Ghost Dog actress Tricia Vessey stepped forward at Danny Masterson’s serial rape trial in Los Angeles Wednesday and gave her first public testimony claiming the That ’70s Show star forced himself on her twice in 1996 when she was too inebriated to consent to sex.
The actress, who gave Rolling Stone permission to use her name, told jurors the first alleged incident happened the night of a wrap party for the movie she filmed with Masterson and fellow actor Justin Pierce that year. She said Masterson rattled her with an unrelenting “cold stare” at a Los Angeles restaurant named La Poubelle and then had vaginal sex with her while she was passed out cold during an after-party that turned into a group sleepover at his Laurel Canyon house.
Vessey, 50, broke her silence as a “prior bad acts” witness called by prosecutors to show an alleged pattern of behavior on the part of Masterson. She said Masterson seemed to be fixated on her every move shortly before the alleged attack. “It was unsettling. It was very focused and hard to read,” she told jurors, describing Masterson’s alleged stare. “It was just kind of a rattling, unnerving, having someone kind of cold stare at you in a very hard way.”
Vessey said while she was confused by Masterson’s behavior at La Poubelle, she believed they had become friends, so she didn’t think twice about going with the group back to his house to continue the party. She said after consuming several drinks and taking a hit off a “blunt,” she agreed with the group it was best that they spend the night. She then fell asleep, fully clothed and admittedly drunk, on the floor of a room where Pierce was crashed out on a bed, she said.
“I woke up to Danny trying to pull me up and out of the room,” Vessey said. She said Masterson accused Pierce of trying to take “advantage” of her. She recalled trying to rebuff Masterson because that wasn’t the case.
“I was on the floor and woke up to him over me trying to lift me up,” she testified. “He was kind of like trying to scoop me up off the ground. I didn’t get up. I kicked him away with my foot and was like pushing him off of me and saying that nothing was happening, that Justin wasn’t doing anything to me, and I just wanted to sleep and I wanted to stay there.”
Vessey said she blacked out at that point but then regained some awareness as Masterson was “hoisting” her down a hallway to another bedroom. “It seemed like he had like arms around me, sort of like dragging me, by the waist,” she said. “I was only conscious for a flash.”
Masterson, a prominent Scientologist who has pleaded not guilty to three charges of forcible rape related to three other Jane Doe accusers, listened quietly to Vessey’s testimony with no expression. He scribbled some notes as she described the alleged first encounter.
Vessey said she didn’t recall Masterson removing any of her clothes, but she later woke up on a bed in a different room with Masterson assaulting her.
“Danny was having sex with me,” she said. “He was on top of me.”
At that point, Vessey lost her composure and needed a minute to continue. “He was penetrating me, vaginally, and I just remember like, becoming, waking up from being unconscious and him being above me.”
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller asked if Vessey recalled feeling Masterson’s body weight on top of her.
“Yes, he was rough,” she said. “I just remember sort of trying to take in what was happening. I mean, I was pretty disoriented. And honestly, I don’t think I was conscious for very long.”
Vessey said Masterson was “pounding” her during the alleged assault, so it was confusing when she later woke up to find Masterson “smiling” at her. She recalled quickly gathering her clothes and leaving.
“I completely shut down and just got dressed and left the room,” she told the jury, breaking down in tears. “I just didn’t know what to make of the situation. I didn’t like him, and I didn’t think that he even liked me, and I just didn’t know how to process it.”
As her hands trembled, Vessey said she had a hard time processing what happened. “I didn’t know how to categorize it. I definitely felt a deep shame — and disrespected — because I thought I was hanging out with my castmates and maybe friends, and I had a very different assessment of the situation.”
Vessey said the second alleged assault happened a few weeks later, when Masterson showed up at her apartment unannounced with a “group of guys.” She said the group quickly departed, leaving Masterson behind. According to Vessey, Masterson followed he back to her apartment and gave her a “couple of swigs” from a flask of whisky. Soon after, she started to feel woozy, she testified. She claimed Masterson then forced himself on her again.
“I was telling him I didn’t want to have sex with him,” she testified. “I was telling him to stop. I was also telling him that he didn’t have a condom on, and I was worried about him using a condom. The only thing recall him saying was diseases were in the mind.”
Under cross-examination by Masterson’s defense lawyer Philip Cohen, Vessey was grilled over the fact that she allowed Masterson into her home a few weeks after the first alleged assault instead of being “terrified” of him.
“Like I testified, I hadn’t process the rape clearly. I was pretty confused. I was unnerved. He would present different aspects,” she testified.
Vessey conceded that when she first reported her “experience” with Masterson to police in 2019, she told a detective that she didn’t “feel comfortable categorizing it as rape.”
Vessey’s previously confidential allegations were initially excluded from the trial, but Judge Charlaine Olmedo reversed course Monday and said she would allow Vessey to testify as a prior bad acts witness. The judge said she decided to change her ruling because she was “caught off guard” by Masterson’s defense suggesting to jurors that some of the alleged sex described in prior testimony from Jane Doe 3 never took place. Judge Olmedo said she believed Masterson’s defense to Jane Doe 3’s allegations was that the alleged sex was consensual, not that some of it was fabricated.
Jane Doe 3, who has publicly identified herself as Chrissie Carnell Bixler, testified earlier in the trial that Masterson assaulted her twice at the end of 2001, toward the end of a troubled domestic relationship. She said the first assault involved Masterson initiating penetrative sex with her while she was sleeping.
“I woke up and he was having sex with me. I did not want to. I told him so, I told him, ‘No,’ many times,” she testified. “He wouldn’t stop. I was trying to push him off me. He pushed my arms back and put his forearm on my arm. I felt trapped.”
Carnell Bixler also testified that Masterson struck her in the face, spit on her, and called her “white trash” when she pulled his hair to defend herself. She testified the second attack involved Masterson penetrating her anally while she was passed out.
Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 also have taken the witness stand in the high-profile trial. Jane Doe 1 told jurors last month that Masterson raped her and put a gun to her head after feeding her a fruity vodka cocktail at his home in 2003. She claimed the actor threatened her and demanded that she not tell her friends, including Lisa Marie Presley, about the alleged assault. “You’re not going to tell fucking Lisa,” Jane Doe 1 said Masterson told her.
Jane Doe 2, meanwhile, told jurors that Masterson raped her at his home in late 2003 after feeding her a glass of wine that caused her to feel limp. She claims the actor ignored her pleas to stop and overpowered her.
For his part, Masterson has called the women’s allegations “outrageous” and “ridiculous.”
His lawyer asked for a mistrial shortly before the lunch break Wednesday, arguing that Mueller led Vessey into territory that the court previously ruled was off-limits. One such area was the suggestion that Masterson may have drugged Vessey
Judge Olmedo declined to grant a mistrial and said she was open to a suggestion from the defense about an instruction she could give to the jury. She said while it was true jurors heard from Vessey that she didn’t think the amount of alcohol and marijuana she consumed the night of the wrap party should have caused her to black out, there was no testimony that Masterson handed her any of her beverages, as was the case with the other three Jane Does.
In another twist revealed Wednesday morning, Mueller said prosecutors had decided not to call Presley to the stand. He said the decision was based on Olmedo’s Tuesday ruling that Presley’s testimony would be strictly limited in terms of references to Scientology. Prosecutors had hoped to question Presley, a former Scientologist, about an alleged effort by the church to get Presley to dissuade Jane Doe 1 from speaking with law enforcement.
“Based on the court’s ruling, we’ve opted not to have her testify,” Mueller just told the judge.