Actor Danny Masterson will face a second trial for allegations that he raped three women nearly 20 years ago, prosecutors announced on Tuesday.
A status conference is scheduled for Feb. 16 before Los Angeles County Judge Charlaine Olmedo. The judge on Tuesday rejected a request from Masterson’s lawyer Philip Cohen to dismiss the charges under her own judicial authority.
Cohen declined to comment afterward. A newly bearded Masterson, 46, left the courthouse with his brother William and did not speak with reporters.
The decision by prosecutors to continue pursuing the three felony forcible rape charges against the Scientologist and former That ’70s Show star follows jurors in the first trial deadlocking on each count. They voted 10-2 in favor of not guilty for alleged victim Jen B., 8-4 for a woman identified in press reports by her initials, N.T., and 7-5 in favor of acquittal for Chrissie Carnell-Bixler, Masterson’s former girlfriend.
Olmedo declared a mistrial on Nov. 30 after jurors said they would never be able to reach a consensus. The six-week trial included testimony from the three alleged victims, who described Masterson raping them in separate incidents at his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003.
Actress Tricia Vessey also testified that Masterson raped her on two occasions in 1996 after they met while filming the movie Too Pure. Masterson is not charged with a crime related to her, but she testified in accordance with California Evidence Code section 1108, which allows testimony about a defendant’s “past sexual misconduct, alleged and otherwise when they are currently on trial for a sex crime.”
The Church of Scientology featured prominently in the trial because Masterson is a lifelong member and the alleged victims said the church influenced their decision not to report Masterson to the police sooner.
But prosecutors said the foreman “admittedly revealed that the majority of jurors ‘did not consider’ a significant amount of the evidence presented during the trial, including the influence of Scientology on the victims” and the testimony of certain witnesses. They cited that in their written opposition to Cohen’s request that Olmedo dismisses Masterson’s charges in the interest of justice.
Cohen’s 16-page filing cited discussions lawyers had with jurors after the mistrial in which “the clear sentiment, virtually to a person, was that there were significant evidentiary and credibility problems with the government’s case.” Cohen also cited the foreman’s interview with former Scientologist Chris Shelton and journalist Tony Ortega, who operates the Scientology news website The Underground Bunker, in which the foreman described a process that shows “an unbiased and fair-minded jury that took its oath and responsibility extremely seriously.”
But prosecutors said the law favors a second trial, not dismissal, and “arguably, there are few charges more serious and violent.”
Also, “this was the first trial and this case has not been previously dismissed,” according to the five-page response signed by Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller. “That is, a second trial does not amount to harassment of the defendant.”
Prosecutors plan to “introduce additional evidence” against Masterson at the second trial, including expert testimony about how people remember traumatic events and how alcohol use affects memory.
“The additional testimony will assist the jury on retrial to understand common responses to perceived threats in the context of a traumatic event; that trauma survivors may experience gaps in their memories, yet also possess vivid, unforgettable, distressing memories of the event; and the prominent effects of alcohol on memory functioning.”
Prosecutors say the investigation is also ongoing, “and there is at least one additional potential witness that the People intent to locate and interview regarding any observations of and/or materially relevant statements made by Christina B. in the course of her relationship with the defendant,” prosecutors wrote.
Mueller said the jury’s “failure to reach a verdict does not mean that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.”
“Dismissing the case against the defendant is not in the furtherance of justice,” Mueller concluded. “The People, representing the interests of society, should not be preempted from obtaining a just judgment in this case.”
Olmedo apparently agreed as she rejected Cohen’s invitation to dismiss after hearing the argument Tuesday morning. Potential jurors are to report to the courthouse on March 29.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.