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On The Eve Of Danny Masterson's Sentencing
A conversation with courtroom reporter and journalist Meghann Cuniff to recap the differences between two high-profile celebrity sexual assault trials: Harvey Weinstein and Danny Masterson
“The simultaneous celebrity sex assault trials that were going on on the same floor of LA Superior Court was really one for the ages.” — Meghann Cuniff
I met Meghann during the Weinstein trial last year. She was covering Weinstein and Masterson simultaneously, bouncing back and forth between the two rooms on the 5th floor. Occasionally, when I couldn't handle another day hearing about Weinstein's deformed genitals, I would wander down the hallway to see what was happening with Masterson. I was never informed enough to have a solid opinion about the case— I got bits and pieces from other reporters. My interest was motivated purely by superficial curiosities: Billy Baldwin skulking around the halls in a leather jacket, Bijou's classic court wardrobe, and various celebrity DNA mingling with well-groomed Scientologists in a packed gallery everyday. There was a lot to look at. From an optics standpoint, Materson's family resembled a wholesome catalogue-perfect crew, which made the gruesome details in these assaults hard to mentally pair with the visuals of his tight-knit family always in attendance. People who grew up with Danny in Los Angeles, or worked in the industry with him would sometimes write me, insisting he was innocent in these allegations. A couple famous faces were adamant about it, but could not share their thoughts publicly because of the repercussions that come with it.
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Weeks before the first trial kicked off, I tried to contact Ashton Kutcher to see if he would be willing to discuss his thoughts on Masterson (the two have remained close over the years) but saw no reply. Initially, he supported Danny. When he faced major backlash over it, he later walked back those comments.
To recap, I invited Meghann over this weekend for an up-to-date breakdown of Masterson's legal woes days before his scheduled sentencing (tomorrow), September 7th in LA.
CALL TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM: If you want to be in the know about varied legal happenings, please follow and support Meghann by subscribing to her newsletter. She is one of the hardest working people in this industry, great at what she does, and recently made the jump to independent coverage— so every subscriber counts. Her updates are chock-full of informative legal insight that simplify the outlines in each case. Her work is well worth a follow for anyone especially interested in learning more about some of these ‘under the radar’ west coast cases. She never disappoints.
Full Audio Discussion With Meghann:
“The discrepancies and differences in the Weinstein case and Masterson case (just the little things that happened in the court room) don’t get noticed a lot by the public. But it can be the difference between guilty and not guilty.” - Meghann Cuniff
Different Courtroom Standard For Weinstein and Masterson
Megan witnessed a much different standard held at Harvey Weinstein’s trial vs. Danny Masterson’s. Gloria Allred, an attorney who represented a couple of Weinstein’s victims, asked the judge if her clients could still give victim impact statements even though Weinstein wasn’t convicted of any crime involving any of these particular clients. It was immediately rejected. Allred then tried appealing it with the Courts of Appeal who also ignored this request.
Meanwhile, down the hallway in Judge Olmedo’s court room, Olmedo easily allowed a victim who Danny wasn’t accused of raping to give a victim impact statement.
Courtroom Theatrics: How It Impacts The Jury
Meghann believes the jury can be influenced by the theatrics playing out in front of them in the courtroom.
“In any case, jurors are always instructed not to pay attention to the personalities of the attorneys, but of course it matters, even if they try to ignore it,” she said.
She points out that nobody has interviewed any members of the jury since Masterson’s conviction.
“It’s just so interesting how we use jurors, the way they’re used in the system and cast out and never heard from again.” -Meghann Cuniff
The first jury was split on the Masterson verdict. We both wonder what they (those jurors) think about the overturn with a new group months later.
Emphasis on Scientology During Second Trial
Meghann explains the differences between the two trials: the second time around there was much more emphasis on Scientology, which she believes may have contributed to a guilty verdict following a hung jury.
