Mistrial declared in 'That 70s Show' actor Danny Masterson's trial on rape charges after jury fails to reach a verdict

Danny Masterson stands in court with a mask on his face.
Actor Danny Masterson appears at his arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court in Los Angeles, Calif. on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.Lucy Nicholson/Pool Photo via AP
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  • 'That 70s Show' actor Danny Masterson was not convicted on three rape charges Wednesday.

  • Jurors couldn't come to a consensus on any of the three charges after six days of deliberations.

  • Masterson's month-long trial featured testimony from four accusers, all former Scientologists.

"That 70s Show" actor Danny Masterson was not found guilty on criminal rape charges Wednesday after a Los Angeles jury failed to reach a verdict, in a case where four women testified about traumatic incidents with Masterson and the invisible hand of the Church of Scientology.

After nearly six days of deliberations, the jury was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial on Wednesday afternoon. A re-trial was tentatively scheduled for March 27, the judge said.

Masterson looked down as the judge declared the mistrial, and stared off into the distance as his lawyers huddled. His wife Bijou Phillips, along with close to a dozen family members and friends supported him from the left flank of the gallery, spilling into the middle section of the courtroom.

"After thorough and considerable discussion, we are adamant about maintaining our positions," the jury foreperson told the judge Wednesday. "We are not even close to coming to a unanimous decision on any counts. We don't think this will change."

In Masterson's month-long trial, three charging witnesses — all former Scientologists — testified Masterson raped them, and that Scientology later silenced their accusations. However, the jury couldn't come to a unanimous conclusion on any of the three charges. For the first count, 10 of the 12 jurors voted for acquittal. The second had eight jurors voting not guilty. The third was split, with seven voting not guilty, five voting guilty.

Masterson and his legal team had denied the allegations, calling them "outrageous," and he pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

"To see that they were basically all on board with what we hoped to demonstrate and I think what we did demonstrate, speaks volumes to this jury," Masterson defense attorney Philip Cohen said after the mistrial, adding that Masterson felt relieved. "I think the count reflects how critical credibility was in this case."

Cohen added that his team would file a motion to dismiss the case ahead of a potential re-trial. Prosecutors said they would discuss pursuing a re-trial ahead of a January status conference.

Jurors deadlocked after several attempts

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office charged the "That 70s Show" actor with three counts of forcible rape in 2020, after a Los Angeles Police Department investigation was opened into Masterson in 2017. Prosecutors and witnesses alleged that the assaults all occurred between 2001 and 2003, when the women were at different points part of Masterson's clique who interacted at parties or at the Church of Scientology's celebrity center.

The DA was able to bring charges past a statute of limitations and seek an enhanced life sentence, but at least two convictions were needed to send Masterson to prison. According to a verdict form viewed by Insider, jurors had to find that the evidence behind each charge showed beyond reasonable doubt that Masterson was guilty and they were asked whether it was true that Masterson committed the offense against more than one victim.

After the first week of deliberations, jurors were deadlocked on all three counts and were asked to return after Thanksgiving to continue deliberations. By the Monday after Thanksgiving, two alternates were seated after two original jurors contracted COVID-19, and Judge Charlaine Olmedo asked jurors to restart deliberations.

Three additional days of deliberations passed with no decision. Jurors attempted seven different votes in an attempt to agree on at least one count. While Olmedo pushed for an agreement on Wednesday, the jurors vehemently insisted they could not reach a verdict.

The accusers grew emotional discussing Masterson – and Scientology

Throughout the trial, jurors heard testimony from all three charging witnesses, as well as another accuser not included in the charges. All women testified that they were brutally raped by Masterson, while the defense did not call a single witness and Masterson did not testify.

"This trial is one of the biggest moments in Scientology history," Tony Ortega, a journalist who has followed Scientology since the 1990s and broke the Masterson story in 2017 for his outlet The Underground Bunker, previously told Insider.

Masterson is a second-generation Scientologist and his three accusers are all former members of the church. By the middle of the trial, the church had been mentioned by witnesses daily, and in closing arguments, Masterson defense attorney Philip Cohen stated that the prosecution mentioned Scientology at least 700 times.

One of Masterson's accusers, identified as Jane Doe 1, said that Masterson threatened her with a gun after he raped her in April 2003, and acknowledged that some 20 years after the incidents she still felt Scientology's invisible hand.

When asked if she still feared retaliation from Scientology for speaking with authorities, she dryly, without missing a beat, said, "half of this courtroom," referring to how many members of the organization were in the room.

Another accuser, identified as Jane Doe 3, had a panic attack while talking about how church officials gaslit and punished her for attempting to internally report a rape. Jane Doe 3's emotions were so visceral that Judge Charlaine Olmedo offered her a chance to step outside the courtroom to compose herself.

"I don't want to go out there," Jane Doe 3 said, later adding that she feared retaliation from the church at that very moment.

Scientology was not a defendant but took center stage in the trial

Despite being declared a mistrial, the testimony offered a rare window into the typically secretive religious institution with A-list celebrities among its members.

The accusers in the Masterson case spoke at length in their testimonies about meeting with Scientology officials and confiding in them after being sexually assaulted.

Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 3 testified that Scientology chaplains and "ethics officers" turned against them for sharing information about Masterson and alleged that Masterson's close associates wrote "knowledge reports" as kinds of witness statements denying the women's accounts. The ultimate threat levied by the Church, the women said, was that they were told they would be declared a "suppressive person" for reporting the rapes to authorities.

According to the Scientology website, a suppressive person tries to block good things from happening and is referred to as an "antisocial" personality.

During Jane Doe 2's testimony, she told the court she never reported the assault to the church because she had been raped by another Scientology member before, and when she went to a church chaplain to discuss the previous assault they scolded her and made it clear she wasn't allowed to report it to law enforcement.

Jurors got to look at official Scientology documents that the women sent or received, including a letter from a top ethics official telling Jane Doe 1 to "consider the consequences" of reporting Masterson to the police in 2004. Later, in July 2004, Jane Doe 1 met with a Scientology attorney at her parents' house, and was told that if she did not sign an NDA then she'd be described as a "suppressive person." She was later paid $400,000 to stay quiet, she testified.

In a statement to Insider, a representative for the church rejected all of Jane Doe 2's testimony about Scientology, as well as previous witness testimony about the organization.

"There is no truth to the allegations about the Church. The District Attorney is shamefully centering his prosecution on the defendant's religion. With regard to the Church, the DA has elicited answers from the Jane Does and had them state as fact allegations about the Church — which are categorically untrue," spokesperson Karin Pouw said.

A civil suit implicating Masterson and Scientology follows this case

The three accusers from Masterson's criminal case have a pending civil suit filed in 2019 which lists Scientology as a defendant, alleging that the Church has harassed and stalked them since Los Angeles Police started investigating Masterson in 2016. The accounts in the civil lawsuit led to three criminal charges of forcible rape filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office in 2020.

The civil trial, which will delve much deeper into the church's response, was expected to begin after the criminal trial. It's unclear now when that trial will begin, given Wednesday's outcome.

Jane Doe 2, Jane Doe 3 and Jane Doe 3's husband said in a joint statement that they were "disappointed" by the deadlocked result.

"We would first like to thank the jury for its public service," the witnesses said in a statement. "We are obviously disappointed that, at least for the time being, Daniel Masterson has evaded criminal accountability for his deplorable acts. However, we are collectively resolved to continue our fight for justice, including in civil court."

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) or visit its website to receive confidential support.

Read the original article on Insider