A judge declared a mistrial today after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked at the trial of That ’70s Show actor Danny Masterson, who was charged with three rapes.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo had ordered the jurors to take Thanksgiving week off and keep deliberating after they told her on November 18 that they could not come to a consensus about the rape allegations after a month long trial in which the Church of Scientology played a supporting role.
Masterson, 46, was charged 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.
Jurors said they had voted seven times on Wednesday and Thursday 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.
Jurors were forced to start deliberations from scratch on Monday when two had to be dismissed because they came down with Covid-19. They deliberated for two days but still could not reach verdicts.
The result was a serious setback for prosecutors, and for the three women who said they were seeking long overdue justice.
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 lawsuit brought by actor Anthony Rapp in New York, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis to pay $10 million in a civil case there.
But at the Masterson trial, as at the Haggis trial, the #MeToo implications were largely eclipsed by the spectre of Scientology, despite the judge’s insistence that the church not become a de facto defendant.
The women, all referred to as Jane Does and all former members of the church, said they were intimidated, harassed and stalked after Masterson was charged. They have repeated those allegations in a pending lawsuit against the church.
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.
But 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 did not testify. His lawyer presented no defence testimony and instead focused on inconsistencies in the accounts of the three accusers, who he said changed their stories over time and spoke with each other before going to police.
"The key to this case is not when they reported it," Cohen said during closing arguments. "It's what they said when they reported it. What they said after they reported it. And what they said at trial."
Mueller argued that Masterson was a man "for whom 'no' never meant 'no,'" as shown by the graphic and emotional testimony of the three accusers.
Two women said they were served drinks by Masterson and became woozy or passed out before being violently raped. One said she thought she would die as Masterson held a pillow over her face.
An ex-girlfriend said she awoke to finding Masterson having sex with her without her consent. The defence said her claims were undermined because she later had sex with him after they broke up.
Cohen told jurors they could acquit Masterson if they thought he "actually and reasonably believed" the women consented to having sex.
Mueller countered that nobody would believe the acts described were consensual, reminding jurors that one woman repeatedly told him "no," pulled his hair and tried to get out from under him.
Mueller told jurors not to be swayed by defence speculation and said contradictions in the victims' testimony were signs of authenticity as opposed to accounts that had been scripted.
The charges date to a period when Masterson was at the height of his fame, starring from 1998 until 2006 as Steven Hyde on Fox’s That '70s Show. The show made stars of Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with That '90s Show.
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy The Ranch but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation was revealed in December 2017.