Scientology looms large as jurors to decide Danny Masterson’s fate in second rape trial

Two people walk away from a gate outside a building.
Danny Masterson leaves court alongside his wife, Bijou Phillips, after a hearing in his criminal trial on rape charges in Los Angeles.
(Brian Melley / Associated Press)

Each of the women who have accused Danny Masterson of raping them in the early 2000s said they feared two things: the once-beloved sitcom actor’s violent outbursts and the life-altering consequences they might face for opposing the powerful Church of Scientology.

The controversial faith is not a defendant in Masterson’s second trial on rape charges. But its doctrines, the behavior of its members and even a church attorney have loomed over two weeks of testimony.

“Like all predators, the defendant carefully sought out his prey. ... Most of his victims are members of the Church of Scientology, and that makes sense,” Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ariel Anson said in her closing argument Tuesday. “The church tells his victims: ‘Rape isn’t rape. You cause this. And above all, you can’t go to law enforcement.’”


Scientology officials say the church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct to law enforcement.

It has been almost six years since Masterson was first publicly accused of sexually assaulting three women in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003, during the height of his fame from playing the mercurial Steven Hyde on “That ‘70s Show.”

The accusers — identified in court as Chrissy B., Jen B. and N. Trout — all described growing dizzy and discombobulated after being served drinks by Masterson, who they allege proceeded to grope and ultimately rape them while they slipped in and out of consciousness.

Chrissy B. was Masterson’s longtime girlfriend. She testified to repeated abuse and said Masterson would often start having sex with her while she was asleep. The lone charged incident the jury must decide allegedly occurred in November 2001, when Chrissy B. said she tried to stop Masterson from doing that and fought back, resulting in the actor striking her and forcing himself on her while she repeatedly said “no” and resisted.

For the record:

7:57 a.m. May 17, 2023An earlier version of this article reported that Danny Masterson was charged with drugging and raping his ex-girlfriend, identified in court as Chrissy B., in December 2001. While the woman did make that allegation and it was extensively discussed at trial, the charged offense against Masterson stems from conduct alleged in November 2001.

Jen B. and N. Trout alleged they were brutalized and assaulted at Masterson’s swank residence after nights out drinking with him in Hollywood. Jen B. accused Masterson of holding a gun and suffocating her with a pillow during the attack.

Trout alleged Masterson assaulted her so forcefully she threw up in her own mouth and later begged him to at least put a condom on if he was “not going to stop,” Anson said.


Masterson has denied all wrongdoing. He did not testify at either trial, and his defense team did not present any witnesses in the recent proceeding. Defense attorneys Phillip Cohen and Shawn Holley have largely relied on cross-examination and argument to try to undermine each accuser’s credibility.

On Tuesday, Cohen meticulously outlined discrepancies between the women’s testimony in court and their statements to police, while repeatedly noting prosecutors have no corroborating witnesses for any of the assaults or forensic evidence to prove Masterson drugged them.

He questioned why Chrissy B. had consensual sex and shared a hotel room with Masterson after the rape.

And he asked: “Why have we heard so much about Scientology? Could it be that there are so many other problems with the government’s case?”

Prosecutors are expected to complete their rebuttal of Cohen’s closing on Wednesday morning, and then the case will be turned over to the jury.

Masterson met each woman through the church. Each woman has alleged that Scientology officials either told them they weren’t raped or barred them from reporting the assaults to police.


People affiliated with the church have at times argued with critics of Scientology in the hallway outside the courtroom. Prominent former Scientologist Leah Remini has made multiple appearances in support of the accusers.

A Scientology group that says it is fighting discrimination against the church began attacking Remini on Twitter after news of her presence at opening arguments became public last month. Some reporters covering the trial have said the church has “targeted” them.

And last week, accusers and prosecutors began to make allegations of impropriety against a church attorney.

First, one of the accusers said Vicki Podberesky, who is serving as Scientology’s outside counsel, made gestures from the gallery meant to intimidate her.

