Church of Scientology investigates actor Danny Masterson’s rape case

Both parties agree on one thing: the Church of Scientology is not on trial.

Yet when prosecutors and actor Danny Masterson’s defense team met recently in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for a final meeting before Masterson’s rape trial, much of the legal wrangling concerned the role the controversial religion would play in the proceedings.

Masterson’s attorneys wanted Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo to bar all mention of Scientology throughout the trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday. Dist. Deputy Atty. Reinhold Mueller argued that he should have carte blanche to invoke Scientology.

Masterson, a Scientologist, is accused of raping three women between 2001 and 2003. The women allege he doused them with alcohol and sexually assaulted them in his Hollywood Hills home.

The women were also members of Scientology and allege church officials tried to stop them from reporting Masterson to the police.

One accuser testified that when she reported the rape to Scientology officials, she was told “not to use the ‘R’ word.” Another testified that a Scientology attorney came to her home and warned her that she would be expelled from the church; she went to authorities about Masterson.

“We’re going to figure out how you can’t lose your daughter,” the attorney told the woman’s father, according to his testimony.

“The trial is not about Scientology. The lawsuit concerns Danny Masterson. But that being said, the facts of what happened, why certain things happened, who was involved…it’s so intertwined that parts of the trial will necessarily have to involve Scientology,” said Brian Kent, who represents Masterson’s accusers in a civil case. lawsuit they filed against the church and Masterson.

Masterson, who rose to fame for his role on the popular sitcom “That ’70s Show,” faces decades in prison if convicted of raping women.

At a preliminary hearing last year, each of the women testified, recounting the alleged attacks in graphic detail. One said Masterson threatened her with a gun as he raped her as she passed out and lost consciousness.

“You’re not going to tell anyone,” she remembers telling him.

Another accuser said she woke up to Masterson, her boyfriend at the time, penetrating her. When she tried to stop him by pulling his hair, he punched her in the face, she testified.

The Times does not name victims of alleged sexual assaults unless they choose to identify themselves.

Scientology practices were scrutinized during the preliminary hearing. Masterson’s accusers testified on a range of topics, including the religion’s ‘international justice chief’, described as the church’s ultimate authority, and ‘wog law’, a term the church disdainfully used to refer to the police and courts of the secular world.

But it wasn’t in front of a jury.

With impressionable jurors set to determine Masterson’s fate, his lawyer Phillip Cohen argued during the hearing earlier this month that the actor’s closeness to much-maligned religion would be used to paint him as guilty by association.

“It’s dishonest to say the government doesn’t judge Scientology,” Cohen told Olmedo. He added that being forced to fight for Scientology doctrine would make the trial an unfair ‘war on two fronts’ and suggested the judge only allow non-specific references to ‘the church’ .

Prosecutors countered that Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, is fundamental to everything the women have experienced and should be mentioned by name at trial.

“It’s about their whole life being wrapped up in this church,” Mueller said during the Oct. 3 hearing. “If they don’t follow certain policies…they lose their whole life.

“It’s not as simple as not talking about Scientology,” he added, saying jurors would be confused if the prosecution simply referred to Scientology as the church.

Prosecutors also asked the judge for permission to call a former Scientologist to testify as an expert witness on the structure of the organization and how it operates.

Olmedo found common ground in his decision.

Saying the Church’s “tentacles” undeniably touch many facets of the trial, she ruled out the prosecution’s proposed expert, but said religion was relevant. She rejected Cohen’s argument that he should not be named because of negative opinions jurors might have.

“Evidence presented in criminal cases often involves topics that many people view with disdain, including gangs, guns and violence,” Olmedo said. “The fact that an individual has a negative view of a particular subject does not, in and of itself, render him unfit to serve as a juror.”

Accusers can explain how Scientology tricked them into delaying reporting their sexual assaults to police, Olmedo said. She added that they could tell jurors they believed church policy prohibited reporting crimes committed by other Scientologists to law enforcement.

The Church of Scientology declined to comment on the pending criminal case, but said the religion has no policy against reporting crimes committed by Scientologists to law enforcement.

“Church policy explicitly requires Scientologists to follow all laws of the land,” spokeswoman Karin Pouw said.

The court is performing a balancing act, leaving references to Scientology where needed to give context, while not allowing the case to turn into a trial within a trial, said Lou Shapiro, defense attorney and former Los Angeles County public defender. .

“Judges are reluctant to let trials go down rabbit holes,” Shapiro said.

Olmedo compared the case to the 2011 rape prosecution of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormonism branching principles were admitted at trial to provide context for why a 15-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl submitted to rape at the hands of Jeffs, Olmedo said.

According to a list of potential witnesses filed in court, prosecutors plan to call Brie Shaffer, an actress and high-profile Scientologist who has defended Masterson on social media in the past. They can also call Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley, a Scientologist who reportedly left the church in 2014.

Mike Rinder, a former high-ranking member who left the church in 2007, said Scientologists involved in other criminal cases have been moved by church officials outside the jurisdiction of a court to prevent them from testifying.

“There are certain people who are apparently an integral part of the events … and I wonder if they will appear at trial,” Rinder said.

The three women alleging Masterson raped them are also plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology in 2019. They say they were harassed and stalked by Scientology after reporting Masterson to police. The trial will move forward after the criminal trial.

The women allege that Scientology representatives followed them, came to their homes and searched their trash cans in an attempt to intimidate them.

One of them says in the lawsuit that her dog may have been poisoned to death by church officials.

Masterson’s attorneys fought to keep the civil case’s harassment and harassment allegations out of the criminal trial.

“The only thing the jury could use this evidence to really consider would be an emotional bias in convicting Mr. Masterson based on the conduct of this alleged, unindicted co-defendant of the Church,” said Karen Goldstein, another Masterson lawyer. October 3 hearing.

Goldstein noted that prosecutors gave the defense a photo of the “admittedly…very cute little dog.”

Olmedo decided there should be no mention of the dog. Women, she decided, can speak in general terms about the harassment or alleged harassment, but they cannot go into the details of specific incidents.

Times writers James Queally and Matthew Ormseth contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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