Danny Masterson's rape retrial: Case now in hands of LA jury

Prosecutor tells jury the women were up against Scientology, a "billion dollar organization" that retaliated against them.

ByLisa Bartley KABC logo
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Jury begins deliberations in Danny Masterson rape retrial
Jurors in Danny Masterson's rape retrial began deliberations Wednesday morning in the case against the former "That '70s Show" star.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The jury that will determine whether or not actor and celebrity Scientologist Danny Masterson should potentially spend the rest of his life in prison for three alleged rapes began deliberations Wednesday just before 10 a.m.

Shortly before that, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller wrapped up the prosecution's rebuttal closing arguments by telling the jury that the women hope their voices have been heard.

"I ask that you give these victims the justice they're looking for," Reinhold said. "Find him guilty and give them their justice."

Moments after the jury was excused to begin deliberating, Masterson defense attorney Philip Cohen asked for a mistrial, arguing that prosecutors spent too much of their time in closing arguments talking about the alleged drugging of the victims.

Masterson is not charged with drugging the victims, but Judge Charlaine Olmedo ruled before trial that prosecutors could argue the women were drugged because it was "directly relevant to their ability to perceive the events of the charged incidents," and that their alleged drugging or intoxication is "inextricably intertwined" with the "use of force to complete the act and overcome the victims' will and lack of consent."

Judge Olmedo reread some of that ruling in court and then denied Cohen's request for a mistrial.

Masterson has pleaded not guilty to three felony charges of forcible rape. His first trial ended last fall with a hung jury.

"Something was in that drink," DDA Mueller said emphatically to the jury Wednesday morning.

"You don't need a toxicologist to tell you that, use your common sense!"

Mueller noted that each of the women was healthy, young and had no other medical problems.

And yet, "they have a relatively small amount to drink -- all of them - and within thirty minutes they are absolutely wrecked. What is the reasonable explanation? There's only one - the women were drugged."

"What happened after they were drugged," Mueller asked the jury. "They were raped by this man over here, they were raped," as he pointed at defendant Danny Masterson.

Mueller also told the jury to reject the defense's suggestion that the women concocted a "grand conspiracy" to frame Masterson for the rapes.

"Each of these victims told people their story of what happened to them long before they ever spoke to one another," Mueller said. "Long before they talked to law enforcement. There is no conspiracy."

In his closings on Tuesday, Cohen told the jury that there may not have been a "grand conspiracy," but the women may have "tweaked or maneuvered" their stories to bolster their cases.

Mueller responded to Cohen's focus on bikini photos shown to the jury that show Jane Doe 1 and her cousin Rachel five days after the alleged rape. The bruises are hard to see, although Rachel testified that the bruising was much darker in person than in the photos.

Cohen displayed the photos during his closings and asked the jury, "Does that look like someone who is ten out of ten on the pain scale?"

"Jane Doe 1 and her cousin Rachel, they have eyes," Mueller said, referring to the photos. "If they were trying to hide something, why would they turn those photos over to law enforcement?"

Cohen also suggested the women are out for money because they filed a civil lawsuit against Masterson, the Church of Scientology, and its leader David Miscavige for the alleged harassment and stalking that they say started right after they went to the LAPD to report the alleged rapes in late 2016. Cohen told jurors that the women may be motivated by, "hatred, revenge, or money."

Mueller also addressed the looming issue of Scientology in the trial. Masterson is a lifelong Scientologist and all three of the women were Scientologists at the time of the alleged rapes. All three of the women have since left the Church. Mueller told the jury about the challenges the accusers have overcome just to get this case to trial.

"It's tough," Mueller told the jury. "Nobody signs up to come up here and tell the world that they've been raped."

"Especially if you have a billion-dollar organization that is retaliating against you for doing so," said Mueller, referring to Scientology.

Scientology has said in a statement, "There is zero truth to any of the testimony that the Church has harassed or stalked the Jane Does."

Mueller continued: "They reported their rapes to Scientology, to the Scientology police, to the Scientology justice system, and what happens? They were punished for it, ethics programs, they were told they caused it - you pulled it in - you must have done something to cause this to happen."

In another previous statement, Scientology said, "The Church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of Scientologists, or of anyone, to law enforcement. Quite the opposite. Church policy explicitly demands that Scientologists abide by all laws of the land."

Scientology attorney Vicki Podberesky will be the focus of an evidentiary hearing at some point after Masterson's trial. Prosecutors notified Judge Olmedo last week that Podberesky and the Church of Scientology had somehow gotten a hold of confidential discovery from the criminal trial.

Masterson defense attorney Shawn Holley told the judge on Friday of last week that "nothing nefarious" had occurred and suggested that Masterson's previous attorney Tom Mesereau may have given the discovery to attorneys in the civil case. Holley added that there was no protective order and that Podberesky was willing to come to court and explain.

Judge Olmedo said that even if there was no protective order in place, she still had serious concerns. She asked prosecutors about possibly referring the matter to law enforcement and the state bar.

Podberesky has a long history of defending Scientology, although she told Eyewitness News two weeks ago that she'd only represented Scientology "in the past."

Judge Olmedo issued an order to preserve all evidence related to the confidential discovery issue. Mueller noted that Podberesky's email indicated that some of the discovery was "recently obtained."

Prosecutors became aware of the leak to Scientology and its attorneys when Podberesky and the Church of Scientology emailed the prosecutors' supervisors to complain about some of their questioning of witnesses related to Scientology. When DDA Mueller and DDA Ariel Anson were made aware of the emailed complaint, they found that Podberesky had included a "share file" that indicated she had sent this confidential discovery in a complaint about the detectives on the Masterson case to LAPD Chief Michel Moore.

Eyewitness News confirmed that Chief Moore met with Podberesky on April 24th, along with two LAPD Deputy Chiefs. The LAPD would not disclose who else from Scientology was at the meeting.

"We can confirm that the Los Angeles Police Department's Internal Affairs recently accepted a public complaint filed on behalf of the Church of Scientology. The case is currently under investigation for allegations of misconduct, which includes the disposition of twelve criminal cases that were previously filed with our Department," Deputy Chief Daniel Randolph said in an email.

On Tuesday, actress, activist, and former Scientologist Leah Remini requested her own meeting with LAPD Chief Moore. Remini tweeted out her letter to the LAPD which explains that she has "grave concerns about Scientology's relationship with the LAPD and its impact on victims and survivors of Scientology and the reporting of serious crimes."

On its website, Scientology refers to Remini as a bitter, angry and "spoiled entitled diva," who is now "joined at the hip with this collection of deadbeats, admitted liars, self-admitted perjurers, wife beaters and worse."

The Church alleges she "regurgitates the tired myths the Church has repeatedly debunked circulated by the same tiny clique of expelled former staffers bitter at having lost the positions they enjoyed before their malfeasance and unethical conduct were uncovered."

Remini attended several days of Masterson's retrial to show support for the alleged victims. The defense attempted to get Remini kicked out of the courtroom on the first day of testimony claiming they might call her as a witness. In the end, the defense called no witnesses at all.

On Wednesday, as attorneys, journalists and other spectators began to leave the courtroom after the jury began deliberations, Masterson and his wife Bijou Phillips hugged one another.

Got a tip? Email ABC7 Investigative Producer Lisa.Bartley@abc.com