Days later, Deputy Dist. Atty. Reinhold Mueller said Podberesky had come into possession of a “large quantity of the people’s discovery,” which she attached to an emailed complaint to high-level officials in the district attorney’s office regarding the conduct of an LAPD witness.

“It’s text messages that we had redacted and turned over to the defense between law enforcement and the complaining victims,” he said.


Mueller called the incident “extremely troubling.” Cohen denied giving the information to Podberesky and said he had “no idea” how it came into her possession.

In an email to The Times, Podberesky said that she legally obtained the materials and that they were not subject to a protective order.

“There is no impropriety and there was no ‘leak’ as suggested by the prosecutor. The discovery was legally and properly obtained,” she said. “The materials sent ... solely deal with false claims of stalking and harassment by the Church and/or its agents and show there is no evidence to support these false allegations.”

Podberesky did not respond to a question about how she obtained the materials, or if they were connected to a civil lawsuit brought by the accusers. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo issued a protective order on the materials last week and will hold a hearing after the trial to determine whether there was any issue with Podberesky’s possession of the discovery.

Critics of the church were furious to learn one of its attorneys had documents related to the accusers.

“Scientology has no reason to have criminal discovery materials in its possession. No reason at all,” Remini, who attended closing arguments in support of Jen B., said on Twitter last week.


The email from Podberesky also disclosed that she met with Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore to discuss concerns about potential bias against the church from within the department.

She made complaints about the two lead detectives on the case, Javier Vargas and Esther Myape, according to Mueller.

Capt. Kelly Muniz, an LAPD spokeswoman, said Podberesky’s complaint sparked an internal investigation. The meeting with Moore took place on April 24, according to Muniz, who would not say why Moore sat down with the lawyer.

After the complaint was filed, Myape expressed concern about testifying, Mueller said.

Muniz said Tuesday the department had also launched an internal investigation to determine whether LAPD personnel played a role in providing the discovery documents to Podberesky.

Karin Pouw, the church’s lead spokeswoman, dismissed the entire ordeal as an attempt to tie the church to the criminal case.

“The D.A.’s attempt to create an issue of a purported ‘leak’ is just a further example of harassment of the church. There is and was no impropriety other than the D.A. mischaracterizing what has occurred and attempting to insert the church where it does not belong,” Pouw said.


“Numerous false reports have been filed with the LAPD by the Jane Does falsely alleging church harassment,” she said, “and the D.A. has elicited false testimony regarding harassment. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support these claims.”

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said she could not comment on a pending case.

The Los Angeles Police Department began investigating claims against Masterson in 2016, starting a case that eventually led prosecutors to charge the actor with three counts of rape in 2020.

A year before his arrest, the women filed a lawsuit against Masterson and the church accusing him of conspiring with Scientology to intimidate them into silence. That civil case is still pending.

Jurors deadlocked in November after Masterson’s first criminal trial, and a majority of the 12-member panel said they would have voted to acquit him. The second trial has lasted a little more than two weeks, and the testimony has largely remained the same since the women first took the stand against him in a 2021 preliminary hearing.

The prosecution’s case in the second trial has focused on the idea that Masterson drugged the women before assaulting them. Each of the accusers — as well as a so-called prior bad acts witness who says Masterson assaulted her at a film wrap party in Toronto in 2000 — described growing woozy and nauseous after being handed a drink by the actor. Not long after, each woman testified, Masterson isolated and assaulted them.


Cohen has pointed out there is no forensic evidence that anyone was drugged and noted that all but one of the women waited more than a decade to report their alleged assault to law enforcement.

Each woman expressed fear of being labeled a “suppressive person” by Scientology if they went against the church or Masterson. Such a label was tantamount to excommunication, an extreme concern as most of the accusers’ relatives are also Scientologists, prosecutors said.

The church has repeatedly denied its doctrines bar members from reporting to police. But when Olmedo ordered Masterson to stand trial after the 2021 preliminary hearing, she ruled that Scientology has “an expressly written doctrine” that “not only discourages, but prohibits” its members from reporting one another to police.