With jurors again indicating they were hopelessly deadlocked, a mistrial was declared Wednesday in the trial of “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson, who is charged with raping three women.
The downtown Los Angeles jury announced that it favored acquittal on all three of the charges — with the votes 2-10 on one count, 4-8 on another and 5-7 on the third. The deadlock came nearly three days into deliberations following the replacement of two of the original jurors, who had to be excused after reporting they had tested positive for COVID-19.
The original jury indicated Nov. 18 that it was unable to reach a verdict after about 2 1/2 days of deliberations, informing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo that it was deadlocked.
At the time, the judge asked the panel to resume its deliberations after a weeklong Thanksgiving break. The jury was ordered to begin its deliberations anew Monday with the two alternate panelists, but sent a note Wednesday afternoon indicating that jurors were adamant about maintaining their individual positions and were “not even close” to reaching a unanimous decision.
Olmedo declared a mistrial and scheduled a Jan. 10 status conference, with a retrial tentatively set for March 27.
Masterson, 46, was charged in 2020 with forcibly raping three women in separate incidents between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood Hills home.
Defense attorney Philip Cohen told reporters outside court that he believes “this case has significant issues and I think the jury saw those issues.”
Of his client, he said, “There’s a lot of relief on his part obviously, but there’s potentially still a fight ahead and we may have to do this thing again, and hopefully what the jury indicated in this case will be looked at by the District Attorney’s Office in terms of how the jury saw this case.”
Cohen said he intends to file a motion asking the judge to “preclude another trial” for Masterson, citing the jury’s vote on each of the three counts.
When asked if the prosecution planned to seek a new trial for Masterson, Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson said, “It’s a conversation we have to have with our office.”
Masterson 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, Masterson’s attorney told jurors that the prosecution wanted to “win this case so badly” that they ignored “blatantly fabricated” and inconsistent testimony from witnesses during the nearly month-long 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 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.
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 added that “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.