo sternly reminded lawyers that Scientology would not prevail at trial.
The trial’s witness list is filled with members and former members of the church, which has a strong presence in Los Angeles and counts many famous people among its members. The list includes former member Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley and ex-wife of Michael Jackson, a friend of one of the alleged victims.
One woman was Masterson’s longtime girlfriend. Another was best friends with his personal assistant and the third, an actress, was a new acquaintance.
The assistant’s friend filed a police report saying she was unhappy with the way the Scientology Ethics Board handled her complaint. No charges were filed at this time.
In 2016, he connected and shared the stories with an ex-girlfriend of the accused. Each reported to the police that year. Masterson’s ex-girlfriend said she did it after telling her story to her husband, who helped her realize she had been raped. A third woman went to the police in 2017.
Cohen said the heart of the defense was “a sizzle reel of inconsistencies” in what the women initially said and how their accounts changed over time.
A woman who said she was raped after drinking some fruity red vodka drink Masterson gave her told police she had consensual sex with him several months earlier under similar circumstances. He now says he did not consent. Masterson does not face charges for these charges.
Another alleged victim visited Masterson’s home and invited him. He set the ground rule that he would not have sex with her and told her “no sex” while fooling around, Mueller said. She described Masterson’s alleged assault as being so forceful that the woman vomited in her mouth and “knocked up like a rag doll”.
But Cohen insists the woman spent hours talking and listening to music with Masterson in bed and thought “we’d probably start dating” after he left. She said she was frustrated when Masterson didn’t call or text her.
The ex-girlfriend said she had consensual sex with Masterson two more times after she broke up with him.
If convicted, Masterson faces up to 45 years in prison.
The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.
Masterson was one of the first Hollywood figures to be accused in the #MeToo era. Hers is one of several high-profile sexual assault cases brought to trial on the fifth anniversary of the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, which turned the #MeToo movement into an international reckoning.
Weinstein’s second rape and sexual assault trial — he’s already been convicted in New York — is happening simultaneously just down the hall at Masterson. In New York, civil trials have begun for actor Kevin Spacey and screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, both of whom are being sued for sexual assault.
Haggis is himself a Scientology dissident, and the judge in that case is allowing him to argue that the church is behind the charges against him.
From 1998 to 2006, Masterson played Steven Hyde on Fox’s “The ’70s Show,” which starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace, and an upcoming Netflix reboot of “The ’90s Show.” being
Masterson reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy “The Ranch,” but the show was canceled in December 2017 when the LAPD investigation came to light.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton
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