That ‘70s Show star Danny Masterson (Steven Hyde) is on trial for three criminal rape charges in LA. Three women have come forth accusing Masterson of raping them and possibly drugging them between 2001 and 2003 while they were members of the Church of Scientology. If found guilty, Masterson may face 45 years in prison to life.
What’s Happened So Far in the Danny Masterson Trial
All three accusations involve similar elements and allege that the victims were raped in Masterson’s house. The trial began on Tuesday after a week-long jury selection process.
So far, the court has heard the opening statements of Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller and one of Masterson’s defense attorneys, Peter Cohen. Today we heard one one victim, who has gone by Jen B. but prefers to be referred to as Jane Doe 1. She gave an emotional and graphic testimony on Wednesday (more on that below).
Masterson’s legal team includes star attorney Thomas Mesereau, who represented Michael Jackson and Bill Crosby in high-profile sexual assault cases. Shawn Holley, who is representing Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer and rapper Tori Lanez in unrelated cases, is also representing. Masterson has claimed innocence and that his accusers all gave their consent.
The trial was ordered by Judge Charlaine Olmedo in May of 2021 after she had heard testimony from the three accusers. The trial comes on the heels of a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the three women and one additional accuser, Masterson’s ex-girlfriend Chrissie Bixler. That lawsuit was ordered to go through the Church of Scientology’s arbitration process due to binding civil contracts. All but one of the accusers identify as ex-members of the Church of Scientology and Masterson is an active member.
The Church of Scientology has found itself inextricably linked to this case although it does not stand as a defendant. All three accusers are claiming that the Church of Scientology intimidated and silenced them when they tried to seek help after their individual assaults.
Victims Allege the Church of Scientology Intimidated Them to Keep Quiet
The three accusers in the criminal trial allege that the church wiretapped their electronic devices after they went to the Los Angeles Police Department. Additionally, Bixler, who is not a part of this trial, alleged in the civil lawsuit that people who worked for the church killed her dog as a form of retaliation for speaking out.
One accuser said that the church intimidated her parents, who were also members of Scientology. An attorney for the church threatened that they would “lose” their daughter if she continued to go public with her accusations. All three accusers have pointed to religious doctrines set forth by the church, specifically pointing to a fear of being essentially excommunicated, for lack of a better term, for violating its rules. They would therefore be made into pariahs by their families and tightly-knit, Scientologist social circle.
Ongoing Arguments About if the Church of Scientology Can Be Mentioned
During the 4-day preliminary hearing, both sides discussed what types of evidence could be admitted. This included whether or not mentions of the Church of Scientology would be allowed.
The defense argued that mentions of Scientology should not be permitted at any point in the trial. Cohen said it was “disingenuous to say the government is not placing Scientology on trial.” Mesereau claimed that accusers and LAPD investigators were exhibiting “religious bias.”
But the prosecutor countered this “It’s about their entire life being wrapped up in this church. If [members] don’t follow certain policies…they lose that entire life.”
Per the LA Times, Mesereau brought out one of the church’s primary texts, a 528-page book titled Introduction to Scientology Ethics. Then Mueller entered the book into the court record. He proceeded to read passages from its pages, asking Jane Doe 1 to do so as well.
The book contains teachings that imply that its members can never truly be victimized. One victim explained it as teaching them that any perceived wrong is ultimately their fault. Jane Doe 1 testified that she had been instructed to study from the book after coming forth with her initial complaint to ethics officers within the church in 2004. She tried to go through the church’s proper channels but was met with disdain and apathy. Jane Doe 1 was also told that she could not use the “R” word. She was warned that filing a complaint against another member would constitute a “high crime.”
“My understanding was I would immediately be guilty of a high crime,” she explained. “A high crime comes with a penalty of expulsion from Scientology… You cannot speak or have contact or anything at all with a person who has been expelled or declared a suppressive person… That would have major ramifications.”
Judge Rules Scientology Is Relevant, the Church Objects
Judge Olmedo ultimately concluded that Scientology upholds an expressly written doctrine” that “not only discourages but prohibits” reporting other members to law enforcement. She also pointed out to the defense that they mentioned Scientology “88 times in a 29-page brief.” This made their own request to limit mentions of the church essentially a moot point.
In a statement to the LA Times, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, Karin Pouw, condemned Olmedo’s interpretation of the church’s stance on legal reporting. She called it “flat out wrong.” She accused Masterson’s accuser of trying to engage in a “money shakedown.”
