LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the rape trial of “That ’70 Show” actor Danny Masterson. after jurors, who were strongly inclined to acquit him, were deadlocked after the month-long trial in which the Church of Scientology played a supporting role.
Masterson, 46, was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with raping three women, including an ex-girlfriend, at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. He has pleaded not guilty and his attorney said all actions were 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 asking if there was anything the court could do to bring them closer to reaching a unanimous verdict. She set a March date for a retrial.
Olmedo had ordered jurors to take the Thanksgiving week off and continue deliberating after saying on Nov. 18 that they could not reach a consensus. The jury resumed deliberations on Monday after two alternates replaced jurors who had COVID-19.
Jurors said they voted seven times on Tuesday and Wednesday without being able to reach consensus on any of the three points.
The jury foreman said only two jurors voted to convict on count one, four voted to convict on count two and five voted to convict on count three.
The result was a serious setback for prosecutors and the three women who said they were seeking long-overdue justice.
Two of the alleged victims in the case released a statement saying they were disappointed “Masterson has avoided criminal responsibility for his deplorable acts. However, we are collectively determined to continue our fight for justice.”
Two of the women and one’s husband 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 lawsuit filed 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 in the Masterson trial, as in the Haggis trial, the #MeToo implications were largely eclipsed by the Scientology spectrum, despite the judge’s insistence that the church not be made a de facto defendant.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said the church had tried to silence the women, which is why it took two decades for the case to go to trial.
Masterson’s lawyer, Philip Cohen, said the church was mentioned 700 times during the trial and argued that it became an excuse for the prosecution’s failure to build a credible case against Masterson, a prominent Scientologist.
Cohen said he would file a motion to dismiss the case based on how the jury voted. He said jurors provided additional insights after the trial verdict that were helpful, but would not discuss what they were told.
“You always wonder as a lawyer if what you’re doing in court every day is interfering … with the jury,” Cohen said. “Clearly we’ve made inroads.”
The jurors were escorted out of court without speaking to reporters.
Masterson did not testify. Cohen presented no defense evidence and instead focused on inconsistencies in the accounts of the three accusers, who he said changed their stories over time and talked to each other before going to police.
“The key to this case is not when they reported it,” Cohen said during closing arguments. “That’s what they said when they reported it. What did they say after they reported it? And what they said in court.”
Mueller argued that Masterson was a man “for whom ‘no’ would never mean ‘no,'” as shown by the graphic and emotional testimony of the three accusers.
Two women said they were served drinks by Masterson and became upset or passed out before being violently raped. One said she thought she was going to die after Masterson held a pillow over her face.
An ex-girlfriend said she woke up to find Masterson having sex with her without her consent. The defense 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 felt he “actually and reasonably believed” the women consented to sex. Mueller countered that no one would believe the acts described were consensual, reminding jurors that a woman repeatedly told him “no,” pulled his hair and tried to get out from under him.
Mueller told jurors not to be swayed by defense speculation and said inconsistencies in the victims’ testimony were signs of authenticity compared to the accounts that had been written.
The allegations date back to when Masterson was at the height of his fame, starring from 1998 to 2006 as Steven Hyde on Fox’s That ’70s Show. The show starred Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and will be rebooted next on Netflix with That ’90s Show.
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy “The Ranch,” but was dropped from the show when an LAPD investigation came to light in December 2017.