LOS ANGELES — A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday at the rape trial of “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson after jurors, who were leaning strongly toward acquitting him, were deadlocked following the monthlong trial in which the Church of Scientology played a supporting role.
Masterson, 46, was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with the rape of three women, including a former girlfriend, in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. He pleaded not guilty and his lawyer said the acts were all consensual. All three women were members of the church at the time, and Masterson remains one.
“I find the jurors hopelessly deadlocked,” Judge Charlaine Olmedo declared after inquiring whether there was anything the court could do to move them closer to reaching a unanimous decision. She set a March date for a retrial.
Olmedo had ordered jurors to take Thanksgiving week off and keep deliberating after they said on Nov. 18 that they could not reach a consensus. The jury began deliberations anew Monday after two alternates replaced jurors who had COVID-19.
Jurors said they had voted seven times Tuesday and Wednesday without being able to reach a consensus on any of the three counts.
The jury foreman said only two jurors voted for conviction on the first count, four voted for conviction on the second count and five voted to convict on the third count.
The result was a serious setback for prosecutors, and for the three women who said they were seeking long overdue justice.
Two of the alleged victims in the case issued a statement saying they were disappointed “Masterson has evaded criminal accountability for his deplorable acts. However, we are collectively resolved to continue our fight for justice.”
The alleged victims and the husband of one are suing Masterson, the Church of Scientology, its leader David Miscavige and others for allegedly stalking, harassing and intimidating them after they sought to expose Masterson.
Masterson left court with his wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, without speaking to reporters.
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Jurors were escorted out of the courthouse without speaking with reporters.
Masterson did not testify. The actor's attorney Philip Cohen presented no defense testimony and instead focused on inconsistencies in the accounts of the three accusers, who he said changed their stories over time and spoke with each other before going to police.
“The key to this case is not when they reported it,” Cohen said during closing arguments. “It’s what they said when they reported it. What they said after they reported it. And what they said at trial.”
Scientology's specter looms over trial
The proceedings took place amid a flurry of cases on both coasts with #MeToo connotations, including the Los Angeles trial of Harvey Weinstein just down the hall from Masterson’s. In New York, Kevin Spacey won a sexual misconduct lawsuit brought by actor Anthony Rapp in New York, and a jury ordered director and screenwriter Paul Haggis to pay $10 million in a civil case there.
But at the Masterson trial, as at the Haggis trial, #MeToo implications were largely eclipsed by the specter of Scientology, despite the judge’s insistence that the church not become a de facto defendant.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said the church had tried to silence the women and that was the reason it took two decades for the case to get to trial.
Masterson's attorney said the church was mentioned 700 times during trial and argued that it became an excuse for the prosecution’s failure to build a believable case against Masterson, a prominent Scientologist.
Cohen said he would file a motion to dismiss the case, based on the way the jury voted. He said jurors provided additional insights after the mistrial ruling that were helpful but wouldn't discuss what they told him.
“You always wonder as a lawyer if what you're doing in court every day is making any inroads ... with the jury,” Cohen said. “Clearly we made inroads.”
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Masterson's attorney argued accusers had too many 'contradictions and inconsistencies'
Rape allegations against Masterson were riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies that prosecutors in their case implicated the Church of Scientology to help patch holes in its case, a defense lawyer said Tuesday in closing arguments.
“When there are contradictions and inconsistencies — blame it on others,” Cohen said. “We heard Scientology so often that it really became the go-to excuse.”
All three accusers and Masterson were members of the church at the time of the allegations two decades ago when the actor was at the height of his fame on the sitcom “That ’70s show,” and Scientology loomed large in the trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“There are no charges against Scientology but you can’t avoid it,” Mueller said in his rebuttal argument.
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District Attorney says accusers' inconsistencies are from 'trauma'
Mueller said the women delayed reporting the allegations because church rules prevented them from going to law enforcement and if they told anyone else about what happened, they would be ostracized.
While Masterson remains a member of the church, the three women are not. They were afraid to testify because they had been subjected to harassment, intimidation and stalking after they reported the crimes, Mueller said.
If the statements by the women were all consistent then it would have indicated they were scripted, Mueller said. He said inconsistencies often arise when victims of sexual assault have to relive their ordeals when speaking to police for the first time.
“They’re having to reach inside themselves and pull out that pain and trauma that they’ve had buried inside themselves,” Mueller said. “You may find some inconsistencies there.”
Contributing: Naledi Ushe, USA TODAY; Brian Melly, Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Danny Masterson verdict: Judge declares mistrial after jury deadlocked