Danny Masterson won a six-week delay of his upcoming serial rape trial after shaking up his legal team at a court hearing Tuesday, but the actor and prominent Scientologist failed in his last-minute bid to sever one of his three accusers into a separate trial.
Best known for playing Steven Hyde on Fox’s That ’70s Show from 1998 to 2006, the former sitcom star appeared in person at the morning hearing in downtown Los Angeles and told Judge Charlaine Olmedo he wanted high-powered lawyers Shawn Holley and Philip Cohen to become his new lead trial attorneys, replacing famed former Michael Jackson defense lawyer Tom Mesereau and his co-counsel Sharon Appelbaum. When the court granted the switch, and the new lawyers asked for more time to prepare, Judge Olmedo agreed to delay the start of Masterson’s trial from late August to Oct. 11.
Masterson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to charges he forcibly raped three women on separate occasions at his Hollywood, California, home between 2001 and 2003. If convicted as charged, he faces a maximum of 45 years to life in prison.
In lengthy arguments Tuesday, Cohen tried — but failed — to convince the court that Jane Doe 2’s claim she was raped by Masterson at his home in late 2003 should be severed from the felony counts related to Jane Does 1 and 3 because “lumping” her in with the other accusers who claim “choking,” “slapping” and other physical violence violated Masterson’s right to a fair trial. Cohen further claimed Jane Doe 2’s allegation was the “weakest” of the three and was tossed in to emotionally “inflame” jurors and make them dislike his client.
At a preliminary hearing last year, Jane Doe 2 testified that Masterson invited her over to his house toward the end of 2003 after they met through Scientology and Masterson asked for her phone number one night following a gathering with friends at a local bar. The woman testified that while she was interested in possibly dating Masterson at the time, she was trying to keep certain boundaries and wasn’t open to casual sex. “I said I would absolutely not be getting in any water or jacuzzi or pool or bringing a bathing suit,” she testified. “And I didn’t want to drink. I said maybe one glass of wine. We can talk and then I’m leaving.”
During her time on the witness stand in May 2021, Jane Doe 2 said Masterson immediately handed her a glass of wine upon her arrival and became “very serious and commanding,” ordering her to strip and get in his jacuzzi. “Take off your clothes right now,” he demanded, according to her testimony. “If you don’t do it, I’m gonna do it.” She claimed Masterson was ordering her around like a “drill sergeant,” using a domineering voice known in Scientology as “tone 40.” She said he raped her in his upstairs bathroom and bedroom as she was “pleading” with him to stop. “I felt like limp, and a rag doll,” she testified. “I was not in control of my faculties. I was just sort of spent.”
Jane Doe 2 said she didn’t immediately report the attack to police because she feared being declared a “suppressive person” by the church, a label she described as being an excommunicated outcast. “You lose everything, your good standing with society. They put you on blast that you are a suppressive person,” she testified. (She reported the alleged rape to police in 2016.)
Cohen argued Tuesday that Jane Doe 2, as far as the defense is concerned, is a scorned ex-lover who was initially “enamored” with Masterson and “thrilled” by his attention before being “cast aside” after their allegedly consensual sex.
“Jane Doe 2 was thinking this was someone she’s going to date, someone she wants to have a relationship with, and Masterson doesn’t give her the time of day. None of that is good, if true, but it paints a very different picture than that laid out by Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2,” Cohen argued. “The picture painted is — this guy’s an ass. This guy is playing with her emotions. This guy is using his status as an actor to procure something from this woman, then he throws her aside.” Cohen said Jane Doe 2’s account didn’t even amount to a forcible rape, despite the charge, and, if allowed to be heard alongside the rape claims of Jane Does 1 and 3, could trigger improper bias.
Judge Olmedo disagreed, ruling at the end of the three-hour hearing that all three counts related to the three accusers were “properly joined.” She said all involve the same alleged crime, relate to actions “close in time” and purportedly took place at the same location.
“No one count is substantially stronger or weaker than the other,” she ruled from the bench. “There is cross-admissibility of evidence.” She said each Jane Doe made allegations of Masterson providing a drink that “impacted them more than usual,” initiating sexual contact and “not taking ‘No’ for an answer.”
Judge Olmedo also heard arguments on Masterson’s still-pending motion to dismiss the forcible rape count related to Jane Doe 1 on the grounds that prosecutors waited 16 years to file. The judge gave both sides more time to file additional briefs and set a follow-up hearing for June 30.
Jane Doe No. 1 testified at the probable cause hearing in May 2021 that she felt drugged after consuming half of a red “fruity” vodka drink during a gathering at Masterson’s Hollywood home in April 2003. She said the actor “commanded” her to remove her clothes and get in his Jacuzzi, where she feared she might slip under the surface and drown. The woman said Masterson later carried her upstairs and raped her vaginally and anally as she drifted in and out of consciousness. At one point, Masterson pulled a handgun out of his nightstand and threatened, “Don’t fucking move,” she testified.
Describing herself as a second-generation Scientologist, Jane Doe 1 said a fellow church member refused to speak with her as she left Masterson’s house and that a church “ethics officer” warned her not to even utter the word “rape.” She reported the alleged rape to police a year later, in 2004, after hearing that Masterson had allegedly assaulted another victim, she testified.
Chrissie Carnell Bixler has publicly identified herself as Jane Doe 3 through public statements on social media, in media interviews and in a civil lawsuit filed against the actor. She testified at the preliminary hearing that she was raped by Masterson twice at the end of 2001, when they were involved in a domestic relationship.
Carnell Bixler said the first assault involved the actor initiating penetrative sex with her while she was sleeping and refusing to stop when she woke up. She claimed Masterson pinned her down with “all of his weight,” struck her in the face, spit on her, and called her “white trash” when she pulled his hair to defend herself. She claimed the second attack followed about a month later, with Masterson allegedly drugging her wine at a restaurant and penetrating her anally while she was passed out.
She testified that when she tried to report her experience to church officials, an ethics officer told her she must have done something to “deserve” what happened. She testified that the officer also showed her church doctrine stating it was a “high crime” to report a fellow Scientologist to law enforcement. Carnell Bixler said the threat of being declared suppressive left her in a state of “terror.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney filed the criminal complaint against Masterson on June 16, 2020. For his part, Masterson has called the allegations “outrageous” and “ridiculous.”