Former That ’70s Show star Danny Masterson faces up to 30 years in jail after a jury found him guilty of two counts of rape.
The Los Angeles jury returned its verdict on Thursday (AEST), after deliberating for seven days spread over two weeks.
The jury could not reach a verdict on a third rape charge, alleged by Masterson’s long-time girlfriend. Jurors remained deadlocked on a vote of 8-4 in favour of conviction.
There were gasps in court from Masterson’s family as the verdicts were read out. The 47-year-old was led from the courtroom in handcuffs shortly after.
His wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, wept as he was led away. Other family and friends sat stone-faced.
Prosecutors, who retried Masterson after a deadlocked jury led to a mistrial in December, said he forcibly raped three women, including a long-time girlfriend, in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003.
They told jurors he drugged the women’s drinks so he could rape them. They said he used his prominence in the Church of Scientology – where all three women were also members at the time – to avoid consequences for decades.
Masterson did not testify, and his lawyers called no witnesses. The defence argued that the acts were consensual, and attempted to discredit the women’s stories by highlighting changes and inconsistencies over time, which they said showed signs of co-ordination between them.
The Church of Scientology played a significant role in the first trial but arguably an even larger one in the second.
Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo allowed expert testimony on church policy from a former official in Scientology leadership who has become a prominent opponent.
Tensions ran high in the courtroom between current and former Scientologists. It even leaked into testimony, with the accusers saying on the stand that they felt intimidated by some members in the room.
Actor Leah Remini, a former member who has become the church’s highest-profile critic, sat in on the trial at times, putting her arm around one of the accusers to comfort her during closing arguments.
Founded in 1953 by L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology has many members who work in Hollywood. The judge limited how much prosecutors could talk about the church, and primarily allowed it to explain why the women took so long to go to authorities.
The women testified that when they reported Masterson to church officials, they were told they were not raped, were put through ethics programs themselves, and were warned against going to law enforcement to report a member of such high standing.
“They were raped, they were punished for it, and they were retaliated against,” Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller told jurors in his closing argument.
“Scientology told them there’s no justice for them. You have the opportunity to show them there is justice.”
One of the victims, who was known in court only as Jane Doe 2, issued a statement after the guilty verdicts.
She also referred to a pending civil case, in which she and the other accusers have sued Masterson and the Church of Scientology for harassment and stalking.
“I am experiencing a complex array of emotions – relief, exhaustion, strength, sadness – knowing that my abuser, Danny Masterson, will face accountability for his criminal behaviour,” she said.
“I am disappointed that he was not convicted on all counts, but take great solace in the fact that he, the Church of Scientology, and others, will have to fully account for their abhorrent actions in civil court.”
The church vehemently denied having any policy that forbids members from going to secular authorities.
Masterson’s former girlfriend, known as Jane Doe 3, said she was “devastated that he has dodged criminal accountability for his heinous conduct against me”.
She said she was determined to seek justice in civil court, where she said the three women would “shine a light on how Scientology and other conspirators enabled and sought to cover up Masterson’s monstrous behaviour”.
Masterson will be sentenced on August 4.
– with AAP