NOTE: The following article contains graphic descriptions. Please read at your own discretion.
Actor Danny Masterson is back on trial, facing charges for the alleged rape of three women at his Hollywood-area home between 2001 and 2003.
The retrial began on Monday with opening statements from Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller. He claimed the Church of Scientology, to which Masterson belongs, helped cover up allegations that the That ’70s Show actor drugged and raped three women.
Masterson, 47, has pleaded not guilty to all three charges of rape against him. He is facing up to 45 years in prison, if convicted.
Actor and former Scientologist Leah Remini said she was present in court for the opening statements. She claimed Masterson’s lawyers tried to have her thrown out of the courtroom over incorrect assumptions she would be called as a witness to the trial.
“I attended to show my support for the women who were not only brutally raped by Danny but then subjected to years of harassment by Scientology,” Remini, 52, wrote.
Remini has been a loud voice of opposition against the Church of Scientology since her departure in 2013. She claimed the Church and its leader David Miscavige are trying to “waste the court’s time with embarrassing, petty attempts to get someone who is supporting survivors of sexual violence thrown out.”
Mueller and his team have tried to paint Masterson as a serial rapist who has been protected by high-ranking officials in the Church of Scientology. They claimed he, on separate occasions, put drugs into the drinks of a longtime girlfriend and two other women he knew through the Church before he raped them.
Direct discussion of drugging was missing from last year’s original trial — that 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.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo is allowing the direct assertion at the second trial.
Masterson’s lawyer, Philip Cohen, has denied his client ever drugged anyone. He went so far as to claim one of the accusers watched Masterson make her a drink that he had allegedly drugged her with.
Lawyers 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.
Cohen told jurors that one of the women, a young actor who spent an evening alone with Masterson at his house in 2003, made no mention of drugging at the time. He asserted the victim only claimed Masterson drugged her years later when the investigation began — a result of accusers “cross-pollinating” information, according to Cohen.
Cohen explained to the jury that there are no drug-related charges in this case.
Mueller alternatively claimed the three victims, all of whom were members of the Church of Scientology, had their stories suppressed by the Church, who insisted what they’d experienced was not rape.
During last year’s trial, the Church of Scientology said it did not have a policy “prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of Scientologists, or of anyone, to law enforcement.” The women testified in the first trial that they feared becoming a “suppressive person” if they went against the Church and pursued charges against Masterson. (Suppressive persons are excommunicated from their friends and family in the Church of Scientology and forbidden from having contact with current members.)
The Church of Scientology is not a defendant in the trial. Still, Remini has maintained they are playing an active role. Last week, during jury selection, she claimed lawyers for the Church were present in the courtroom.
“Their fees are paid for with tax-exempt funds,” she wrote on Thursday. “Just today, Dillon Malar, an associate of longtime Scientology attorney Vicki Podberesky, walked into court and handed Danny Masterson’s defense team a folder! Right in front of the judge!”
She continued, writing: “Scientology is not only involved in Danny’s trial, but it is also directing his defense. Given Scientology’s involvement in covering up these rapes, it should be a co-defendant. I hope these jurors know what has been going on. It will continue unless justice is served.”
Since leaving the Church of Scientology in 2013, Remini made bombshell allegations against the organization. She released her memoir Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology in 2015, a prerequisite to her Emmy-winning docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.
Masterson was released on bail in 2020.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.
— With files from The Associated Press