After a month of intense, often emotional testimony from witnesses, prosecutors and Danny Masterson’s defense attorneys delivered their closing arguments at court in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, once again detailing the alleged incidents tied to the three forcible rape charges Masterson faces. The prosecution implored jurors to hold Masterson accountable, highlighting what they describe as a pattern of predatory behavior, while Masterson’s attorneys once again focused on inconsistencies in the women’s stories that he said tainted their case. The trial is now headed to the jury to deliberate.
Masterson was first charged in 2020 and faces 45 years to life in prison if convicted. Masterson denied the allegations and opted not to testify for the trial on Monday. About 20 minutes before the jury entered the courtroom, Judge Charlaine Olmedo asked the audience to try to remain stoic and “keep poker faces” throughout the closing arguments, and to leave the courtroom if they were getting emotional. Whereas attendance among the audience had waned a bit as the trial dragged onward, the court was nearly filled Tuesday for closing arguments.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller delivered the prosecutions’ initial closing statement. Mueller called Masterson “A man who was controlling, and a man where ‘no’ never meant ‘no.’”
Multiple times, Mueller referred to Masterson as an “upstat,” a label in the Church of Scientology for members that are of a higher status. Such a position kept him as “the center of this circular world” for his alleged victims. “He was the upstat, he was the guy who would have parties at his house. He’s the guy who would invite you over and have a drink. If you got too intoxicated, he was the type of guy to invite you to spend the night to be safe,” Mueller said.
But if you were a young woman, Mueller said, “you were far from safe, because you were incapacitated in his bed. He would rape you. If you were incapacitated elsewhere in the house, he would come and find you. And if you were not yet intoxicated, he would offer you the alcohol to get you there, and then he would forcibly rape you. And if you were in a relationship with him for any period of time, he would control you.”
Masterson, wearing a grayish brown suit, showed little emotion throughout the day, much like he’d done for most of the trial. Mueller reiterated most of the violent allegations the accusers had brought forward since the trial started. Mueller walked the jury through what is and isn’t consent for sex, noting that a woman can withdraw consent at any time, and that words as well as actions can constitute a lack of consent. All of the accusers, Mueller said, had either told Masterson “no” or tried pushing him off and resisted, which he said constituted a lack of consent.
Regarding any delay for the women to come forward to the authorities with allegations, Mueller also spoke of the complications survivors of sexual assault face when coming to terms with what happened to them, particularly when the alleged assailant was a friend or acquaintance and not a stranger.
“It’s complicated, it’s not black and white when you know this person. You don’t want to be a victim, and you don’t want to call him a rapist, despite the fact that he is,” Mueller said. “After you’ve said ‘no,’ he disregards it, blows you off. After everything you’ve tried, you surrender. You do so to maybe avoid further harm. Maybe this won’t escalate. ‘Maybe I can preserve my safety, my health.’”
As had been the case since the trial began, Scientology was a prominent topic in Mueller’s closing argument. He recalled allegations from the victims that the Church told two of the three accusers that they shouldn’t call their experiences with Masterson “rape,” and that they had done something to “pull in” the incidents. He also harkened back to specific allegations that the Church of Scientology threatened to label one of Masterson’s accusers as a “suppressive person,” which would excommunicate her from the group and separate her from her friends and family for the rest of her life. He reiterated the first Jane Doe accuser’s testimony, which detailed claims that Scientology officials told her to sign a non-disclosure agreement and $400,000 settlement, or be cast out of the church.
He further recalled the testimony of Jane Doe 3, who used to date Masterson and stated in court that the church told her that she was “out-exchange,” referencing that because Masterson had given her a roof over her head, she was obligated to give him sex when he wanted. (A representative for the Church of Scientology called the allegations falsehoods in a statement to Rolling Stone.)
When Masterson’s attorney Philip Cohen started his closing argument in the late morning just before lunch, he called the prosecutions’ closing statements “not just maddening but horrifying,” saying that the prosecution was “ignoring contradictions and fabrications” from witnesses.
Cohen focused on the jurors’ deliberation instructions and emphasized that they must believe Masterson is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. He showed the jurors a poster board labeling degrees of guilt, noting that the jury must deem Masterson not guilty in any case other than if they’re absolutely certain he committed the acts.
The idea of “reasonable doubt” was a major point in both the prosecution and defense’s closing arguments. As Cohen concluded his argument, he told the jury they had to be as certain Masterson committed the rapes as they would be to safely drive through a green light at an intersection if they were to convict him.
Cohen, as he’d done throughout the trial, delved much more heavily on inconsistencies between what the women had told police officers, what they told prosecutors before the trial, and what they said during their testimony this month.
Cohen questioned why the first Jane Doe witness’ initial police report in 2004 had no mention of Masterson pulling out a handgun during the alleged rape, as she testified in court.
He asked why the third Jane Doe accuser would’ve had consensual sex with Masterson two more times after they broke up if she felt he was a monster. He pointed out a supportive message that a fourth accuser (Tricia Vassey, whose testimony wasn’t tied to any of the three charges) sent to Masterson’s brother in 2017, after the investigation against Masterson started but before she herself accused him as well.
“One woman’s testimony is absolutely enough to convict somebody of rape, but they have to be believeable beyond reasonable doubt,” Cohen said. “At opening, I said a woman can report a rape at any time. My focus is not when it was reported. I never questioned anyone about why they waited so long. The key is not when they reported, but what they said when they reported.”
Cohen claimed, “The witnesses were looking to make this about something other than Danny and these allegations. Why? Because there are so many contradictions.” Cohen, noting that Scientology isn’t on trial, called the organization “the go-to excuse” for the women over inconsistencies they may have had throughout the trial. As he noted early in his closing argument, Scientology had been mentioned 700 times during the trial.
Cohen suggested that the women were lying and questioned their motives for doing so, and mentioned the victims’ ongoing civil suit against Masterson (currently paused for the criminal trial) in which they’ve asked for punitive damages.
After the jury exited at the conclusion of the closing arguments, Cohen motioned for a mistrial one last time, which was denied.
During his final rebuttal, Mueller told the jury to focus on the world “reasonable,” writing the phrase on the courtroom’s chalkboard. He called much of Cohen’s closing argument “speculation,” stating that some of the potential answers from his line of questioning didn’t have any evidence. “Focus on the facts of this case, not a bunch of speculation,” Mueller said.
He told jurors that inconsistencies aren’t uncommon among victims of sexual assault, and pushed back on the suggestion that the women colluded with one another, stating that if that were the case, their stories would’ve been more consistent and seemed more “scripted.” He asked the jury to consider why the women would be willing to endure so many probing interviews and commit so much time to this case, shooting down the notion that they’d do it over money, jealousy or revenge.
“You have inconsistencies with sexual assault victims who went through a horrible trauma to their bodies. They’re having to reach inside themselves and pull out that pain and trauma they have buried. Each time [they’re interviewed], they have to unearth what’s inside of them,” Mueller said.
He continued: “It’s not an easy thing to do. You’re here in front of strangers, they have to open up some of the most intimate details of their life. Why’d they go through all this? Is it because they blatantly fabricated it? They don’t just do it in a vacuum. There has to be a motive here, but there is none other than to get justice.”