Actor Danny Masterson’s defense team was dealt a blow by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who ruled on Tuesday that during his upcoming retrial, the women who have accused the That ’70s Show star of rape may speak about how actions of the Church of Scientology contributed to the reluctance each says they felt about reporting the alleged attacks to authorities.
Masterson, a lifelong Scientologist who has risen to prominence in the church, argued through his attorney, Philip Cohen, to have any and all evidence related to the Church of Scientology and “its practices and doctrines along with its alleged wrongdoing and any expert testimony regarding the same,” excluded from the prosecution’s case. His accusers—a friend, an ex-girlfriend, and a new acquaintance—were all Scientologists but have since left the church and subsequently accused its members of stalking and harassment; an accusation that a pet dog belonging to one of the women was poisoned by members of the church even emerged, though the allegation has not been proven to be true.
Testimony in Masterson’s first trial, which ended with a hung jury in November, included details of how the actor met his accusers in Scientology circles and how the church demanded the women stay silent after they reported being attacked by the actor to church leaders, who are known to tell members to distrust law enforcement. Cohen had wanted to exclude similar testimony from the accusers as well as that of a Scientology expert who is set to testify on the church’s teaching that a person in an intimate relationship can not be raped, as well as its tactic of instilling fear of becoming a “suppressive person,” a label that would lead to ostracization from the community.
Judge Charlaine Olmedo gave a definitive denial to Masterson’s request in her ruling on Tuesday.
“The admission of Scientology evidence…provides an important context for the victims’ delayed reporting of the crimes, which itself bears on the evaluation of the witnesses’ credibility and the actual occurrence of the crimes,” she wrote. “Thus, Scientology practices and beliefs are relevant to determining whether defendant committed the alleged crimes.”
Cohen also requested that the court prohibit the victims from testifying that they believed Masterson spiked their drinks with date rape drugs and exclude the testimony of an LAPD expert on the effects of such intoxicants; both were also denied by the judge.
“The toxicologist will be providing general testimony regarding the subject of date rape drugs,” she ruled, but will not discuss whether or not the accusers were given intoxicants by Masterson.
Olmedo also ruled that the women will not be subjected to questioning about “prior sexual history and prior sexual partners” and against permission to ask an accuser whether Masterson “accidentally attempted to penetrate her anus with his penis. She can, however, testify to defendant’s actions and objective behavior.”
Masterson’s retrial was originally slated to begin on April 11, but Olmedo gave his defense team an additional week to prep after a woman in Toronto came forward with allegations that the actor had raped her 23 years ago at an after party. The judge ruled that the new accuser could recount her experience, despite not having gone to the Canadian authorities until 2021, in Masterson’s trial as part of “prior bad acts” testimony. Jury selection will now begin on April 17.
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