Danny Masterson sentenced to 30 years to life for raping former Scientologists

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 31: Actor Danny Masterson arrives at Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, CA on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 with wife Bijou Phillips for his retrial for allegedly raping three women between 2001 and 2003. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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After a pair of trials focused on the Church of Scientology's alleged attempts to shield one of its celebrity members from prosecution, actor Danny Masterson was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison on Thursday morning after having been convicted of raping two former members of the church.

Masterson, 47, was convicted of two counts of rape in May, and a jury deadlocked on a third woman's accusations. The assaults took place in the early 2000s, but Masterson's victims said they waited years to come forward because Scientology doctrine forbade them to report a fellow member to police.

The sentencing played out in a packed courtroom that included Masterson's wife, Bijou Phillips; his family; actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist turned advocate who has worked alongside the victims throughout the trial; and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the lead singer of the Mars Volta and former Scientologist whose wife is among the accusers.

Because Masterson was convicted of assaulting multiple women, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo could sentence him only to either 15 years to life or 30 years to life in state prison. The judge gave Masterson 15 years to life on each count, ordering the sentences to be served consecutively.

Masterson has long denied any wrongdoing and alternately painted the accusations as a smear campaign against Scientology and a baseless attack launched by ex-paramours. Before handing down the sentence, Olmedo rejected the idea that Masterson had been convicted on "rumors, innuendo, gossip or speculation."

“Your actions 20 years ago took away another person’s voice, and choice," Olmedo said. "Your actions were criminal. And that’s why you are here.”

Masterson, who entered the courtroom in a gray suit with slicked back hair and a full beard he has grown since the trial, did not speak at his sentencing and did not testify in his own defense at either trial.

During testimony, each victim described in graphic detail violent assaults at Masterson's Hollywood Hills home during the height of his fame, when he starred as the mercurial Steven Hyde on the popular sitcom "That ’70s Show." All of the women said they fell prey to Masterson after he served them drinks that made them disoriented and nauseated. Each accuser was identified in court only by a single initial and either their first or last name.

Read more: Mars Volta’s lead singer broke with Scientology and reunited with the band. His battles with the church aren’t over

Chrissie B., a former girlfriend of Masterson, said they were involved in a tumultuous and abusive relationship that started after she moved to Los Angeles to pursue modeling. Masterson, she alleged, repeatedly spat on her, called her “white trash” and initiated sex with her while she was asleep. One night in November 2001, she awoke to Masterson forcing himself on her. When she said no, he pinned her down and raped her, she testified.

Jen B. said she became weak and woozy after having a drink with Masterson, who then brought her to his home and raped her while wielding a gun and suffocating her with a pillow. N. Trout described a similar experience, saying Masterson isolated her at his house once she grew weak after being served a drink. As she lost the ability to fight, Trout said, Masterson groped her and digitally penetrated her while she was in a shower before raping her so violently that she vomited.

Read more: Actor Danny Masterson convicted of two counts of rape at second Los Angeles trial

In their victim impact statements, the women Masterson was convicted of raping recounted how much speaking out had cost them.

A second-generation Scientologist, Jen B. knew that by speaking out against Masterson she would be in effect excommunicated from both the church and her family. When she reported the assault to the Los Angeles Police Department in 2004, Jen B. said, the church barred all of her relatives from communicating with her but made an exception for her parents because they had donated millions to the organization.

Jen B. said that her father died in 2010 and that her mother disavowed her shortly before prosecutors brought charges in 2020.

“She texted me and told me to never contact her again," Jen B. said. "She had warned me ahead of time she wanted to see Danny Masterson locked away for what he’d done to me, but not at the expense of her religion.”

N. Trout said she's been tormented by the church for speaking out against Masterson, but the conviction made the alleged stalking worth it.

“Since the week I came forward to police I have been terrorized, harassed and had my privacy invaded daily by the cult of Scientology for almost 7 years now," she said. "But I don’t regret it.”

Masterson, she said, delighted in inflicting pain on her.

“You relish in hurting women," she said. "It is an addiction. It is, without question, your favorite thing to do. ... Your sickness is no longer my burden to bear.”

Jurors ultimately deadlocked on the charges linked to Chrissie B. but convicted Masterson of assaulting Jen B. and N. Trout. Prosecutors do not plan to take Chrissie B.'s allegations before a third jury.

An earlier trial, in late 2022, ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a verdict on any count, although a poll of the deadlocked panel revealed at least seven of them were considering an acquittal on each count. The panel was tilted 10 to 2 toward acquitting Masterson on one count, jurors said.

Masterson’s defense team on Thursday issued a statement maintaining that Masterson is innocent, saying they have “identified a number of significant evidentiary and constitutional issues which they will address in briefs to both state and federal appellate courts.”

“The errors which occurred in this case are substantial and unfortunately, led to verdicts which are not supported by the evidence,” the statement said. “And though we have great respect for the jury in this case and for our system of justice overall, sometimes they get it wrong. And that's what happened here.”

In court, defense attorney Shawn Holley asked Olmedo to sentence Masterson to 15 years to life, the only other option available under the law. Holley cited Masterson's lack of criminal record and history of philanthropic actions, drawing a sharp rebuke from Deputy Dist. Atty. Reinhold Mueller.

“The manner in which this defendant committed his acts — it was violent, it was targeted in some instances, surreptitiously drugging his victims so they were incapacitated when he committed these assaults," he said. "It’s heinous. And to suggest, under all of these circumstances, that 15 years to life ... is enough and that’s fair and just? Absolutely not."

The church has repeatedly denied that it has a policy barring members from reporting one another to police. But at a preliminary hearing, Mueller read passages from "Introduction to Scientology Ethics," a 528-page tome by church founder L. Ron Hubbard that discourages Scientologists from reporting fellow parishioners to police. One victim testified she understood the book to be official church doctrine. Olmedo agreed and ruled the church had such a policy.

Church of Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw blasted the introduction of church doctrines at trial as an "unprecedented violation" of the 1st Amendment. The church did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The church's legal entanglements in L.A. are only just beginning. Masterson's accusers have a pending civil lawsuit against him and Scientology, litigation that can now go forward as the criminal proceedings have closed. Remini has also sued the organization for harassment, alleging that it has spent years trying to intimidate her into ceasing her activism.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.