May 21, 2021, by ANDREW DALTON, AP Entertainment Writer 4 hours ago, this page was updated
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (AP) — A judge ruled on Friday that Danny Masterson, the actor from “That ’70s Show,” must stand trial after three days of dramatic and often heartbreaking evidence from three women who claim he raped them nearly 20 years ago.
Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo of the Los Angeles County Superior Court ordered Masterson to stand trial on three counts of rape by force or terror, allegations that may land him in prison for up to 45 years.
She said she believed the women’s testimony was believable for the purposes of the preliminary hearing, which has a lower threshold for adequate evidence than the upcoming trial.
Despite hundreds of inquiries by police and the Los Angeles district attorney, the most of which have resulted in no charges, that trial will be the first prosecution of a Hollywood figure in the #MeToo era.
Masterson, 45, has pled not guilty to the charges. His lawyers promised to establish his innocence, and during the hearing, they frequently questioned the ladies about inconsistencies in their tales, which they claimed the accusers had orchestrated in the years following the purported rapes. The lawyers said that the episodes, which occurred between 2001 and 2003, were too recent for accurate recollection.
“Memories fade and memories change,” said Sharon Appelbaum, a Masterson attorney.
As he sat in court with a small group of family and friends behind him, the actor showed no outward emotion to the judge’s ruling. Outside of court, Masterson’s lead lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, who also represented Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby in sexual assault trials, declined to comment.
During the hearing, Mesereau claimed that anti-religious bias had corrupted the police, prosecutors, and witnesses against the Church of Scientology. All three ladies are former Scientologists, including Masterson, who is a renowned Scientologist.
The church of Scientology and its beliefs were brought up so many times during the hearing that the judge felt obligated to state that the church was not a defendant. The organisation will loom even larger in court, where the majority of the witnesses will be current or former members.
The judge stated in her judgement that a church policy prohibiting members from reporting other members to the police and instead enabling the institution to arbitrate “sufficiently explains to this course the reticence of these women” in submitting their allegations to the police for years.
According to Appelbaum, the three women conspired to form a “sisterhood” that “seems to want to bring Mr. Masterson and Scientology down.”
According to Appelbaum, they had spoken to each other, sometimes in violation of orders, and had changed the stories they had given authorities at the time.
“Their experiences are growing more similar to one another over time,” she explained. “They’re speaking each other’s language.”
The testimony was “everything but” organised, according to Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller.
Mueller stated, “These were not scripted statements.” “They were sincere, and they each had their own account of events. If these assertions are consistent, it is because the defendant was consistent in his actions.”
Jen B., a woman who testified anonymously in court, said Masterson, an acquaintance from the church where she was born, had taken her upstairs from the hot tub at his Los Angeles home in 2003 and raped her in his bedroom. The two had consenting intercourse, according to Masterson’s lawyer. They pointed out that her claim that Masterson threatened her with a gun was not included in a 2004 police report.
Another lady, Christina B., was five years into a relationship with Masterson in 2001 when she claimed she awoke to him rapping her in the middle of the night and fought back by tugging his hair to get him to stop. Masterson’s attorneys said that she reframed the incident in recent years after another alleged rape she reported failed to result in charges.
The third woman, known only as N. Trout in court, claimed Masterson raped her on a night in 2003 after he contacted her to come to his residence, claiming she had established boundaries and was aware there would be no sex. Defense attorneys claimed she was aware that she was going to his house for sexual purposes, that she stayed the majority of the night freely, and that she was looking for a dating relationship with him, which she did not receive.
People who claim to have been sexually abused are rarely named by the Associated Press.
The women’s complaint, according to defence attorneys, revealed they were out for financial advantage. The prosecutor countered that the action was brought to end the church’s harassment of them since they came forth. The church has refuted all of the lawsuit’s claims.
The claims surfaced during Masterson’s heyday on Fox TV’s vintage sitcom “That ’70s Show,” in which he co-starred with Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Topher Grace as Steven Hyde from 1998 to 2006.
He reconnected with Kutcher on Netflix’s Western sitcom “The Ranch,” but when the LAPD inquiry into him was announced in March 2017, he was written off the programme.
Masterson, who has been out on bond since his arrest in June, was ordered to return to court on June 7 for a new arraignment.