Danny Masterson drugged women’s drinks so he could rape them, then relied on his prominence in the Church of Scientology to avoid consequences for years, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday in closing arguments at the actor’s trial.
“The defendant drugs his victims to gain control. He does this to take away his victims’ ability to consent,” Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson told the jury of seven men and five women. “You don’t want to have sex? You don’t have a choice. The defendant makes that choice for these victims. And he does it over and over and over again.”
The 47-year-old former star of “That '70s Show" is on rape trial for a second time after the first ended in a mistrial in December, with a jury hopelessly deadlocked on all counts. The new jury is expected to get the case Wednesday morning when prosecutors complete their final rebuttal.
Masterson has pleaded not guilty to raping three women at his home between 2001 and 2003. His attorney, Philip Cohen told jurors during his closing that inconsistencies in the women's stories that he said Anson downplayed are essential and should make it easy for jurors to have reasonable doubt of Masterson's guilt.
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“She did a very nice job of ignoring many of them,” Cohen said. “What she views as little inconsistencies are at the heart of trying to determine, ‘Is somebody, reliable, credible, believable enough for a criminal conviction?’”
He dwelled on one woman testifying that Masterson pulled a gun from a nightstand at one point during the night she said she was attacked, though there was no mention of it in the report from her initial police interview. She insisted she had told police about it then. Cohen said that alone was enough to crater her credibility and introduce reasonable doubt that Masterson is guilty.
Anson took aim at the Church of Scientology, of which Masterson is a member and all three women are former members, throughout her argument, emphasizing that church authorities kept the women from accepting what had happened to them and from reporting it to police for years.
"The church taught his victims, ‘Rape isn’t rape, you caused this, and above all, you are never allowed to go to law enforcement,’" she said. “In Scientology, the defendant is a celebrity and he is untouchable.”
The church has denied having any policy discouraging members from going to law enforcement.
Actor Leah Remini, a former member of the church who has become one of its most prominent public opponents, sat in the courtroom, her arm around one of the accusers, who testified during both trials that Masterson raped her in 2003.
“Why have we heard so much about Scientology?” Cohen said in his closing. “Could it be because there are problems with the government’s case?”
He emphasized an instruction that said jurors could not hold his religion as a sign against his character, and a stipulation from both sides that no evidence was presented at trial that Masterson had harassed the women.
Cohen said Claire Headley, a former Scientology official who testified as a prosecution expert in an element not allowed at the first trial, had credibility problems based on an unsuccessful lawsuit against the church and a relationship with Remini.
"She came with a bias and a motive," Cohen said.
Anson guided jurors through the testimonies of all three women. One is a former girlfriend who said Masterson raped her five years into their relationship in 2001. The two others are women he knew through social circles surrounding the church.
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been sexually abused.
All three testified that they became unusually groggy and had gaps in consciousness and memory after consuming drinks Masterson gave them. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo allowed the prosecution during the second trial to directly say he drugged the women, after only allowing descriptions of their states at the first.
There is no forensic proof of any drugging. The investigation that led to Masterson's arrest did not begin for about 15 years after the women say they were raped. Anson told jurors the women's accounts and the testimony of a police toxicology expert who described symptoms should be enough.
“What is not here is evidence of drugs,” Cohen said in response. “Miss Anson presented a case as if she was arguing a drugging case. Maybe it’s because there is no evidence of force or violence.”
Cohen argued that the women contaminated their testimony by communicating with each other after the police investigation began in 2016.
Anson said during her presentation that the women had no reason to lie and that it is not plausible that they were engaging in a “grand conspiracy” to get Masterson.
Cohen said he was “not claiming some grand conspiracy.”
“It is a tweak here, a massaging a word there, a saying something over here,” the defense attorney said. “That’s what contamination really is.”
Cohen also said civil lawsuits brought by the women are evidence they have a financial incentive.
“If you’re looking for motives why they might not be truthful, there are motives all over the place,” he said.
Fewer than half of jurors voted to convict Masterson on any count after the first trial.
His attorney emphasized Tuesday that even if they believe it is likely he is guilty, they must acquit.
“If you say, ‘I think he is probably guilty,’ you know what that leads to?” Cohen said, then made a buzzer sound. “Not guilty.”