LOS ANGELES — A prosecutor described Danny Masterson as a predator who didn’t care if the women he is charged with raping said “no” as he urged jurors on Tuesday to find the That ’70s Show actor guilty on all counts in his criminal trial.
Masterson, 46, who is best known for playing Steven Hyde on the late ’90s, early aughts sitcom, is facing three counts of rape by force or fear for allegedly sexually assaulting three women at his Hollywood Hills home in 2001 and 2003. In two of the charged incidents, the women say Masterson supplied them with alcohol and that when they became disoriented, he took them upstairs to his bedroom and violently raped them. In the third, the woman, who was Masterson’s girlfriend at the time, said she woke up to him penetrating her vagina and when she tried to get him to stop, he hit her, spit on her, and called her “white trash.”
“If you were incapacitated in his bed he would rape you,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said during his closing argument. “If you were incapacitated elsewhere in the house, he would come and find you. And if you were at his home and you were not yet intoxicated, he would offer you the alcohol to get you there and then forcibly rape you.”
Meanwhile, Masterson’s attorney Philip Cohen urged jurors to focus on the inconsistencies in the women’s testimony; Cohen suggested that discrepancies between what they said in previous statements and what they testified at trial raised enough reasonable doubt that what they were telling jurors was not true.
“They want to win this case so badly that they have ignored right up until that closing argument,” Cohen said. “They have ignored the blatant, obvious, overwhelming contradictions and fabrications that each Jane Doe has given you.”
That the district attorney’s office was apparently ignoring those issues was “maddening” and “horrifying,” Cohen said.
Masterson has pleaded not guilty to the charges and claimed that he only had consensual sex with the women. A 12-person jury will now determine whether Masterson is guilty. He faces up to 45 years to life in prison if convicted of all three counts.
Over the course of about four weeks, jurors heard graphic testimony from the three women Masterson is charged with raping, the detectives who investigated their allegations, and individuals who recalled hearing about them. Jurors also heard from a fourth woman who accused the actor of sexual assault and whose testimony echoed that of the other alleged victims. One woman, identified during her testimony as J.B., testified that she thought Masterson was going to kill her as she described how the actor smothered her with a pillow and strangled her as he was allegedly sexually assaulting her in April 2003. Another woman said she repeatedly told Masterson she “didn’t want to have sex,” but he penetrated her without her consent anyway.
And despite attempts by Masterson, a prominent Scientologist, to keep the Church of Scientology out of the trial, jurors repeatedly heard about the institution and its practices. According to his attorney’s review of the transcripts, Scientology came up more than 700 times.
Throughout their testimony, the three women, who are all former Scientologists, talked about how church officials threatened to excommunicate them if they reported the incidents to the police and made them feel like they — not Masterson — were responsible for the alleged assaults.
One woman, who was Masterson’s girlfriend at the time of the alleged rape, testified that a church ethics officer told her she couldn’t be raped by someone she was in a relationship with and that she must have done something in her life or a previous life to deserve it.
“We are all responsible for the condition that we’re in — that is what we’re taught,” the woman, identified as Christina B., said of the church’s beliefs. “I still struggle with that even today.”
Masterson ultimately chose not to testify in his defense, and his attorneys did not call any witnesses to the stand.
In order to prove that Masterson committed the crime of rape by force or fear, Mueller said prosecutors had to show that the defendant had sexual intercourse with the alleged victims, that he did not have their consent, and that the rape was accomplished by "enough physical force to overcome the person's will."
"Telling somebody to stop and get off of me ... is not acting freely and voluntarily," Mueller said. "Pushing somebody to get [them] off is not acting freely and voluntarily. That is not consent."
As he gave jurors an overview of the charged incident involving the woman identified as N.T., Mueller recounted how she testified about telling Masterson that she didn't want to have sex repeatedly. But for Masterson, "no never means no," the prosecutor said.
Instead of listening to her pleas, Masterson flipped her over and penetrated her so hard from behind that she vomited in her mouth, leaving her feeling like a "rag doll," N.T. testified.
"This, ladies and gentlemen, is rape," Mueller said. "It's a rape by force. It's a rape without consent."
During his closing argument, Cohen talked about J.B.'s testimony about her interactions with Masterson leading up to the alleged sexual assault in his bedroom in April 2003. J.B. said in a December 2003 statement provided to the church that she went into the kitchen where Masterson asked her what she wanted to drink and then made drinks for the two of them before she walked out to the backyard.
But in her testimony at trial, J.B. said Masterson brought her a drink while she was sitting outside the front door and then dragged her through the house to the jacuzzi. She also said in the report that when she woke up hours after the alleged assault they were next to each other in his bed. But in her testimony, she said she woke up in the closet after hiding there and didn't see Masterson when she left. When asked about her previous statement during cross-examination, J.B. said she had forgotten until now that Masterson had actually woken her up.
"Can we believe her?" Cohen said. "Or do you think she’s being untruthful."
He also referenced the testimony of Mindy Mechanic, a clinical psychologist and rape trauma expert who often testifies in legal cases, noting that she said there can be motives for an alleged victim of rape to lie.
“That’s your reasonable doubt right there, quite frankly,” Cohen told the jury, noting that at trial jurors heard about a payout to one victim as well as a pending lawsuit for damages.
As discussed during her testimony, J.B. received $400,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement she entered into with Masterson in 2004. She testified that she signed the NDA because if she didn't, she would be declared a suppressive person, or what prosecutors described to the jury as an enemy of the church, and essentially "end [her] existence." All three women are also part of a civil suit filed in 2019 alleging that they were stalked and harassed by church officials after reporting Masterson to the police.
Cohen also took aim at the women’s statements about the alleged sexual assaults and their actions afterward, asking whether the explanations they offered were reasonable or if it was possible that they were lying.
To help make his point, Cohen brought up Christina B.’s testimony that after she was allegedly raped by Masterson and had broken up with him that she met up with him on at least two occasions and voluntarily had sex with him. Mueller argued in his closing statements that Christina B. was trying to “repair the bond” with Masterson and was still processing what had happened to her. But Cohen suggested that another “reasonable conclusion” was that she was not processing and instead met up with him because she still loved him and voluntarily met up with him because she “was not afraid of him.”
“Is that a reasonable conclusion?” Cohen said. “Because if it is, then guess what? You must accept that.”
In his rebuttal, Mueller urged jurors to focus on the facts, “not a bunch of speculation,” saying that Cohen was trying to “distract” them.
“Stay on the facts,” Mueller said. “Remember the word 'reasonable.' Consider only what is reasonable, and what is not you must reject it.”
On the inconsistencies raised by Cohen, Mueller argued that such differences in the women's statements were only natural given the time that has passed, the immense trauma they experienced, and the fact that they had to talk about it on separate occasions with different investigators asking different questions.
"Each time they got to unearth what's inside of them to bring that trauma out," Mueller said. "They did the best they can to answer the questions we asked them here in court."
Jurors were expected to continue deliberations Wednesday morning.