Jurors in the rape trial of “That ’70s Show” star Danny Masterson were ordered to begin their deliberations anew Monday, with two alternates added to the panel following news that two jurors had tested positive for COVID-19.
The newly reconstituted panel wrapped up its first day of deliberations Monday afternoon and was due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse Tuesday morning to continue its discussions.
The previous jury deliberated for about 2 1/2 days before informing Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo on Nov. 18 they were “unable to reach a unanimous decision” on any of the charges against Masterson.
The judge told the jurors they had not deliberated long enough for her to declare a mistrial and asked them to try again after the Thanksgiving break.
When the panel returned Monday morning, the judge excused two jurors who reported that they had tested positive and were symptomatic for COVID-19, and two alternate jurors joined the panel. Olmedo ordered the jury to begin “your deliberations all over again” with the two new members.
Olmedo denied the defense’s latest request for a mistrial.
Masterson was charged in 2020 with forcibly raping three women in separate incidents between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood Hills home.
He has been free on bail since his June 2020 arrest by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division.
In closing arguments Nov. 15, a prosecutor said Masterson used “force, fear or threats” to sexually assault the women and should be convicted of rape. But the actor’s attorney countered that the alleged victims lied about their relations with the actor.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told jurors that for Masterson, “No never meant no.” Although the actor “looks like a well-groomed gentleman” in court, “he looks very different” to his alleged victims, the prosecutor said.
“If you were a young woman, you were far from safe,” Mueller said. “If you were incapacitated in his bed, he would rape you. If you were at his home and you were not yet intoxicated, he would offer you the alcohol to get you there and he would forcibly rape you. And if you were in a relationship with him, he would control you.”
In arguing for an acquittal, defense attorney Philip Cohen said the prosecution wanted to “win this case so badly” that they ignored “blatantly fabricated” and inconsistent testimony from witnesses during the nearly monthlong trial.
“It’s not just maddening, it’s horrifying,” Cohen said of the case against his client, adding that the alleged victims “have motivations to lie” on the witness stand.
Masterson, a 46-year-old longtime adherent of the Church of Scientology, is charged with three counts of rape by force or fear involving the three women. The actor declined to testify in his own defense.
In his closing argument, the prosecutor reminded the jury of the testimony of the alleged victims, known by the initials C.B., J.B. and N.T.
J.B., for example, testified she had gotten drunk on vodka that Masterson had given her and was subsequently “dragged” into the shower, where she swung at him as he washed her breasts with soap, the deputy district attorney said.
The woman was eventually taken to Masterson’s bed, where she passed out — and woke to find her fellow Scientology member on top of her, according to Mueller.
The woman also testified that she grabbed the back of the actor’s hair and pushed a pillow into his face as he penetrated her, adding that Masterson shoved the pillow back in her face with all of his body weight on her and that she felt she was being smothered, Mueller said.
Cohen responded that J.B. had not been truthful about the sexual encounter.
In his closing argument, Masterson’s attorney used cardboard exhibits to illustrate the concept of reasonable doubt, urging jurors to bear in mind the presumption of innocence when they start deliberating.
“The decision you make in this case is one of the most important decisions of your life,” he said.
On Nov. 17, the panel sent a note asking Olmedo for a copy of the transcript involving a portion of the testimony of one of the alleged victims relating to a phone call with Masterson while she was in Florida. The judge instructed jurors that they would not be given the transcript, but the testimony was read back by the court reporter after the jury returned to the downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
In December 2017, Netflix announced that Masterson had been fired from the Emmy-winning scripted comedy “The Ranch” amid sexual assault allegations.
The actor said then he was “very disappointed” and “it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused.” He also “denied the outrageous allegations” and said he looked forward to “clearing my name once and for all.”
A civil suit filed in August 2019 against Masterson and the Church of Scientology by the three women involved in the criminal case and one woman who was not a member of the church alleges they were stalked and harassed after filing sexual assault allegations against the actor with Los Angeles police.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file sexual assault charges against Masterson in two other alleged incidents, citing insufficient evidence on one and the statute of limitations on the other.