LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The prosecution in the Danny Masterson rape trial rested its case on Thursday after four weeks and sixteen witnesses. The actor and celebrity Scientologist is facing three counts of forcible rapes for incidents with three women between 2001 and 2003.
Masterson has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have argued the encounters were either consensual or did not occur. If he's convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.
The Church of Scientology is not on trial, but its beliefs and practices have loomed over the proceedings. All three women were Scientologists at the time of the alleged rapes but have since left the Church.
One potential and highly anticipated witness who did not end up testifying at trial is Lisa Marie Presley -- a longtime friend of one of the accusers: Jane Doe 1. On Tuesday, outside the presence of the jury, attorneys argued about whether Presley should be permitted to take the witness stand.
"We didn't really have much information about why Lisa Marie Presley was on the witness list," says Tony Ortega, editor at The Underground Bunker who is covering the trial and first broke the news back in 2017 that the LAPD was investigating Masterson for alleged rapes.
"Deputy D.A. Mueller explained to the judge that Lisa Marie Presley was subpoenaed and what they wanted her to testify to was that after Jane Doe 1 had been raped by Masterson, she was talking about going to the police and Scientology asked Presley to talk Jane Doe 1 out of it," says Ortega.
"The way the prosecutor was describing it -- it sounded like a classic case of obstruction of justice," says Ortega.
The Church of Scientology did not respond to a request for comment on this specific allegation, but has previously said that 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 Scientologists abide by all laws of the land."
"What that means is that Lisa Marie Presley would not just be testifying to a crime committed by Scientology, but one that she had taken part in," says Ortega. "Therefore, she had some exposure, some legal exposure."
Prosecutor Reinhold Mueller told Judge Charlaine Olmedo that Presley's attorney told the DA's office that Presley "may be taking the Fifth Amendment," and that she "maybe had concerns about dissuasion of a witness."
Mueller said that although his office believes any potential crime would be beyond the statute of limitations, they agreed to give Presley immunity. Once that was resolved, Presley agreed to sit down with a DA investigator for an interview on Friday of last week.
Mueller told the court that Presley told their investigator she had been contacted by the Church of Scientology after the April 2003 alleged rape of Jane Doe 1.
"She was asked to make contact with (Jane Doe 1) and to calm things down in the sense that apparently at that time (Jane Doe 1) was considering going to the authorities and the Church of Scientology wanted things to be handled in-house," said Mueller.
"So based on the instructions from the Church of Scientology official, she did, in fact, make contact with (Jane Doe 1) and had a conversation with (Jane Doe 1). And then, at some point thereafter, reported back to the Church of Scientology."
Mueller also referenced a direct message he wanted to admit as an exhibit along with Presley's testimony. According to Mueller, Presley acknowledged in her interview that she sent that message to Jane Doe 1 back in December of 2014, apologizing for her conduct.
Eyewitness News obtained that direct message.
"OMG I looked for you and found you..... I am DYING to talk to you.... So much has happened and changed and I need to start by APOLOGIZING for contributing in any way those years ago for helping anyone who tried to quiet you about what you had gone through... Those were crazy times with crazy people and not one of them remain in my life now... Please write me back. so we can talk. L"
Masterson defense attorney Karen Goldstein argued against allowing Presley to testify and against the admission of that direct message as an exhibit.
"The bulk of this statement deals essentially with what one could call obstruction of justice, which is absolutely not an issue in this case here," Goldstein told Judge Olmedo. "Mr. Masterson is not on trial for that. Certainly, the Church is not on trial for that. A lot of these actions speak to calming down or covering up a situation."
In the end, Judge Olmedo ruled that any testimony by Presley about Scientology's alleged request was not relevant to Masterson's rape trial.
"It seems to me that whatever silencing you want to submit took place of (Jane Doe 1) - of (Jane Doe 1's) statements in reporting the charged crimes here are much more relevant to the civil case because they're not attributable to Mr. Masterson," said Judge Olmedo.
Olmedo continued that she would limit Presley's potential testimony to whatever prior statements Jane Doe 1 made to Presley around the time of the alleged rapes. Presley could testify that she was "instructed or directed to call (Jane Doe 1) about this incident by others" but she could not "name who those others are."
On Wednesday, DA Mueller told the court that "based on the court's ruling, we've opted not to have her testify."
JANE DOE 4 TESTIFIES
Another witness the defense fought to keep off the witness stand this week is Jane Doe 4 -- actress Tricia Vessey -- who gave Eyewitness News permission to use her name and photos. Vessey testified on Wednesday and Thursday that Masterson raped her twice back in 1996.
The DA's office did not charge Masterson with Vessey's alleged rapes but had her testify as a "prior bad acts" witness.
"She filmed a movie with Danny and she described a wrap party that ended up at Danny's house and she freely admitted she had a lot to drink," says Ortega of the first alleged rape.
