LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actor Danny Masterson drugged then raped three women at his Hollywood-area home between 2001 and 2003, a prosecutor told jurors Monday in his opening statement in the retrial of the star of “That ’70s Show.”
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said Masterson put substances into drinks that he gave to a longtime girlfriend and two women he knew through friend circles around the Church of Scientology, all of whom Masterson is charged with raping.
“The evidence will show that they were drugged,” Mueller told the jury. The defense denies such evidence exists.
Direct discussion of drugging was missing from the first trial — which ended in a mistrial when a jury deadlocked on all three counts — with Mueller instead having to imply it through the testimony of the women, who said they were woozy, disoriented and at times unconscious on the nights they described the actor raping them.
But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo is allowing the direct assertion at the second trial.
Masterson’s attorney, Philip Cohen, said in the defense opening statement that those hazy stories and assertions are all the prosecution has, and he told jurors, “there is no drugging charge in this case.”
Attorneys for both sides acknowledged that there is no forensic evidence of any substances Masterson may have given the women because the police investigation that led to the two trials did not begin until about 15 years after the events.
But Mueller said he will call an analyst from the police toxicology unit, “who will tell you how some of the most common drug-facilitated sexual assaults, how some of the most common date rape drugs work, how quickly they’re metabolized, what side effects look like.”
Cohen responded that “a toxicologist can come in opine to whatever they want, but there is no toxicology report, there’s no urine, no blood work, no DNA.”
Cohen was not allowed to refer to testimony from the first trial — something Olmedo admonished him several times for doing — but he said he expected testimony this time would show that one of the women Masterson is charged with raping watched him make the allegedly drugged drink her gave her.
Cohen told jurors that another of the women, a young actress who spent an evening alone with Masterson at his house in 2003, made no mention of drugging at the time.
“She spoke to her mom about how her date with Masterson went, she spoke to her friends, she did not ever say to one person, ‘I was drugged.’ Never,” Cohen said.
She would only mention thinking she had been drugged years later after the investigation began, Cohen said.
This and many other similarities between the women’s stories come from them talking to each other and “cross-pollinating” the details of their accounts, something they did multiple times even after the detective in the case warned them that such communication could taint the case against Masterson, Cohen said.
The drugging allegations had echoes of the trial of Bill Cosby, where women testified to similar experiences. Cosby’s conviction after two trials of his own was permanently thrown out by Pennsylvania’s highest court.
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been sexually assaulted.
Masterson, 47, could get 45 years in prison if convicted.
Mueller also told jurors that the women did not immediately go to authorities because they were told not to by officials in the Church of Scientology, and they were told what happened to them was not rape.
Masterson is a prominent member of the church. All three women are former members.
The church said in a statement after the women’s testimony in the first trial that it “has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of Scientologists, or of anyone, to law enforcement.”
In another difference from the first trial, Olmedo is allowing expert witnesses to testify on those policies.
Cohen said that prosecution expert Claire Headley, a former member of the church’s leadership group, is someone who works “to rid the world of Scientology, rid people of Scientology,” and told jurors they were going to “hear tremendous bias” in her testimony. The expert on the defense witness list is her father-in-law, a current high-level Scientologist.
Actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who has become the church’s most prominent detractor on social media and through a TV series she hosted featuring dissident ex-members, sat in the front row of the courtroom in support of Masterson’s accusers.
Masterson, who has been free on bail since his 2020 arrest, sat at the defense table, with a large coterie of supporters behind him, many if not all church members, who also sat through his first trial. They included his wife, model and actor Bijou Phillips; his sister-in-law, “One Day at a Time” actor Mackenzie Phillips; and his brother, “Malcolm in the Middle” actor Christopher Masterson.