Danny Masterson was found guilty Wednesday of raping two women in the early 2000s, and will face up to 30 years in prison. After eight days of deliberation, the jury said it was deadlocked on another charge brought by a third Jane Doe.
Masterson was immediately taken into custody and faces 30 years to life in a California state prison facility once sentencing is set at an Aug. 4 hearing. His wife, the actress Bijou Phillips, wailed loudly from the gallery and began to cry, prompting the judge to ask her to keep her composure as the father of their 9-year-old daughter was handcuffed and led away.
After the lunch break, much of Masterson’s family had gathered outside the courtroom, indicating that a decision could be near. When Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo took the bench, she said: “The court received a note after 11 a.m., reading, ‘We have come to a decision on two counts and deadlocked on one count.’”
After polling the jurors on their decision, Olmedo heard arguments from defense attorney Philip Cohen for a house-arrest detention for Masterson while he awaits sentencing. She replied that, given the violent nature of the crime and the sentence he faces, Masterson is a “flight risk” – and sent him off to wait jail, which he had avoided since accusations first flew in 2017 on $3 million bail.
Los Angeles prosecutors chose to re-try Masterson after a hung jury and mistrial last November. The “That ’70s Show” star, now 47, faced a maximum sentence of 40 years or more in state prison if he’d been convicted on all three counts.
“In general, retrials are not a defendant’s friend, and here, the jury clearly saw the fact pattern,” said attorney Jamie White, who works with sexual assault victims including those of Larry Nassar. “Any time you have multiple women who do not have any direct affiliation with each other all making an allegation, it’s far-fetched that they’d be making it up.”
Masterson was accused by three different women, who testified in both trials that Masterson raped them at his Los Angeles home in separate – but chillingly similar – incidents between 2001 and 2003. A fourth Jane Doe had also testified as a support witness in the second trial, but her allegations were not among the charges.
Also new for the re-trail, prosecutors focused more on the allegation that Masterson had drugged his victims, brining on expert witnesses and telling the jury outright – as opposed to merely inferring it – that the “That ’70s Show” star had slipped his victims intoxicants to gain control.
“Jurors sometimes have a difficult time when an alleged rape involves a dating relationship, because they have trouble figuring out how sex can be consensual in one instance but rape in another instance,” criminal defense attorney Josh Ritter, a partner with El Dabe Ritter and former Los Angeles County prosecutor, said. “When prosecutors can say the victims were drugged, that allows the jurors to wrap their heads around what changed to make the sex suddenly not consensual.”
The prosecution also focused more on Scientology, of which Masterson is still an active member. All thee accusers are former Scientologists, and are pursuing a civil matter against the church, Masterson and other defendants, claiming they were mercilessly harassed after parting ways with Scientology, which protected Masterson and forbade them from reporting to police.
“Masterson’s abuse of members of the Church of Scientology is consistent with that we have seen in the Catholic Church, and in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church,” White said. “Abusers use people’s faith as a tool to assault them, and the more extreme the religion, the more people become subject to this sort of abuse.”
Jane Doe 1 did not immediately comment on the verdict. Jane Does 2 and 3, only the former of whose accusations won a verdict Wednesday, issued separate statements through an attorney.
Jane Doe 2 said: “I am experiencing a complex array of emotions – relief, exhaustion, strength, sadness – knowing that my abuser, Danny Masterson, will face accountability for his criminal behavior. I am disappointed that he was not convicted on all counts, but take great solace in the fact that he, the Church of Scientology, and others, will have to fully account for their abhorrent actions in civil court.”
Jane Doe 3 said: “I thank the jury for its service, and while I’m encouraged that Danny Masterson will face some criminal punishment, I am devastated that he has dodged criminal accountability for his heinous conduct against me. Despite my disappointment in this outcome, I remain determined to secure justice, including in civil court, where I, along with my co-plaintiffs, will shine a light on how Scientology and other conspirators enabled and sought to cover up Masterson’s monstrous behavior.”
To get a conviction, the jury needed to unanimously find Masterson guilty on at least two of the three charged cases. That stipulation enabled the case to clear California’s statute-of-limitations bar by proving pattern behavior.
As for the third charge, the jury said it had voted 8-4 in favor of conviction. In the previous trial, all three counts had tilted toward acquittal in the jury polling.
“This conviction is remarkable because prosecutors turned around a case that, in the last trial, ended with a hung jury that was leaning toward an acquittal,” Ritter said. “The judge allowed prosecutors to make some changes in how they presented the case, and it seems that carried the day.”