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The retrial of Danny Masterson on three separate rape charges began Monday in downtown Los Angeles, in the same courtroom where many of the same witnesses testified late last year. That six-week affair ended in a mistrial, with jurors voting heavily toward acquitting the “That ’70s Show Star” – making prosecutors’ pursuit of a do-over something of a surprise.
But District Attorney Reinhold Mueller has reworked his approach, and will be focusing on an additional witness as well as new experts to bolster accusers’ testimony. Mueller has also said he gleaned a lot of information from speaking with jurors after the first trial, as well as while listening to a subsequent Scientology podcast interview with the jury foreperson.
Masterson was in court Monday, wearing a dark suit with red socks and brown shoes. He waved hello to prospective jurors as he was introduced but did not speak, and his attorney Philip Cohen was there to field a few pre-trial matters before Judge Charlaine F. Olmeda ahead of jury questioning Tuesday.
Masterson is charged with raping three separate women, all fellow Scientologists, between 2001 and 2003. Because of limitation statues, prosecutors must get a unanimous jury vote on at least two of those to convict him.
The same charged witnesses — the three Jane Does from the 2022 trial — will retake the stand. Also retaking the stand as an uncharged (or “prior bad acts”) witness will be Jane Doe 4, who has self-identified as Tricia Vessey. But there will also be a fifth uncharged witness this time around — Kathleen Jenkins — who did not testify at the first trial.
When it comes to the thorny issue of Scientology and how much the church will be allowed to be discussed, Olmeda has ruled that what is permissible remains the same as in the previous trial, despite protestations from Cohen. The victims will be allowed to testify to how Scientology impacted their decisions on how, when and why they chose to come forward and speak to police about the alleged rapes.
The re-trial will also introduce Claire Headley, a former Scientology member who will testify as an expert on the church. Headley will be allowed to back up several of the Jane Does’ testimony, including being taught by church leaders that you cannot be raped if you are a Scientologist in an intimate partner relationship; the word “rape” is not permitted in Scientology; and that members are not supposed to report fellow Scientologists to outside authorities.
The DA has also decided to switch out his intimate partner violence and assault expert. In the
first trial, the prosecution’s expert was Dr. Mindy Mechanic; she will be replaced by Dr. Barbara
Ziv, who was also a witness for the prosecution during media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s Los Angeles rape trial, which ran concurrently with Masterson’s trial on the same floor in a courtroom down the hallway. Ziv will also testify about the effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain and memory.
This is a crucial new element in this trial that Mechanic was not asked to address. As with the previous trial, while the prosecution never directly accused Masterson of drugging the Jane Does before allegedly raping them, the Jane Does were and will be allowed once again to testify to their feelings of being drugged.
In addition, the prosecution will be allowed to introduce a Los Angeles Police Department toxicologist to discuss generally how date rape-drugs can be administered and how they affect those that have ingested them.
Jury selection is expected to take a week, with opening statements slated to begin on April 24. If
convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.