Actor Danny Masterson drugged then raped three women at his Hollywood area home between 2001 and 2003, a prosecutor has told jurors in his opening statement in the retrial of the star of That ’70s Show.
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller alleged that Masterson put substances into drinks that he gave to a longtime girlfriend and two women he knew through friend circles around the Church of Scientology, all of whom Masterson is charged with raping.
“The evidence will show that they were drugged,” Mr Mueller told the jury.
Masterson has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers, who will give their opening statement later, have denied any of the alleged assaults took place, saying the accusers’ decades-old accounts are full of inconsistencies and not credible.
A mistrial was declared on all three counts at the end of Masterson’s first trial in November when jurors told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked.
Direct discussion of the drug element was missing from the first trial, with Mr Mueller instead having to imply it through the evidence of the women, who said they were woozy, disoriented and at times unconscious on the nights they described the actor allegedly raping them.
But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F Olmedo is allowing the direct assertion at the second trial.
The actor, 47, could get 45 years in prison if convicted.
Masterson, who has been free on bail since his 2020 arrest, sat at the defence table, with a large coterie of supporters behind him who also sat through his first trial.
They included his wife, model and actor Bijou Phillips; his sister-in-law, One Day At A Time actor Mackenzie Phillips; and his brother, Malcolm In The Middle actor Christopher Masterson.
Actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who has become one of the church’s most vocal opponents on social media and through a TV series she hosted featuring dissident ex-members, sat in the front row of the courtroom in support of Masterson’s accusers.
Because the investigation that led to Masterson’s two trials did not begin until about 15 years later, there will be no direct or forensic evidence that he drugged the women, Mr Mueller said.
But he said he will call an analyst from the police toxicology unit, “who will tell you how some of the most common drug-facilitated sexual assaults, how some of the most common date rape drugs work, how quickly they’re metabolised, what side effects look like”, Mr Mueller said.
The drugging allegations had echoes of the trial of Bill Cosby, where women testified to similar experiences.
Cosby’s conviction after two trials of his own was permanently thrown out by Pennsylvania’s highest court.
Mr Mueller spent much of his presentation on Masterson’s longtime girlfriend, an actor and model who he says will testify that their relationship had allegedly grown increasingly physically and sexually abusive before he allegedly raped her in December of 2001.
“After dinner, she recalls getting up to leave, and she has absolutely no memory after that,” Mr Mueller said.
“That’s the last thing she remembers until she wakes up the next afternoon, in bed, naked and alone.”
He said she will allege that Masterson laughed as he admitted to having had sex with her when she was unconscious.
Only five of 12 jurors voted to find Masterson guilty on this count in the first trial.
Even fewer voted guilty on the other two.
The District Attorney’s Office nonetheless decided to proceed with a second trial, and the women agreed to give evidence again.
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been sexually assaulted.
Mr Mueller also told jurors that the women did not immediately go to authorities because they were told not to by officials in the Church of Scientology, and they were told what happened to them was not rape.
Masterson is a prominent member of the church.
All three women are former members.
The church said in a statement after the women’s evidence in the first trial that it “has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of Scientologists, or of anyone, to law enforcement. Quite the opposite. Church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land”.