“There was always this layer of scientology there. Especially in the first trial, it was just kind of a mystery.” -Meghann Cuniff
Masterson was a lifelong member of the Church of Scientology and remained in good standing. Because of his celebrity status, many considered him “untouchable.” The prosecutors drilled this point in court, explaining that if one of his victims tried reporting any of his wrongdoings to the church, they would have likely been dismissed, ignored or shamed.
The Church of Scientology claimed one of Masterson’s victims couldn’t sue because she had signed an arbitration agreement which signed away her rights to pursue any lawsuit.
Leah Remini spoke out against Masterson on May 31, 2023 in a tweet where she sided with his victims, calling them “heroes.” She recently filed her own lawsuit against the Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige for harassment, stalking and defamation at Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Florida. Remini described her time there as months of “psychological torture.”
Other Points Discussed:
Courtroom optics: The Mastersons = a picture perfect family
Danny Masterson is not Harvey Weinstein.
How Danny and one of the victims met: she was scouted to be a model for Cindy Crawford, he was celebrating her new gig at a party and claims Danny crashed the party and hit on her.
Extended statute of limitations — is it a good thing?
The reality of a long sentence: Danny leaves behind a wife and young daughter — people tend to forget that the unseen victims in some of these cases are also young children who are losing a parent in their life.
DETAILED TIMELINE Via Yahoo Entertainment
The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed they launched an investigation after three women reported being sexually assaulted by Masterson in the early 2000s. A rep for the actor, who was starring in Netflix's The Ranch at the time, denied the allegations and noted one of the accusers was his "longtime girlfriend." Masterson's spokesperson insinuated this was part of an anti-Scientology crusade and called out ex-Scientologist, Leah Remini.
A fourth woman later came forward with similar allegations against Masterson.
“We are aware of [the alleged victim's] 16-year-old allegations. It was only after [the alleged victim] was in contact with Leah Remini that she made allegations of sexual assault by Mr. Masterson. The alleged incident occurred in the middle of their 6 year relationship, after which she continued to be his longtime girlfriend. Significantly, during their long relationship she made numerous inconsistent claims that she was previously raped by at least 3 other famous actors and musicians.
When Danny ended the relationship she continued to pursue him, even making threats to beat up his current wife Bijou Phillips unless she left him. In fact, we are informed by the church that the only demand [the alleged victim] made of the church after Danny broke up with her was asking for their help to intervene so the breakup would not be permanent.
We are aware also that approximately 14 years ago a woman referred to in the blog made allegations of sexual assault that the LADP interviewed numerous witnesses and determined the claim had no merit. Based on reading the anti-Scientology blog that posted this story, these false allegations appear to be motivated to boost Leah Remini’s anti-Scientology television series since [the alleged victim] only came forward after connecting with Leah Remini.”
As the #MeToo movement swept through Hollywood, Netflix fired Masterson amid the ongoing investigation. The actor said he was "very disappointed" by the decision and looked "forward to clearing my name."
"I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused," Masterson declared. "I understand and look forward to clearing my name once and for all. In the meantime, I want to express my gratitude to the cast and crew that I've worked so closely with over the past three seasons. I wish them nothing but success. I am also so thankful to the fans that have supported me and continue to do so."
Four of Masterson's accusers sued the actor and the Church of Scientology, including its leader David Miscavige, for allegedly stalking them in hopes to silence them.
"When those women came forward to report Masterson’s crimes," the lawsuit read in part, "the defendants conspired to and systematically stalked, harassed, invaded their and their family's privacy, and intentionally caused them emotional distress and silence and intimidate them."
Both Masterson and the church deny the allegations. Despite numerous appeals, the case will go to court, not through a church-led arbitration as Scientology leaders hoped. This lawsuit was brought up at last year's trial as the defense claims this whole thing "is a shameful money grab."
Masterson was arrested and charged with rape, facing a possible maximum sentence of 45 years to life in state prison. He's accused of raping a 23-year-old woman in 2001; a 23-year-old woman and a 28-year-old woman in separate incidents in 2003. All of the alleged crimes occurred at his home in the Hollywood Hills. The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office noted they declined to file sexual assault charges against Masterson from two other women, one for insufficient evidence and the other based upon the statute of limitations for the alleged crime.