"She was drunk. She was trying to go to sleep. And her testimony was that Danny Masterson pulled her into his room and raped her -- and that she had kept quiet about it all these years until this investigation became public."
Vessey told the jury she "kicked him away with a foot," but lost consciousness and later woke up to him "having sex with me."
"I was upset by what had happened, but I didn't know how to categorize it," Vessey testified. "I definitely felt a deep shame and disrespected... I was disturbed but I didn't know how to cope with it," she said, adding that her vagina and anus were sore the next day and she had bruises on the inside of her thighs.
A month after the first alleged rape, Vessey testified that Masterson showed up uninvited at her apartment with a flask of alcohol.
"I recall pretty quickly becoming incoherent," Vessey said after taking "just a couple swigs."
"I was telling him I didn't want to have sex with him," she testified. "He was laughing and just continued on."
Before she says she lost consciousness, Vessey says she remembers telling Masterson to put a condom on. "I only recall him saying, he said, 'diseases were in the mind,'" she testified.
On cross examination, Masterson defense attorney pressed Vessey on why she allowed Masterson into her apartment that second time in 1996, why she maintained some contact with Masterson over the years and why she did not report the alleged rapes to law enforcement until 2019. Cohen seemed to mock Vessey's testimony that her body shook every time she came into contact with Masterson after that first alleged rape.
"Was your body shaking when you invited Mr. Masterson into your house for the second incident," Cohen asked.
"I don't have a shake-o-meter," Vessey replied, adding that she was confused, unnerved and "would shut down" every time she interacted with him.
Vessey acknowledged that she accepted a ride home from Masterson at least once when he saw her walking home from a store. She also read for another movie role with Masterson and they drove to the audition together.
Defense attorney Cohen then asked Vessey if she had, in fact, attended a party Masterson hosted at a hotel in Hollywood. Vessey responded that Danny's brother Chris, a friend of hers, took her to the party.
"I think he Danny Masterson was deejaying under the name 'Donkey Punch' or something like that," she testified. Judge Olmedo immediately struck her answer from the court record because both sides had agreed before trial that the DJ name was too prejudicial and inflammatory.
"One thing that both sides stipulated to is that they did not want it mentioned in this trial, that during this period, when he's alleged to have raped these women, he performed under the DJ name, Donkey Punch," says Ortega. "DJ Donkey Punch, which is a slang term for a kind of anal rape, the same thing that he's accused of."
"They wanted that kept out because they said it was inflammatory," says Ortega. "A DJ could have a name like that and not be a rapist is basically the theory that the court is going by."
Cohen also introduced a message Vessey sent to Chris Masterson in 2017 that read in part, "Hey Chris, I saw a f---ed up article about Danny. Just wanted to send you guys some support."
On redirect, DA Mueller asked Vessey why she'd sent that message.
"Danny has friends that I've been warned about," Vessey explained. "I wanted to keep everything safe for me, to send a message signaling that I wasn't a part of it and I had tried even through those incidents to keep everything friendly because of my fears. And also because I didn't want to blow up my world."
Vessey, who was never a Scientologist, told jurors on Wednesday that she has experienced harassment and intimidation since she reported the alleged rapes to law enforcement in 2019.
Mueller also asked Vessey how her understanding of the alleged incidents had changed since 1996.
"I didn't process it in 1996," she testified. "I wasn't happy about it, I was upset. I understood it to be non-consensual, but I hadn't consciously categorized it as rape. And when I heard about the case, it just hit me. I remember thinking like - I don't know - I remember just it hitting me fully."
"At that point, did you have an understanding that what happened to you was rape," Mueller asked. "Yes," Vessey replied.
WILL DANNY MASTERSON TESTIFY?
The defense is expected to begin its case on Monday. They've listed three potential expert witnesses on their witness list, but Cohen said in court on Monday that he may only call one, or "perhaps none" of them.
Masterson will need to make a decision in the coming days if he will take the witness stand in his own defense.
"I think attorneys would almost universally suggest to their client it would be a very bad idea for a defendant in a sexual assault case to take the stand," says Ortega. "And I think it's most likely that he won't."
"But, you know, I think about some of the recent cases we've seen -- and they're civil trials, they're different," says Ortega. "But when you see Johnny Depp testifying, when you see Kevin Spacey testifying, both men who were accused of abuse and then seemed to do really well on the stand -- it makes me wonder if Danny isn't tempted to attempt something like that himself. But again, I'm sure his attorneys would be completely against it. And it will probably not happen."
The defense theory has been primarily to pick apart at differences between what Masterson's three accusers said to police in interviews years ago or told friends -- and what they testified to in court.
"This is a very classic approach to any kind of sexual assault case," says Ortega of defense attorney Cohen's strategy.
"He has also said that they colluded because they spoke to each other when they were told not to -- and so he believes it's a cross-pollination/contamination case and one in which the women's stories have changed over time."
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