By TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH
“That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson was sentenced today to 30 years to life in prison for raping two women at his Hollywood Hills home about two decades ago.
Masterson, 47, was convicted May 31 of two counts of rape by force or fear. He was taken into custody after the verdict was read and has remained behind bars.
The jury deadlocked on another rape charge involving a third alleged victim — a former longtime girlfriend of Masterson. Prosecutors announced in July that they would not retry the actor on that charge, and it was dismissed July 11.
Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo heard victim impact statements from the two women whom Masterson was convicted of raping, along with the third alleged victim in the dismissed count. Olmedo turned down the prosecution’s request to allow three other women, including two who had testified about alleged uncharged crimes, to speak at Masterson’s sentencing.
The judge rejected a defense bid last month to delay the sentencing, and on Thursday she rejected a bid to modify the jury’s verdict or grant a new trial. Masterson’s attorneys had asked that the actor receive no more than 15 years behind bars.
The jury was the second to hear the case against Masterson, who was charged in 2020 with three counts of rape by force or fear involving the three women on separate occasions.
During the first trial last year, jurors leaned in favor of acquittal on all three counts — voting 10-2 on one count, 8-4 on another and 7-5 on the third — but they were unable to reach a unanimous decision, leading to a mistrial being declared on Nov. 30.
Jurors in Masterson’s retrial convicted the actor of the two rapes and deadlocked on the charge involving his ex-girlfriend.
At the hearing last month, the judge rejected a defense motion requesting that the dismissal of the third rape charge be with prejudice, which would have barred prosecutors from being able to potentially re-file that charge in the future. But Olmedo said the defense can raise the issue again if the charge is re-filed.
In his closing argument of the retrial, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told the jury, “This defendant drugged and raped each one of these victims… It is time to hold Mr. Masterson accountable for what he has done.”
Mueller said the three women were — like Masterson — members of the Church of Scientology, and told jurors that the church retaliated against them.
“What happened after they were drugged — they were raped by this man over here,” the prosecutor said, pointing across the courtroom at Masterson. “… You have an opportunity to show there is justice. It does exist.”
Defense attorney Philip Kent Cohen urged jurors during his closing argument to acquit his client, questioning the credibility of the women.
Cohen also questioned why the panel had heard “so much about Scientology,” asking jurors if there could be problems with the government’s case against Masterson.
Masterson’s lawyer said he was not alleging that there was some “grand conspiracy” against his client, but told jurors the alleged victims had spoken with each other despite an LAPD detective’s admonition and that their accounts have been tweaked throughout the years.
He said there was no forensic evidence to support the prosecution’s contention that the alleged victims’ drinks had been drugged by Masterson.
Outside the jury’s presence during the trial, the judge rejected Cohen’s requests for either a mistrial, another chance to argue before the jury or a special jury instruction as a result of the prosecution’s repeated references to the women allegedly being drugged.
The Church of Scientology issued a statement criticizing the prosecution’s characterizations of the church’s actions.
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“The church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of anyone, Scientologists or not, to law enforcement,” according to the statement. “Quite the opposite, church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land. All allegations to the contrary are totally false.”
A civil suit filed in August 2019 against Masterson and the Church of Scientology by the three women involved in the criminal case and one woman who was not a member of the church alleges they were stalked and harassed after reporting sexual assault allegations against the actor to Los Angeles police.
Regarding the lawsuit, the Church of Scientology issued a statement saying, “The church denies the allegations of harassment as obvious, cynical and self-serving fictions, and the church knows it will be vindicated.”
In December 2017, Netflix announced that Masterson had been fired from the Emmy-winning scripted comedy “The Ranch” amid sexual assault allegations.
The actor said then he was “very disappointed,” and added that “it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused.” He also “denied the outrageous allegations” and said he looked forward to “clearing my name once and for all.”