Danny Masterson’s Second Rape Trial Gets Underway: Here’s Why the Case Is Back in Court

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

“That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson is back on trial again.

The new trial began on Monday morning with jury selection in downtown Los Angeles, after the jury in Masterson’s first trial last year failed to reach an unanimous verdict, stating they were “hopelessly deadlocked.” With a hung jury, a mistrial was declared in November and Judge Charlaine Olmedo denied a defense request to dismiss the case.

More from Variety

Now, Masterson will face the same three rape charges associated with the same three alleged victims, but in front of a new jury.

Masterson — who maintains his innocence — is accused of forcibly raping the women at his home in the Hollywood Hills in incidents spanning from 2001 to 2003. At the time, he was starring on the hit sitcom “That ’70s Show,” which ran on Fox from 1998 through 2006.

Masterson’s first trial began last October and spanned over the course of two months with lengthy deliberations. Though they could not reach a verdict, the jurors leaned toward acquittal with votes of 10-2, 8-4 and 7-5 on the three counts.

In an effort to avoid a new trial, Masterson’s defense argued that a new jury would not be able to reach a unanimous verdict to convict with the same evidence. The prosecution argued that the jury ignored supporting testimony in the case. “Not giving these victims another chance with a jury who can sit there and consider all of the evidence — win, lose or draw –- that would be an injustice,” prosecutor Reinhold Mueller said. The judge said arguments about what a future jury might do were “speculative and unsupported by the facts” and that a “different outcome at a retrial is at least a possibility.”

The retrial will be very similar to Masterson’s first trial, though there will likely be some new expert witnesses and corroborating witnesses. The prosecution is aiming to bring more experts to testify about the effects drugs and alcohol can have on memory; in the first trial, they painted a picture of Masterson as a serial rapist who utilized drugs and alcohol to abuse women.

Though the defense is opposing it, there is the possibility that the judge will allow one additional woman to testify as a “prior bad acts” witness — which is an uncharged witness, who testifies in order to establish a pattern of behavior — bringing the total number of accusers to potentially take the stand to five. The three women whose allegations are tied to the three rape charges that Masterson faces are all the same.

On Monday in court, Masterson’s attorney, Philip Cohen, said the defense’s witness list is “basically the same as the last one.”

Masterson’s defense team includes Cohen, who was his lead attorney in last year’s trial, along with Shawn Holley, who was famously on O.J. Simpson’s defense team and has represented many celebrities in high-profile cases, including Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian and more recently, Shia LaBeouf and Tory Lanez. The prosecution in Masterson’s case is being led by Mueller and Ariel Anson.

Masterson’s first trial put an unwelcome spotlight on the Church of Scientology with women on the stand accusing the organization of trying to cover up the allegations against a high-profile member. Masterson is a Scientologist, and all three rape accusers in the trial are former Scientologists.

Though the judge stated, “This trial is not going to be inundated with Scientology,” the church became a dominant theme in the courtroom. Masterson’s attorney argued that Scientology was irrelevant to the case and sought to minimize any mention of it, but said in his closing argument last year that Scientology was brought up more than 700 times.

The three Jane Doe’s who testified said they were threatened to be excommunicated from the church, and were dissuaded by the church’s authorities to going to the police with accusations against Masterson. One of the women who testified in last year’s trial called Scientology a “criminal organization.” Another woman had a panic attack on the stand. And all three testified that the church’s teachings made it hard for them to conceptualize the assaults as rape.

Leah Remini — a former member of Scientology who has become Hollywood’s most outspoken critic against the church — brought attention to Masterson’s trial last year, frequently tweeting about the case. After the trial ended with a hung jury, she slammed Scientology and its leader David Miscavige, accusing him of covering up sex abuse crimes within the organization. “While this is not the outcome I wanted for the survivors of Danny Masterson’s predation, I’m glad a retrial has already been rescheduled,” Remini tweeted. “My heart breaks for the women who have courageously and tirelessly fought for justice for over five years. For years, they have been targeted and harassed by Scientology and its agents.”

The first trial attracted a considerable amount of media attention, especially on days when Masterson’s famous family members were spotted at the courthouse. Masterson’s wife, the actor and model Bijou Phillips, regularly appeared in court to support her husband, along with Masterson’s brother-in-law, actor Billy Baldwin, and his wife, the singer Chynna Phillips.

When the court announced its decision to retry the case, two of the women who testified at the trial, identified as Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3, issued a statement applauding the decision: “We are pleased that Danny Masterson will not be permitted to simply escape criminal accountability. Despite suffering years of intimidation and harassment, we are completely committed to participating in the next criminal trial to the extent requested by prosecutors and again testifying about Mr. Masterson’s depraved behavior.”

The new trial could last up to two months, but on Monday, the judge said she does not expect the trial to last that long. More than 200 prospective jurors will come in this week for questioning, before the new jury is selected. 12 jurors will be chosen, along with eight alternates. Testimony in the trial is expected to begin next Monday, April 24.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.