At a pretrial hearing in Danny Masterson’s rape case last week, Judge Charlaine Olmedo laid down a basic ground rule.
“This will not be a lawsuit against Scientology,” she said.
But the role of the church will still be a key issue in the trial, which begins Tuesday with jury selection. Masterson, the 46-year-old former That ’70s Show star, is facing three counts of violent rape and a possible life sentence of 45 years.
Masterson is a Scientologist and all three of his accusers were members of the Church at the time of the alleged assaults. Olmedo has indicated that she will allow some testimony about Scientology and its practices, particularly to the extent that it helps explain why prosecutors have delayed going to the police — for two of them by more than a decade.
At a preliminary hearing in May 2021, all three said they feared breaking church rules and being cut off from their faith community.
“If you have a legal position, you are not allowed to work it outside of the Church,” testified one of the accusers, identified in the trial as N. Trout. “You will be excommunicated.”
Another accuser, Jen B., said she was concerned about being labeled a “suppressive person” if she went to the LAPD.
“My parents would have to disown me,” she said. “My friends, everyone I knew would disown me. I couldn’t talk to them… I could be lied to, cheated, stolen, hurt, or destroyed.”
At the preliminary hearing, one of Masterson’s attorneys, Sharon Appelbaum, argued that the three accusers formed a “sisterhood” to try to bring down both Masterson and Scientology. She pointed to the involvement of Leah Remini, an ex-Scientologist who investigated the case against Masterson in her A&E documentary series.
The defense has also argued that the women lie about consensual encounters because they want to enforce a civil judgment. The three accusers filed a lawsuit against Masterson and the church in 2019, alleging they were victims of “fair game” attacks after going to the police. After three years of legal wrangling over whether the case should be decided by church arbitration, the US Supreme Court last week denied the church’s appeal in the case, and the case will be heard in civil court.
One of the accusers, Jen B., also received a few hundred thousand dollars in 2004 as a settlement for her rape allegation.
Olmedo has predicted the criminal case will last less than the four weeks allotted and has tried to focus on the three alleged rapes.
One of the accusers, Chrissie Carnell Bixler, dated Masterson for about six years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In November 2001, she claims that she awoke to find Masterson penetrating her. She decided to fight back and grabbed his hair, after which she claimed he punched her in the face. After she pulled him off, he claims he spat at her and called her “white trash.”
Jen B. claims she went to Masterson’s house in April 2003. She testified at the preliminary hearing that he gave her an alcoholic drink and then threw her into a hot tub. Afterwards she felt like throwing up. She claims Masterson took her to an upstairs bathroom, where she vomited. She then recalled that Masterson had put her in the shower and then on his bed, where she passed out.
“When I came to, he was on me and he was in me,” she testified.
She said she tried to push him away but he grabbed her by both wrists and then pulled a gun from the bedside table. “Don’t you fucking move,” he said, according to her statement.
The following year, she wrote a letter to Scientology’s International Chief Justice asking for “permission” to file a civil and criminal complaint. She also said she feared doing so would result in “losing all my friends and family who are Scientologists.”
Justice Chief Mike Ellis responded a week later, saying she had to “decide for herself” whether to file a civil suit. The letter did not address the possibility of going to the police.
“Regardless of your legal decisions, you must apply LRH technology as the ultimate solution to any problem,” wrote Ellis.
At the preliminary hearing, Jen. B stated that she understood this to mean that “I couldn’t go to the police”.
Masterson’s defense attorneys protested that the letter did not address this, arguing that Scientology doctrine does not actually prohibit members from going to the police.
Olmedo barred prosecutors from calling Claire Headley, an ex-Scientologist and church critic, to testify about the church’s teachings. So much of the theological analysis can be left to the jury.
Jen. B eventually went to the police in 2004, but the prosecutor’s office declined to press charges.
“They said they couldn’t submit him because he was a celebrity — one girl wasn’t enough,” she testified. She said she cried after the decision was made.
Years later, she was put in touch with Trout and Carnell Bixler, and they went to the LAPD, which reopened the investigation. Trout has claimed that Masterson raped her at his home sometime in late 2003.
When asked at the booth last year why she hadn’t reported the incident—even to church authorities—at the time, she explained that Masterson is a celebrity and “his status offers more to the church.”
“Everyone in the church has been made aware that certain individuals who have prominent status … need to be protected in a certain way,” she said. “They have a lot more power in terms of ethical responses from higher places in the church.”
The accusers have now told their stories many times, in police interrogations, church trials, civil trials, and in front of friends and family. The defense – now led by attorneys Philip Cohen, Karen Goldstein and Shawn Holley – is expected to attempt to uncover inconsistencies in those reports and argue that the allegations have evolved to become more violent and violent over time to become more worrying.
Prosecutors, led by Reinhold Mueller and Ariel Anson, also sought to establish up to 27 separate incidents of harassment and stalking, which prosecutors claim were in response to her decision to go to the police.
As with the preliminary hearing, Olmedo said she would allow some general statements on the subject to show the state of mind of the witnesses, but would keep it limited.
“We’re not going to start going into a whole bunch of different instances,” the judge said.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/danny-masterson-rape-trial-scientology-1235397537/ Danny Masterson’s rape trial will involve Scientology practices