LOS ANGELES (AP) — A prosecutor on Tuesday outlined three-woman rape allegations against “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson two decades ago that contained some of the same troubling elements.
Two women became dizzy or passed out after a few drinks and were thrown into his hot tub, Assistant 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 to find him having sex with her. A third woman, an ex-girlfriend, said she woke up to find it on her.
Masterson’s attorney said the reason the allegations had so much in common is that the alleged victims violated a detective’s warning not to talk to each other and “pollinated” their accounts and undermined their credibility.
“If you talk to each other, you will contaminate this case,” they were told, defense attorney Phillip Cohen said in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Talking to yourself 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 center when he was at the height of his fame.
Cohen urged jurors to disregard Masterson’s affiliation with the Church of Scientology and his relationship to the case, while Mueller said it helped explain why the women – all former members of the church – had waited so long to report the incidents.
Two of the alleged victims first went to the church to report what had happened to them and were told that it was not a rape and that to report it to the authorities or talk to someone else. others would end up being ostracized by their closest friends and even family members.
“You basically become an enemy of the church,” Mueller said. “You lose everything.”
Cohen said the matter had nothing to do with religion and he repeatedly objected to it when it was brought up.
Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo sternly reminded the attorneys that Scientology would not dominate the trial.
The trial witness list is full of 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 of the women was Masterson’s longtime girlfriend. Another was his personal assistant’s best friend, and the third, an actress, was a new acquaintance.
Her assistant’s friend complained to the police because she was unhappy with the way the Scientology Ethics Committee handled her complaint. No charges were laid at the time.
In 2016, she connected 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 realize she had been raped. The third woman went to the police in 2017.
Cohen said the heart of the defense was a “reel of inconsistencies” between what the women initially said and how their stories had changed over time.
A woman who said she was raped after passing out after drinking a fruity red vodka drink Masterson gave her has told police she had consensual sex with him several months earlier in similar circumstances. She now says she didn’t consent. Masterson does not face charges for these allegations.
Another alleged victim went to Masterson’s house after inviting her over. She made ground rules that she wouldn’t have sex with him and told him “no sex” repeatedly as the banter progressed, Mueller said. He described Masterson’s alleged assault as being so forceful that the woman vomited into her mouth and was “loose as a rag doll”.
But Cohen claimed the woman stayed in bed with Masterson for hours talking and listening to music and thought “we’ll probably start dating” after he left. He said she was appalled when Masterson didn’t call or text her.
The former girlfriend said that after breaking up with Masterson, she had consensual sex with him on two more occasions.
If convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been sexually abused unless they come forward publicly.
Masterson was one of the first Hollywood personalities to be indicted in the #MeToo era. It is one of several high-profile sexual assault cases that have gone to trial around the fifth anniversary of the charges being laid. against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who turned the #MeToo movement into an international judgment.
Weinstein’s second rape and sexual assault trial — he’s already been convicted in New York — takes place simultaneously, just down the hall from Masterson. In New York, civil trials have begun for actor Kevin Spacey and for writer and director Paul Haggiswho are both being prosecuted for sexual assault.
Haggis is a Scientology dissident himself, and the judge in this case allows him to argue that the church is behind the allegations against him.
From 1998 to 2006, Masterson starred as Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show,” which starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and got an upcoming Netflix reboot with “That ’90s.” show”.
Masterson reunited with Kutcher in Netflix comedy ‘The Ranch’ but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation came to light in December 2017.
Follow AP Entertainment writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton
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