Danny Masterson appears at his arraignment in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2020.
Lucy Nicholson / AP
LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors described Danny Masterson as a predator who didn’t care if the women he is charged with raping said “no” as he urged jurors on Tuesday to find the That ’70s Show actor guilty on all counts in his criminal trial.
Masterson, 46, who is best known for playing Steven Hyde on the late ’90s, early aughts sitcom, is facing three counts of rape by force or fear for allegedly sexually assaulting three women at his Hollywood Hills home in 2001 and 2003. In two of the charged incidents, the women say Masterson supplied them with alcohol and that when they became disoriented, he took them upstairs to his bedroom and violently raped them. In the third, the woman, who was Masterson’s girlfriend at the time, said she woke up to him penetrating her vagina and when she tried to get him to stop, he hit her, spit on her, and called her “white trash.”
“If you were incapacitated in his bed he would rape you,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said during his closing argument. “If you were incapacitated elsewhere in the house, he would come and find you. And if you were at his home and you were not yet intoxicated, he would offer you the alcohol to get you there and then forcibly rape you.”
Meanwhile, Masterson’s attorney Philip Cohen urged jurors to focus on the inconsistencies in the women’s testimony and argued that discrepancies in what they said in previous statements versus what they testified at trial raised enough reasonable doubt that what they were telling jurors was not true.
“They want to win this case so badly that they have ignored right up until that closing argument,” Cohen said. “They have ignored the blatant, obvious, overwhelming contradictions and fabrications that each Jane Doe has given you.”
That the district attorney’s office was apparently ignoring those issues was “maddening” and “horrifying,” Cohen said.
Masterson has pleaded not guilty to the charges and claimed that he only had consensual sex with the women. A 12-person jury will now determine whether Masterson is guilty. He faces up to 45 years to life in prison if convicted of all three counts.
Over the course of about four weeks, jurors heard graphic testimony from the three women Masterson is charged with raping, the detectives who investigated their allegations, and individuals who recalled hearing about them. Jurors also heard from a fourth woman who accused the actor of sexual assault and whose testimony echoed that of the other accusers. One woman, identified during her testimony as J.B., testified that she thought Masterson was going to kill her as she described how the actor smothered her with a pillow and strangled her as he was allegedly sexually assaulting her in April 2003. Another woman said she repeatedly told Masterson she “didn’t want to have sex,” but he penetrated her without her consent anyway.
And despite attempts by Masterson, a prominent Scientologist, to keep the Church of Scientology out of the trial, jurors repeatedly heard about the institution and its practices. According to his attorney’s review of the transcripts, Scientology came up more than 700 times.
Throughout their testimony, the three women, who are all former Scientologists, talked about how church officials threatened to excommunicate them if they reported the incidents to the police and made them feel like they — not Masterson — were responsible for the alleged assaults.
One woman, who was Masterson’s girlfriend at the time of the alleged rape, testified that a church ethics officer told her she couldn’t be raped by someone she was in a relationship with and that she must have done something in her life or a previous life to deserve it.
“We are all responsible for the condition that we’re in — that is what we’re taught,” the woman, identified as Christina B., said of the church’s beliefs. “I still struggle with that even today.”
Masterson ultimately chose not to testify in his defense, and his attorneys did not call any witnesses to the stand.
During his closing argument, Cohen took aim at the women’s statements about the alleged sexual assaults and their actions thereafter, asking whether the explanations they offered were reasonable or if it was possible that they were lying. He referenced the testimony of Mindy Mechanic, a clinical psychologist and rape trauma expert who often testifies in legal cases, noting that she said there can be motives for an alleged victim of rape to lie.
“That’s your reasonable doubt right there, quite frankly,” Cohen told the jury.
To help make his point, Cohen brought up Christina B.’s testimony that after she was allegedly raped by Masterson and had broken up with him that she met up with him on at least two occasions and voluntarily had sex with him. Mueller argued in his closing statements that Christina B. was trying to “repair the bond” with Masterson and was still processing what had happened to her. But Cohen suggested that another “reasonable conclusion” was that she was not processing and instead met up with him because she still loved him and voluntarily met up with him because she “was not afraid of him.”
“Is that a reasonable conclusion?” Cohen said. “Because if it is then guess what? You must accept that.”
In his rebuttal, Mueller urged jurors to focus on the facts “not a bunch of speculation,” saying that Cohen was trying to “distract” jurors.
“Stay on the facts,” Mueller said. “Remember the word reasonable. Consider only what is reasonable, and what is not you must reject it.”
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