A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in actor Danny Masterson‘s rape trial after jurors said they couldn’t agree on any charges, ending a four-week trial that cast a spotlight on Masterson’s lifelong membership in the Church of Scientology.
“At this time I find the jury is hopelessly deadlocked, so I do declare a mistrial,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo said about 3:15 p.m..
Jurors revealed a split that favored acquittal on each charge, with the vote on count 1 2 in favor of guilty and 10 in favor of not guilty. The vote on count 2 was four in favor of guilty and eight in favor of not guilty, and the vote on count 3 was five in favor of guilty and seven in favor of not guilty.
Masterson, who is best known for his role as Steven Hyde on That ’70s Show, and his lawyer, Philip Cohen, had no visible reaction as the mistrial was declared.
In a press conference, Cohen told reporters that Masterson’s “attitude and his reaction mirrored ours.”
“You don’t know how a trial’s going until you hear what a jury has to say, and as confident as he is in his lawyers, you never know what a jury’s thinking,” said Cohen, who was joined by his co-counsel, Karen Goldstein. “So there’s relief on his part, obviously, but there’s still potentially a fight ahead.”
He called jury’s split in favor of acquittal “incredibly significant.”
“This was not a short trial. This was not a jury that just wanted to get out of there. This was a jury that went through literally each bit of testimony and had some very heartfelt and significant discussions about credibility,” Cohen said.
Cohen said he spoke with some jurors after the mistrial but declined to describe the discussion beyond calling it “incredibly helpful and illuminating.” He said he won’t change his approach if there’s a retrial, saying “I love this case.”
“I think given the facts in this case, the testimony in this case, the evolution of statements in this case, I think it would be very difficult to find 12 people who truly consider this case to convict,” Cohen said.
He later issued a statement that said in part, “The vote count says it all and it is a true testament to our justice system that the jurors were able to see through all the inflammatory noise and focus solely on what was truly important.”
Just got this emailed statement from Cohen re: mistrial in #DannyMastersonTrial.
“The vote count says it all and it is a true testament to our justice system that the jurors were able to see through all the inflammatory noise and focus solely on what was truly important.” pic.twitter.com/ieelbTgCxP
— Meghann Cuniff (@meghanncuniff) December 1, 2022
Deputy District Attorneys Reinhold Mueller and Ariel Anson said they have not decided if they’ll re-try Masterson.
“That’s a conversation we have to have with our office,” Anson said. Anson said jurors afterward didn’t tell them anything “that surprising.”
“It’s what we all thought: That some people believed the victims and some didn’t,” Anson said. “Nothing completely shocking was said by the jurors.”
The original jury announced midway through its third day of deliberations on Nov. 18 that it was unable to decide on either of Masterson’s three charges. But instead of declaring a mistrial, Olmedo did what many California state court judges do and told them they hadn’t deliberated long enough to consider all the evidence.
The jury was sent home about 2 p.m. Nov. 18 and told to return Nov. 28, but two jurors reported positive COVID diagnoses on Nov. 27, so Olmedo replaced them with two alternates and the jury was instructed to begin deliberations anew. The new jury deliberated all day Monday and most of Tuesday before requesting to hear the court reporter read aloud testimony from one of the alleged victims. That took about an hour on Wednesday, with the jury deliberating a short while longer before announcing the deadlock.
It will be up to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on whether to seek a second trial for Masterson.
The trial was hailed by some as the most important in the Church of Scientology’s near 70-year history, and it drew crowds of journalists and onlookers to Olmedo’s courtroom in downtown Los Angeles each day. Masterson’s family and friends took up most of the left side of the gallery, and they waited in the hallway each day as deliberations dragged on.
Masterson, 46, was born into the Church of Scientology, which is recognized as a religious organization by the Internal Revenue Service but has long been dogged by claims from former members that it’s a cult.
His mother, Carol Masterson, is a longtime Scientologist who attended every day of trial. His younger brother Christopher Masterson and Jordan Masterson also have been around the courthouse, as has their sister, Alanna Masterson, and their brother, William Masterson. Danny Masterson’s wife, Bijou Phillips, has attended every day of the trial, and she’s often joined by her half-sisters, Chynna Phillips and Mackenzie Phillips. The Phillips sisters’ father was John Phillips, the late singer of the Mamas & the Papas. Chynna’s mother is Michelle Phillips, the band’s other lead singer, and her husband is actor Billy Baldwin, the second youngest of the four Baldwin brothers.
The three women who are charged as Masterson’s victims also were Scientologists at the time of the alleged rapes. All have since left the church, and they testified in trial that Scientology heightened their fears about reporting Masterson both within the organization and to police. They described a culture of victim-blaming within the organization that sought to protect Masterson while essentially trying to cover up his crimes, and each also testified to being harassed and stalked by Church of Scientology members.
A Scientology spokeswoman denied all the allegations and told Law&Crime prosecutors wrongly tried to use Masterson’s religion against him. Judge Olmedo, however, ruled Scientology was relevant to five areas of the case: why the alleged victims didn’t contact police sooner; their fears of being declared a “suppressive person” within Scientology; the harassment they’re allegedly experiencing by the Church of Scientology; and past and present ties to Scientology as it relates to their current state of mind.
The judge regularly cut off testimony she felt was veering too far afield, and her restrictions prompted Mueller and Anson not to call two high-profile witnesses, Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, and Hollywood power lawyer Marty Singer. Presley was introduced to Scientology through her mother, Priscilla Presley, and Mueller said in court that Scientology officials asked her to try to dissuade Jen B. from reporting Masterson to police. But Olmedo restricted what Presley could say regarding Scientology so much that Anson and Mueller decided not to call her.
