LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rape allegations against actor Danny Masterson were so riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies that prosecutors in their case implicated the Church of Scientology to help patch holes in its case, a defense lawyer said Tuesday in closing arguments.
“When there are contradictions and inconsistencies — blame it on others,” attorney Phillip Cohen said. “We heard Scientology so often that it really became the go-to excuse.”
All three accusers and Masterson were members of the church at the time of the allegations two decades ago when the actor was at the height of his fame on the sitcom “That ’70s show,” and Scientology loomed large in the trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.
“There are no charges against Scientology but you can’t avoid it,” Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said in his rebuttal argument.
Mueller said the women delayed reporting the allegations because church rules prevented them from going to law enforcement and if they told anyone else about what happened, they would be ostracized.
While Masterson remains a member of the church, the three women are not. They were afraid to testify because they had been subjected to harassment, intimidation and stalking after they reported the crimes, Mueller said.
If the statements by the women were all consistent then it would have indicated they were scripted, Mueller said. He said inconsistencies often arise when victims of sexual assault have to relive their ordeals when speaking to police for the first time.
“They’re having to reach inside themselves and pull out that pain and trauma that they’ve had buried inside themselves,” Mueller said. “You may find some inconsistencies there.”
Masterson, wearing a brown tweed suit, looked at the jury from the defense table with no visible reaction. His wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, sat behind him at the front of the gallery, along with several of his family members and friends.
Jurors were sent to deliberate briefly at the end of the day before adjourning. The panel of seven women and five men return to court Wednesday morning.
Masterson, 46, faces three counts of forcible rape. If convicted, he could be sentenced up to 45 years in state prison.
The women testified that Masterson raped them in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. The defense said the acts were consensual.
Testimony by the women — all referred to as Jane Does 1-3 — was graphic and emotional. One woman, a friend of Masterson’s personal assistant, said she had vomited and passed out after he gave her a mixed drink. She said she returned to consciousness to find Masterson having rough and painful sex with her.
A former girlfriend of Masterson said she woke up to find him having sex with her when she hadn’t consented.
Masterson did not testify and his lawyer presented no defense evidence, instead focusing on how the stories of the women had changed over time.
“The key to this case is not when they reported it,” Cohen said. “It’s what they said when they reported it. What they said after they reported it. And what they said at trial.”
He said prosecutors depiction of Masterson as a “commanding scary, abusive monster” was undermined by testimony by his former girlfriend who said she willingly had sex with him after the alleged rapes.
“I get the theme: Paint Danny as a monster. But when you look at the actual testimony it tells us something different,” Cohen said. “This is the problem when you start veering from the truth.”
Mueller told jurors to stick to the evidence and not to be swayed by what he called speculation by the defense.
He mocked a statement Cohen made when he told jurors they could acquit Masterson if they thought he “actually and reasonably believed” the women consented to having sex.
Mueller said nobody would believe the acts described were consensual. He reminded them that one woman repeatedly told Masterson “no,” pulled his hair and tried to get out from under him.
Another woman said Masterson helped her throw up by putting his finger down her throat, then told her she was disgusting and made her shower because she had vomit it in her hair, Mueller said.
“Then he puts her in bed, flips her over and has his way with her,” Mueller said. “There’s not a reasonable belief (she) consented. Absolutely not.”