A Los Angeles judge is taking criticism for her uncommon decision on Friday to send home a deadlocked jury in the rape trial of That 70s Show star Danny Masterson for a 10-day Thanksgiving hiatus before they must return and continue deliberating the fate of the 46-year-old actor, who was arrested on charges of rape by force or fear against three women in June 2020 and faces 45 years in a California prison.
After not quite three days of deliberations, the wayward jurors told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo that they could not reach a unanimous decision. Olmedo responded that barely three days’ work was not enough to justify a jury calling itself hung, and refused declare a mistrial.
The judge, however, had already agreed to give the jurors Thanksgiving week off, to the surprise of many, including those who had never heard that Thanksgiving had grown to encompass a full, adult week.
For obvious reasons, Olmedo’s decision did not sit well Masterson and his defense team.
“This is a clear error and frankly not just outrageous but makes a complete sham of deliberations,” trial lawyer and co-host of the Reasonable Doubt podcast Mark Geragos told LAMag.com. Geragos is not involved in the Masterson trial proceedings.
Masterson is accused of raping of three women, including a former girlfriend, in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. His defense, which did not call any witnesses, contends that the sex was consensual and that his accusers have told inconsistent stories after corroborating with one another.
Masterson is also a member of the Church of Scientology, which is being sued by some of his alleged victims on allegations that the church stalked and harassed them for reporting that they had been raped. The church had attempted to force Masterson’s accusers into private, binding arbitration within its own system, but that notion got rejected all the way up to the Supreme Court, and lawyers for the church said last month they are now prepared for trial in a real court of law.
In pretrial testimony for Masterson’s rape case given in May, one woman, who claims that Masterson raped her in 2001, while she was unconscious, testified that a Scientology official demanded she write a statement in which she would “take responsibility” for the assault.
Another woman, who was born into the church, said that when she planned to report Masterson in 2004 for allegedly raping her in 2003, a Scientology lawyer appeared at her family’s home to warn them that she would be excommunicated if she did so.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said Masterson used “force, fear or threats” to sexually assault the women and should be convicted of rape. Masterson’s lawyer told the jury that the alleged victims lied about their relations with Masterson and that anything that occurred was consensual.
Mueller told jurors, “No never meant no, for Masterson,” adding that although the onetime TV star “looks like a well-groomed gentleman” in court, “he looks very different” to his alleged victims: “If you were a young woman, you were far from safe.”
The prosecutor continued, “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.
“It’s not just maddening, it’s horrifying,” Cohen told reporters.
City News Service contributed to this report.