“Church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land, including the reporting of crimes,” wrote Pouw. “This is blatantly clear in the documents we understand were put before the Court — and many others.” She then expressed disdain for the courts interpreting the church’s rules and regulations. “Interpretation of Church doctrine by the courts is prohibited and the ruling is evidence of why,” she wrote.
Pouw also claimed that the accusers were simply copying accusations previously made by actress Leah Remini.
Remini left the church in 2013 and has joined with another ex-member and critic, Mike Rinder, to co-produce a series about Scientology. That show is called Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. It contained 37 episodes, is available on A&E, and won three Emmy Awards and a TCA Award.
Jane Doe 1’s First Rape Account
Warning, what is written below contains graphic depictions of rape and assault and may be disturbing for some readers.
Jane Doe 1 is alleging two separate incidents of rape and assault.
Jane Doe 1 explained her reasons for waiting to decide to go forth with her accusation in the courts. She said that she was initially given $400,000 to keep quiet. She was given the option to sign a non-disclosure agreement to quash the report to the LAPD or be labeled as a “suppressive person.” “Suppressive person” is a term in Scientology for someone who is kicked out, essentially. If that were to happen, Jane Doe 1 said, she feared that even her own parents would no longer talk to her.
Jane Doe 1 came from a family of Scientologists and was a second-generation Scientologist. She said she met Masterson in 1997 when she was 24 and that her best friend, Brie Schaffer, was his personal assistant.
Because of their tightly knit circle, Jane Doe 1, Masterson, and others often attended church events together and hung out in their free time. She considered Masterson to be like a “brother” to her, which made the following alleged incidents feel “incestuous.”
Mueller said in his opening statement that in September of 2002, Jane Doe 1 and a girlfriend decided to meet Masterson at a bar. Masterson ordered her a greyhound (vodka and grapefruit juice) at the bar and then she ended up at his house, intoxicated. Once there, he flipped her onto her stomach in a way that injured her back and started performing anal sex on her.
Jane Doe 1 says that she didn’t report the incident at the time because it wasn’t until years later that she realized it was rape. She filed an incident report in 2016 after talking to other victims. They also filed reports the same year and in 2017.
Masterson Allegedly Raped Her Again, Jane Doe 1 Alleges
In April of 2003, Jane Doe 1 and some friends ended up at Masterson’s house, where 20 to 30 people were partying. Masterson gave her a red fruity beverage in a mug. It was her first drink of the evening, and it made her feel confused within 20 to 30 minutes. He then threw her in his jacuzzi, where she realized she was dizzy and missing most of her clothes. Her vision was blurry. She thought she was going to drown.
At that point, Masterson said he was going to bring her upstairs to his room and help her throw up. But she told him “no.” Another male friend insisted that she stay downstairs but Masterson carried her upstairs anyways. Once there, he stuck his fingers in her throat and helped her vomit. Then he pulled her into the shower and bathed her, calling the vomit “disgusting.” He was rubbing soap on her breasts and pulled her up by her hair. She said she tried to throw a punch and then blacked out.
When she awoke, she was in his bed, and he was penetrating her vagina with his penis. He did this while using the full weight of his body to pin her down. She tried putting a pillow in-between them, but he allegedly took the pillow from her and smothered her face, making her pass out. When she awoke again, she heard a knock at the door. It was a man. She said that Masterson reached into a drawer, pulled out a gun, and said, “Shut the f*ck up.”
More Victim Testimony to Come; Masterson Will Have a Chance to Speak
The trial is expected to take weeks, and this is only the beginning. Two more women will testify about their alleged incidents. It is expected that Masterson, too, will have a chance to speak. Cross-examinations will be occurring as well.
Other witnesses include prominent people in Hollywood. One of those people is Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. The singer-songwriter is close friends with one of the victims.
This case is considered a groundbreaking case that coincides with the #MeToo movement due to the high-profile nature of the accused being an actor from the popular That ‘70s Show.
Mike Rinder, the co-executive producer of Leah Remini’s TV series, is the former spokesperson for the Church of Scientology. He told the LA Times that this case is making the church panic. The church has notoriously kept a low profile when it comes to the courts.
“The fact that it’s Danny Masterson from That ’70s Show… it’s not just local media reporting on a local case, it blows it up way bigger,” Rinder said. “It becomes part of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein… That instantly puts it into a different zone. Within Scientology, this becomes panic stations, high alert.”