Last week, during a pre-trial hearing in the Danny Masterson rape case, Judge Charlaine Olmedo established a preliminary rule of law.
She firmly stated that the proceedings would not turn into a trial against Scientology.
But nevertheless, the trial, which starts with jury selection on Tuesday, will focus heavily on the church’s participation. The 46-year-old former “That ’70s Show” actor, Danny Masterson, is being prosecuted on three counts of forcible rape and faces a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison.
All three of Danny Masterson’s accusers were also Scientologists at the time of the alleged attacks. Olmedo has suggested that she would accept evidence on Scientology and its methods, particularly if it helps explain why the accusers waited so long to go to the police (in the cases of two of them, it was more than a decade).
Actor Danny Masterson must stand trial on 3 rape charges
All three of them expressed concern during a preliminary hearing in May 2021 about breaking church regulations and being excommunicated.
One of the accusers, identified in court documents as N. Trout, said, “If you have a legal concern, you may not address it outside of the church.” In other words, “You will be sent out.”
Jen B., a second complainant, said that she was afraid the LAPD would label her a “suppressive person” if she reported the incident to them.
She sadly said, “My parents would have to disown me.” My circle of friends and acquaintances would turn their backs on me. No words came out of my mouth as I tried to communicate with them. It’s possible that I may be the target of deception, theft, injury, or destruction.
One of Danny Masterson’s attorneys, Sharon Appelbaum, said during the preliminary hearing that the three accusers had established a “sisterhood” to bring down Masterson and Scientology. She mentioned ex-Scientologist Leah Remini, who investigated the case against Danny Masterson in her A&E documentary series, as a key player.
The defense has also claimed that the women are fabricating their accounts of consensual encounters in order to get a monetary award. After reporting to the police, the three accusers launched a lawsuit against Danny Masterson and the church in 2019. They claimed they were targets of “fair game” assaults. After three years of legal fighting, the United States Supreme Court refused the church’s appeal on the issue last week, allowing it to proceed in civil court rather than via a church-run arbitration procedure.
In 2004, Jen B., one of the accusers, obtained a settlement of several hundred thousand dollars related to her rape claim.
Olmedo believes the criminal case will be concluded in less than four weeks and has worked to maintain the attention on the three alleged rapes.
Chrissie Carnell Bixler, one of the accusers, dated Danny Masterson for about six years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She claims that in November of 2001, Danny Masterson was sleeping on top of her and piercing her when she woke up. She says that when she pulled his hair in retaliation, he punched her in the face. She claims that he spat on her and called her “white trash” when she finally got him off of her.
According to Jen B., she visited Danny Masterson at his home in April 2003. At the preliminary hearing, she stated that he had allegedly thrown her into a jacuzzi after giving her an alcoholic drink. After that, she felt sick to her stomach. She claims that Masterson took her to an upstairs restroom and left her there to throw up. After that, she recalled that Masterson had her go into the shower before putting her on his bed.
When I came to, he was on top of me and he was inside of me, she said under oath.
He allegedly grabbed both of her wrists, and she attempted to push him away, but he ended up pulling a revolver out of the nightstand. According to her testimony, he told her, “Don’t fucking move.”
She formally requested “permission” to file a civil action and criminal charges against Scientology the next year in a letter to the organization’s International Justice Chief. She also expressed concern that she’d “lose all my friends and relatives who are Scientologists” if she did so.
A week later, Mike Ellis, the head of justice, said that she should “decide for yourself” whether or not to file a civil claim. However, the letter made no mention of reporting the matter to the police.
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According to Ellis’s article, “LRH technology is the final answer to any issue,” regardless of the outcome of any legal proceedings.
According to Jennifer B’s testimony at the preliminary hearing, she interpreted it to imply, “I could not go to the police.”
Danny Masterson’s attorneys contended that the letter was inadequate because it failed to address that issue and that Scientology doctrine does not truly prohibit members from reporting to the police.
Olmedo disallowed the prosecution from bringing in ex-Scientologist and church critic Claire Headley to speak on church doctrine. Juries often have to make judgments on complex issues of law and religion.
Finally, in 2004, Jen. B. went to the police, but the District Attorney’s office decided not to press charges.
They argued they couldn’t register because he was a celebrity and that just having one female was insufficient, she said. She said that she broke down in tears after the choice was finalized.
In the intervening years, she was reunited with Trout and Carnell Bixler, who subsequently petitioned the LAPD to resume their investigation. According to Trout, Danny Masterson sexually assaulted her at his home in late 2003.
When questioned about why she did not disclose the event at the time, even to church officials, she said that since Danny Masterson is a celebrity, “his stature gives more to the church.”
It has been “made known inside the church that some persons who are of a celebrity level… are to be safeguarded in a specific manner,” she claimed. To quote one of my professors: “They have a lot more influence in terms of moral answers from the higher-ups in the church.”
Accusers have repeated their claims several times, including to the police, in church, in court, to friends and family, and elsewhere. Defense lawyers Philip Cohen, Karen Goldstein, and Shawn Holley will likely attempt to show inconsistencies in those statements and claim the charges have become more violent and unsettling over time.
The prosecution, headed by Reinhold Mueller and Ariel Anson, aimed to provide evidence of as many as 27 instances of alleged harassment and stalking, all of which the accusers claim occurred after they decided to report the defendant to law enforcement.
Olmedo, echoing her remarks from the preliminary hearing, said that she would accept limited evidence on the topic in order to demonstrate the witnesses’ mental states.
We’re not going to start going off into a whole number of other incidents, the judge said.