"Mr. Masterson is innocent, and we’re confident that he will be exonerated when all the evidence finally comes to light and witnesses have the opportunity to testify," the actor's high-powered defense attorney, Tom Mesereau, told Yahoo Entertainment at the time.
"Obviously, Mr. Masterson and his wife are in complete shock considering that these nearly 20-year-old allegations are suddenly resulting in charges being filed, but they and their family are comforted knowing that ultimately the truth will come out," Mesereau continued. "The people who know Mr. Masterson know his character and know the allegations to be false."
Masterson pleaded not guilty to three charges of forcible rape.
During a preliminary hearing, a judge heard three of Masterson's accusers detail their alleged assaults. He ruled the actor must stand trial.
When the trial began, Scientology was a hot-button topic. The defense wanted the court to bar any mention of the church while the prosecution argued the three women, all of whom were Scientologists at the time of the alleged attacks, should be able to say whatever they want. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo landed in the middle, permitting the women to discuss the church when relevant to the incidents.
"Evidence presented in criminal cases often involve subject matters that many of the public view with disdain, including gangs, guns and violence," Olmedo said. "The fact that any individual has a negative view of any particular subject matter does not, per se, render that person unfit to serve as a juror."
When Jane Doe #1 took the stand as the prosecution's first witness, she testified that a church ethics officer forced her "to make peace" with Masterson after she claimed she was penetrated anally by the actor her against her will in 2002.
"My understanding, my entire life, was that you can never be a victim," the woman explained. "Nothing ever happens to you that you didn't cause. No matter what condition you find yourself in life, no matter how horrible, you are responsible. You created that."
Jane Doe #1 continued to have a relationship with Masterson and claimed she was sexually assaulted by the star at his home in April 2003. She was emotional on the stand recounting the alleged incident. The woman testified she started feeling disoriented after drinking something Masterson gave her. She passed out on his bed, and when she awoke, claimed Masterson was on top of her. The woman claimed she tried to fight him off, but the actor reached into a drawer in a nightstand and pulled out a gun and threatened by telling her to "shut the f*** up." After the alleged rape, the woman said she went to see her ethics officer.
"My understanding is I would immediately be guilty of a high crime. A high crime comes with a penalty of expulsion from Scientology," Jane Doe #1 said on the stand. "My life would be over. My parents would have to disconnect from me. My daughter couldn’t go to her school… I wouldn't have anywhere to work or live. I wouldn't have anywhere to go."
In April 2004, Jane Doe #1 wrote a letter to the church's International Justice Chief and asked for permission to bring criminal charges against Masterson. She believed she was told no, but did so anyway with the LAPD two months later. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office decided not to press charges at the time. The woman ultimately settled with Masterson for $400,000.
Jane Doe #3, also an ex-Scientologist, testified about the alleged "terror campaign" unleashed on her by the organization when she came forward with claims against Masterson. The woman, a longtime girlfriend of Masterson's, alleged he raped her when she was sleeping in 2001.
"I asked him, ‘what happened last night?’ I asked him if I had fallen because I was hurting 'down there,'" she testified. "He laughed at me and said he had sex with me there." Masterson supposedly confirmed she was unconscious the whole time.
In 2003, Jane Doe #2 alleged she was raped at Masterson's home after he supplied her with alcohol that left her feeling "numb." The woman claimed he got her to his bed where he assaulted her like "a rag doll." Jane Doe #2 did not report him to the church for fear of being declared a "suppressive person." When she left the organization, she later realized the incident was rape.
A fourth woman was permitted to testify who claimed Masterson raped her twice in 1996. Her story was similar to the allegations from the other three women; however, her accusations didn't lead to charges.
After more than five weeks of grueling testimony, jurors began deliberating on Nov. 15. After three days, the group, made up of seven women and five men, informed the judge they were deadlocked. They were ordered home for 10 days, but upon their return, two tested positive for COVID-19. Deliberations had to start over with two alternates, but the result was the same.
