Brian Melley and Andrew Dalton, AP
A prosecutor has described rape allegations by three women against That ’70s Show actor Danny Masterson from two decades ago.
In his opening statement in Masterson’s trial, deputy district attorney Reinhold Mueller said two women became woozy or passed out after a couple of drinks and were placed in his hot tub.
Los Angeles Superior Court heard one of the women said Masterson dragged her to his bed where she regained consciousness to find him having sex with her.
A third woman said she woke up to find him on top of her.
Masterson’s lawyer said the reason the allegations had so much in common is that the alleged victims violated a detective’s warning not to speak with each other and had “cross-pollinated” their accounts and undermined their credibility.
Defence lawyer Phillip Cohen told the court: “If you speak to each other you will contaminate this case.
“Speaking to each other and other witnesses is fatal to a case.”
Masterson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of forcible rape between 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood home, which functioned as a social hub when he was at the height of his fame.
Mr Cohen urged the jurors not to consider Masterson’s affiliation with the Church of Scientology and its relationship to the case, while Mr Mueller said that it helped explain why the women – all former members of the church – waited so long to report the incidents.
Two of the alleged victims first went to the church to report what happened to them and were told it was not rape, and that reporting it to authorities or telling others about it would end with them being ostracised by their closest friends and even family members.
“You essentially become an enemy of the church,” Mr Mueller said. “You lose it all.”
Mr Cohen said the case had nothing to do with the religion and he repeatedly objected when it was brought up.
Superior Court Judge Charlaine F Olmedo sternly reminded the lawyers that Scientology would not dominate the trial.
The trial’s witness list is full of members and former members of the church, which has a strong presence in Los Angeles and has counted many famous figures among its members.
The list includes former member Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley and former wife of Michael Jackson, a friend of one of the alleged victims.
Two of the women connected and shared stories and filed a police report in 2016. Another woman went to police in 2017 after telling her story to her husband, who helped her understand she had been raped, the court heard.
Mr Cohen said the heart of Masterson’s defence was a “sizzle reel of inconsistencies” between what the women initially said and how their accounts changed over time.
If convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.
From 1998 until 2006, Masterson starred as Steven Hyde on Fox’s That ’70s Show, which made stars of Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace and is getting an upcoming Netflix reboot with That ’90s Show.
Masterson had reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix comedy The Ranch but was written off the show when an LAPD investigation was revealed in December 2017.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800-77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help.
In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.