LOS ANGELES –
Danny Masterson, former star of the long-running sitcom “That ’70s Show,” is about to face three ladies in court docket who say he raped them 20 years in the past at a trial whose key figures are all present or former members of the Church of Scientology.
Opening statements might start as early as Tuesday within the Los Angeles trial of the 46-year-old Masterson, and whereas a decide has expressed her willpower to not have the church develop into the middle of the proceedings, it’s going to inevitably loom massive.
Masterson is charged with raping the ladies between 2001 and 2003 in his residence, which functioned as a social hub when he was on the top of his fame. Masterson has pleaded not responsible to the charges.
One of the ladies had been (*3*) longtime girlfriend. Another was a longtime buddy, and the third a more recent acquaintance.
All three have been members of the Church of Scientology, as Masterson nonetheless is. All three accusers have since left, and so they mentioned the church’s insistence that it deal internally with issues between members made them hesitant at first to go to authorities.
“This isn’t going to develop into a trial on Scientology,” Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo asserted at a pre-trial listening to. But she mentioned she would enable its dialogue as a cause why the ladies delayed reporting to authorities.
Testimony at a preliminary listening to final yr to find out whether or not Masterson ought to go to trial final yr included frequent use of Scientology jargon that legal professionals needed to ask the witnesses to elucidate. And the trial’s witness record is filled with members and former members of the church, which has a powerful presence in Los Angeles and has counted many well-known figures amongst its members. The record contains former member Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley and former spouse of Michael Jackson.
(*3*) preliminary lawyer within the case, Thomas Mesereau, emphasised his shopper’s Scientology connections, saying his arrest was the results of anti-religious bias from police and prosecutors. The lawyer tried unsuccessfully to subpoena alleged communications between the accusers and actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who has develop into on of the church’s foremost detractors, authoring a guide and internet hosting a documentary sequence.
(*3*) lead lawyer for the trial, Phillip Cohen, seems to be taking the alternative method, searching for in a pretrial movement to reduce mentions of the establishment, which has garnered a lot damaging publicity lately due to distinguished dissidents like Remini. Some potential jurors have been dismissed primarily based on their opinions of the church.
“I believe leaving the Church of Scientology out of it’s a good plan,” mentioned Emily D. Baker, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor who now works as a authorized analyst and podcaster. “I do not suppose most of the people has an overwhelmingly constructive view, I believe there may be lots of skepticism.”
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller, the lead prosecutor, could wish to tread rigorously on the topic too.
“It can really feel heavy handed when you will have the federal government bringing somebody’s faith right into a prosecution,” mentioned Baker, who isn’t concerned within the case. “I believe there’s a cautious line to be thought of. The church isn’t on trial, you do not wish to give jurors a way that you are going after it.”
Masterson is charged with three counts of rape by power or worry, which might imply as much as 45 years in jail if if he is convicted.
At final yr’s preliminary listening to, one girl testified that they have been 5 years right into a relationship when she woke to Masterson raping her one night time in 2001.
Another, a onetime buddy of (*3*) who had been born into Scientology, testified that, in 2003, he had taken her upstairs from the recent tub at his Los Angeles residence and raped her in his bed room.
The third girl mentioned Masterson raped her on an evening in 2003 after texting her to come back to his home. She testified she had set boundaries and was clear there was to be no intercourse.
One of the ladies, (*3*) buddy, sad with the best way the Scientology ethics board dealt with her grievance about him, filed a police report in 2004 that did not lead to charges. In 2016, she related and shared tales with the lady who says she was raped whereas in a relationship with Masterson. Each would file a police report that yr. (*3*) former girlfriend mentioned she did so after telling her story to her husband, who helped her perceive that she had been raped. The third girl went to police in 2017.
(*3*) then-attorneys advised of their cross-examination of the ladies that every one had retroactively reframed consensual intercourse as rape, and mentioned the age of the incidents made correct reminiscences unimaginable.
The Associated Press doesn’t usually title individuals who say they have been victims of sexual abuse except they arrive ahead publicly.
Masterson was one of many first Hollywood figures to be prosecuted within the #MeToo period. His is one among a number of high-profile sexual assault circumstances which have gone to trial across the fifth anniversary of the reporting of accusations in opposition to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, which remodeled the #MeToo motion into a world reckoning.
Weinstein’s second rape and sexual assault trial — he is already been convicted in New York — is occurring concurrently, simply down the corridor from (*3*). In New York, civil trials have begun for actor Kevin Spacey and for screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, who’re each being sued for sexual assault.
Haggis is himself a Scientology dissident, and the decide in that case is permitting him to argue that the church is behind the allegations in opposition to him.
From 1998 till 2006, Masterson starred as Steven Hyde on Fox’s “That ’70s Show,” which made stars of Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with “That ’90s Show.”
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy “The Ranch” however was written off the present when an LAPD investigation was revealed in December 2017.