Singer, meanwhile, was to testify about a nondisclosure agreement he brokered between Masterson and one of the alleged victims, identified in court as Jen B. Olmedo, however, said prosecutors could only ask him logistics about his meeting with Jen. B such as whether he turned pages for her as she testified he did. Anson and Mueller decided not to call him because of those restrictions.
Still, jurors heard detailed testimony about how the organization handled the allegations against Masterson, including a detailed account from Jen B., who is the victim in count 1.
Jen B. was the first witness to testify. She described being raped by Masterson in 2001, then detailed how Scientology members told her not to use the word “rape” and warned she could be declared “a suppressive person” if she reported Masterson to police, which essentially involves being ostracized from the church.
The alleged victim in count 2 asked to be identified in news articles by her initials, N.T. She said she met Masterson through Scientology after being introduced to it by her mother when she was 16. She described going to his home at his invitation, hoping for a romantic date, and being directed by Masterson to consume a drink that left her feeling woozy and unable to explain how she got in Masterson’s jacuzzi with him against her will. She testified about kissing and the beginning of a consensual sexual encounter that quickly turned to rape as Masterson ignored her emphatic pleas that she didn’t want to have sex and that he needed to stop. At the time, N.T. was an actress who had a role on a short-lived ABC sitcom slotted between the hit shows Dharma and Greg and The Drew Carey Show.
Actress Tricia Vessey also testified that Masterson raped her on two occasions in 1996 while the two were filming the movie Too Pure. Masterson was not charged with a crime related to Vessey; rather, 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 alleged victim in count 3 is Chrissie Carnell-Bixler, who was Masterson’s girlfriend for six years, also testified that she eventually realized after denouncing Scientology that Masterson had been controlling and abusive, and that encounters she’d had with him were actually sex crimes on his part. That includes a November 2001 incident in which she said she awoke to him penetrating her. The court reporter read aloud Carnell-Bixler’s testimony about the encounter on Wednesday at the jury’s request.
Carnell-Bixler has spoken about her allegations against Masterson using her full name, including in statement submitted in 2021 to a U.S. House of Representatives committee in which she described herself as “a rape and cult survivor.” She also is suing Masterson in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Her husband, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, the lead singer of the rock band The Mars Volta, also testified, describing a conversation he had with her about her encounters with Masterson in which Bixler-Zavala said he told her she’d been raped.
The Church of Scientology denies any wrongdoing and says the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is trying to use Masterson’s religion against him. A spokeswoman also has taken issue with journalists citing statements from former members that the church is a dangerous cult.
“The District Attorney shamefully centered his prosecution on the defendant’s religion,” according to an email from Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw. “With regard to the Church, the DA elicited answers from the Jane Does and had them state as fact allegations about the Church—which are categorically untrue.”
Pouw told Law&Crime the women lied in testimony regarding past statements by Church members.
“Church staff never made the statements attributed to them by the Jane Does,” Pouw said. “The claim that there are special policies in the Church for ‘celebrities’ or for anyone else is false. Church policies apply equally to all parishioners.”
Reporters questioned Mueller and Anson about Scientology’s role in the case and whether it could have contributed to the mistrial, but Mueller said he’s not sure if that will change in a re-trial. Anson also said Scientology “does play a big part in why these women didn’t believe that they were raped initially…and their reason for not disclosing right away to law enforcement.”
“So I don’t think it can not be talked about,” Anson said.
The trial took place amid heightened attention on Scientology in Los Angeles political circles, with mayoral candidate Rick Caruso highlighting Karen Bass‘ past support for the church. The ads aired across the Los Angeles area, with Judge Olmedo declining a mistrial request from Cohen over them and related mailers.
The Church of Scientology started its own ad campaign about the time trial opened that invites people to learn about the church firsthand.
“Whatever you have heard, if you haven’t heard it from us, I assure you we are not what you expect,” Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige says in the ad. “So take a look, and then decide for yourself.”
Miscavige and Masterson are defendants in a lawsuit from Carnell-Bixler and her husband that accuses them as well as the Church of Scientology and related entities of stalking, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jen B. and N.T. also are plaintiffs, as is Marie Bobette Riales, who is Masterson’s former girlfriend.
They recently switched lawyers, with a former federal prosecutor now with Boies Schiller Flexner LLP attending the final days of trial and awaiting the verdict in the hallway on Monday. Alison L. Anderson told Law&Crime she’s taken over the civil case with partners John Kucera and Simon Leen, who are partners with her in Boies’ Los Angeles office.
Jen B., N.T. and Carnell-Bixler and her husband thanked the jury for “its public service” in a statement emailed to reporters by Clay Steward of Infinite Global, a public relations firm that works with Boies Schiller.
“We are obviously disappointed that, at least for the time being, Daniel Masterson has evaded criminal accountability for his deplorable acts,” the statement reads. They said they “are collectively resolved to continue our fight for justice” and referenced the lawsuit.
“This legal fight is far from over, and it is critical that we reckon with Scientology’s alleged role in covering up reports of abuse and threatening victims,” the statement continues.
The email included a statement from Anderson, who said her clients “showed tremendous courage in testifying about such personal and horrendous acts in a very public forum and despite persistent harassment and intimidation.”
“They remain hopeful that Mr. Masterson will experience some criminal consequences for his vile conduct and are eager to now pursue their claims in civil court and seek redress for the nightmare they have been made to suffer,” according to Anderson’s statement.
The civil case recently reached the nation’s highest court, with the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 3 declining to consider a writ petition filed by lawyers for the Church of Scientology challenging a California appellate court ruling that said Carnell-Bixler wasn’t bound by the church’s arbitration requirements.
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