One of the three women who has accused actor Danny Masterson of raping them took the stand and began her testimony during the first day of the former That ‘70s Show star’s criminal rape trial in Los Angeles on Tuesday. The case is set to detail how the Church of Scientology handled misconduct allegations against one of its members.
The Church of Scientology was one of the most prominent topics throughout the hearing and will likely remain that way throughout the trial. Masterson is a prominent Scientologist, and all three of his accusers were affiliated with Scientology at the time of the alleged incidents. In the prosecutors’ opening statement, Los Angeles deputy district attorney Reinhold Mueller detailed allegations that the Church looked to prevent two of the women from coming forward to authorities to press charges, telling them that if they did, they could be declared a “suppressive person,” a distinction that could essentially separate them from their friends and families. According to Mueller, Scientology officials also told the women that they shouldn’t use the word “rape” when referring to their alleged incidents. Mueller said that the Church told one of the women that “she was pulled in, meaning you’ve done something in this life or another life to cause this to happen to you.”
“It was something you did that caused this thing to happen to you now,” Mueller told the court of the the organization’s alleged response when the second of Masterson’s accusers — who was in a relationship and living with Masterson — went to Scientology officials with the claim. The woman was “out-exchange with defendant, meaning Mr. Masterson provides for you, gives you a place to live, so in exchange, you’re to give him sex whenever he asks, and if you don’t do that you’re out-exchange.”
Masterson was charged with three counts of forceable rape in 2020, with the alleged incidents occurring between 2001 and 2003. Masterson denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. He faces 45 years to life in prison if convicted.
Mueller began his opening statement on Tuesday explaining to the jury the three separate charges Masterson faces, and presented photos on screen of the women who brought the allegations forward. All three women, Mueller said, were introduced to Masterson through their affiliation with the Church of Scientology. The nature of the three cases were similar: The women became acquainted with Masterson through the Church, and after they got significantly intoxicated, he would allegedly take them to his bedroom and rape them. Mueller referenced many of the allegations previously detailed in pretrial hearings, such as that Masterson had sex with one of his accusers while she was asleep.
Another accuser, the woman who testified Tuesday, claimed Masterson anally penetrated her without consent when she was intoxicated in 2002. That incident wasn’t listed as one of the charges. Nine months later, Masterson allegedly penetrated her while she was in and out of consciousness, which was detailed in the charge.
As the Los Angeles Times reported this week, given that the case doesn’t involve any charges against Scientology, mentioning the Church of Scientology during the trial was a contested topic prior to its start. The defense wanted to bar mentioning Scientology in the trial, and the court determined to allow a focus on Scientology when relevant to the arguments. At one point in the trial on Tuesday, Olmedo sternly warned both the prosecution and defense to abide by the rules after Mueller asked the first accuser several questions about Scientology policy during her testimony. “I need both of you to abide by my ruling,” she said after dismissing the jury for afternoon recess.
The defense spent much of Tuesday trying to distance Scientology’s place in the trial. During his opening statement, Phillip Cohen, Masterson’s attorney, emphasized that the Church of Scientology isn’t on trial, and that the jury should focus exclusively on the three charges Masterson faces.
“We’re going to hear about Scientology, what a bad guy Mr. Masterson was, and what a bad boyfriend Mr. Masterson was. None of those things are charged in this case. This case is about three women who are going to tell you about three nights 17, 18, 20 years ago. This case is going to be about what’s been proven regarding those three nights. The other stuff truly is the elephant in the room.”
Cohen also told jurors that the women had inconsistencies in their stories regarding what they told the LAPD when they initially came forward versus more recently. He also stated that the women hadn’t listened to LAPD’s instructions not to speak with one another or with other witnesses about the trial, which he said contaminated the accusers’ case.
In the latter half of the day, the first accuser finally took the stand and gave some of her testimony. She said she was best friends with Masterson’s personal assistant Brie Shaffer, another member of the Church of Scientology, and through that relationship she’d grown closer with Masterson.
She recounted the story of the first time Masterson allegedly sexually assaulted her, the uncharged incident in which he allegedly had penetrated her anus with his penis without her consent.
She testified that she went out drinking with Masterson and a few other friends and said Masterson had given her several vodka cocktails. She said she had planned on sleeping that night in the guest room at Masterson’s home and eventually left the bar with him as he drove them to his house.
The woman told Mueller that she remembered being very drunk and laughing frequently after arriving at Masterson’s home. The two kissed, and she noted the whole situation felt odd given the nature of their relationship. “It almost felt incestuous. We’re such a tight group of friends, he was my best friend’s boss,” she testified. “He would rag on me, tease. More like a brother is what it felt like. Sometimes like a mean brother.”
While she was still drunk, he eventually vaginally penetrated her with his penis, she told the court. At some point, she said she was turned over on her stomach with her feet touching the floor while her upper body was on the bed. She recalled feeling significant pain when Masterson allegedly had anal sex with her.
“I was on my stomach and I felt this really sharp pain in my rear side,” she said with a break in her voice, crying. “I was pulling on the sheets from the pain. It hurt so bad.”
The court had adjourned before the first accuser could finish her testimony. After the jury was dismissed, Olmedo spoke with Cohen and Mueller, further addressing concerns about referencing Scientology throughout the case. Cohen said he didn’t understand the “nexus” of bringing up some of the Scientology-related matters in the case and requested a mistrial, which was denied.
The first accuser will return on Wednesday to continue her testimony. The trial is expected to last a month.