In a note to the judge, jurors said, "We are not even close to coming to a unanimous decision on any count, and are convinced this will not change." A mistrial was declared.
Prosecutors announced Masterson will be tried for a second time with a new jury. The previous hung jury leaned towards acquittal, with votes of 10-2, 8-4 and 7-5 on the three counts. Judge Charlaine Olmedo denied the defense's request to dismiss the case and noted how the prosecution only called 16 out of 36 potential witnesses.
"It appears there are many other witnesses people could choose," Olmedo said. "Mr. Masterson is charged with multiple counts of serious and violent felonies – forcible rapes. If true and Masterson is convicted, society would not only be protected from a violent felon, and should be protected from a violent felon."
Masterson's defense team filed a motion in the eleventh hour to try and delay the April 17 start date, but were quickly denied.
When opening arguments kicked off on April 24, prosecutors had a new strategy as they honed in on Masterson allegedly drugging the women before assaulting them. In the first trial, Judge Charlaine Olmedo had not allowed the term "drugging" as prosecutors could only say the women were "incapacitated" when they said they were attacked, according to the Huffington Post. Scientology was also mentioned more as the judge ruled that further evidence related to the church could be heard in the retrial as the organization's policies and procedures were called into question.
The trial concluded, and the second time around, jurors heard from more witnesses — but neither jury ever heard from Masterson. The prosecution painted the actor as a predator who relied on his prominence in the Church of Scientology to avoid any consequences.
"The defendant drugs his victims to gain control. He does this to take away his victims' ability to consent," Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson told the jury during closing arguments, per the Associated Press. "You don't want to have sex? You don’t have a choice. The defendant makes that choice for these victims. And he does it over and over and over again."
Anson went after Scientology, too.
"The church taught his victims, 'Rape isn't rape, you caused this, and above all, you are never allowed to go to law enforcement,'" she said. "In Scientology, the defendant is a celebrity and he is untouchable."
Masterson's attorney, Philip Cohen, called out inconsistencies in the women's stories and said jurors cannot find his client guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
On May 31, Masterson was convicted on two of the three rape counts and faces up to 30 years in prison. Following the verdict he was handcuffed and taken from the court in sheriff's custody.
Collected Online Comments
“The LA DA is prosecuting Danny Masterson a 2nd time over allegations he secretly drugged his girlfriend and two other women and raped them. There is ZERO evidence since the alleged incident happened 15 years ago. I have no reason to think he's innocent other than the Constitution requires me to give him the presumption of innocence. There is no way a jury can convict him of the crime - the best they can do is convict him of being a sleazy Hollywood actor. This case should have been brought more than a decade ago...”
“The trial and conviction of Hollywood actor Danny Masterson for the rape of two women has, once again, shed light on the controversial Church of Scientology.”
“He was convicted on 2 counts, each carrying a 15 years to life penalty. It’s pretty much guaranteed that he will serve them consecutively. He’ll have a 30-year to life sentence at a minimum. Possibly more on gun/drugging enhancements. Even after 30 years, no guarantee of parole.”
“Why hasn't Danny Masterson been declared an SP yet?”
“Every Scientologist in the world knows that Danny Masterson is innocent based on the jury's decision. No way he used drugs. Scientologists are the most anti drug people anywhere..”
“Meanwhile Danny Masterson was brought to justice by women who went by Jane Doe. It’s about the evidence and the victim’s credibility.”
“Danny Masterson: Yet another innocent man is going to prison due to a conspiracy of false rape accusations by three women. Disgusting. No man is safe in the USA. Unless you are Johnny-Depp-level-cute.”
“I don't know if he is guilty. They certainly cannot prove his guilt. They can't even offer decent conjecture. They can offer a rehearsed and coordinated story in court. Any real jury would acquit him, but in this day and age, he is lucky if he gets a second deadlock.”
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