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Danny Masterson sentenced to 30 years in prison for rape as victims denounce Scientology
The judge verbally dismantled the former 'That '70s Show' star's defense and told him he's guilty before ordering him to spend at least 30 years in prison.
Actor and Scientologist Danny Masterson was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in prison for raping two women in 2003 in a three-hour hearing that included sharp condemnations of the Church of Scientology by the victims.
Masterson, wearing a dark suit and a thick beard, did not speak before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo imposed the sentence. He blew a kiss to his wife, Bijou Phillips, before bailiffs led him out of the courtroom.
Before announcing the sentence, the judge verbally dismantled Masterson’s defense and told him he’s guilty.
“Mr. Masterson, you are not the victim here. Your actions 20 years ago took away another person’s choice and voice. Your actions 20 years ago were criminal, and that’s why you are here,” Olmedo said.
Olmedo told Masterson she knows he’s wondering “how you can be convicted” of a sexual incident “occurring 20 years ago” involving “a woman who you believe is disgruntled and has a vendetta against you.”
But, Olmedo said, “you were not convicted on the testimony of one person.”
“You were not convicted based on rumors, innuendo, gossip and speculation,” Olmedo said. “You were convicted based on evidence that 12 people in the community found to be credible. … You were convicted because each of the victims reported the rapes to someone shortly after the rapes occurred.”
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Olmedo also mentioned that Masterson paid one of his victims nearly $1 million to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which she said “is an awful lot to pay” for an incident you claim never happened.
The judge quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”
Masterson’s lawyer Phil Cohen noted in his argument that 30 years to life doesn’t mean 30 years, it means Masterson is elgible for his first parole hearing after he serves 30 years.
Prosecutors spoke outside the courthouse after sentencing. Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said 47-year-old Masterson could be eligible for release after fewer than 30 years under California’s compassionate release option for elderly inmates.
Phillips, wearing sunglasses, wept in the beginning of the hearing but appeared to maintain her composure afterward.
Masterson’s lawyers, Philip Cohen and Shawn Holley, asked for Masterson’s sentences to be concurrent instead of consecutive, which would have given him 15 years, but Olmedo declined.
Holley told Judge Olmedo that Masterson’s life “will be most significantly impacted by what your honor does today” as well as “the life of his nine-year-old daughter, who means the world to him, to whom he means the world.”
One of his victims told Masterson in a victim-impact statement, “You relish in hurting women. It is your addiction. It is without question your favorite thing to do.”
“You lived your life behind a mask, as two people. But the real one sits here now. … You are pathetic, disturbed and extremely violent, and the world is safer with you in prison,” said the victim, who has publicly identified herself by her full name, Niesha Trout.
She closed by telling Masterson she forgives him.
“Life is precious and fragile. Find your heart … Earn something. Read books. Listen to the brightness of nothing, and get well. I forgive you,” Trout said. (Meghann’s note: This quote has been updated based on this tweet from Trout.)
She also said, “When you raped me, you stole from me. That is what rape is: A theft of the spirit.” She said Masterson “lessened my capacity for joy.”
“You made every part of me turn on myself,” Trout said, adding “the rape deformed my capacity to trust others.”
Trout said the Church of Scientology was Masterson’s “enabler and protector,” and she was a “brain-washed member” for seven years. The Church knew “you had been raping its members but made concerted efforts to not only punish the victims for being assaulted by you,” she said, but to also cover up the rapes.
Trout said she’s “had my privacy invaded daily by the Cult of Scientology.”
Actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini, who recently sued Scientology for alleged stalking and defamation, attended the hearing and was seen speaking with the victims afterward.
Victim Jennifer B. addressed allegations that Remini persuaded the women to falsely accuse Masterson, saying in her 20-minute victim-impact statement, “Sorry, Leah’s not behind this.”
Masterson has been in custody since May 31 after a jury convicted him of two counts of forcible rape for 20-year-old attacks that the victims said followed him giving them alcoholic drinks that made them feel disoriented. Jurors deadlocked 8-4 in favor of guilty on a third charge. The first trial late 2022 ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked in favor of not guilty on each count.
His lawyers promised to appeal his convictions and sentence.
At the time of the rapes, Masterson was one of the biggest stars on TV, playing Steven Hyde in That ‘70s Show from 1998 to 2006. He later played Jameson “Rooster” Bennett on the Netflix series The Ranch.
In her sentencing argument on Thursday, Holley said Masterson has always been a productive person, starting with his child acting career.
“When these charges caused him to lose his jobs in television, he moved out of Hollywood, bought a farm and made a living,” Holley said. “Danny has aways worked. He’s always been productive. … Rehabilitation has clearly already occurred.”
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said Holley’s argument missed the mark, and that 15 years to life in prison is not just sentence. Masterson repeatedly chose to rape women, and as a sex crimes prosecutor for 11 years, Muller said he understands that rape “has a profound impact.”
“This is long shadow that’s cast for victims of forcible rape that they carry with them essentially forever. And it is devastating to their lives,” Mueller said. “This is a long-lasting punishment.”
Mueller dismissed suggestions that Masterson being a good husband and father warrants a lesser sentence.
“How many times have we heard that?” Mueller asked. “That dos not preclude one from becoming a violent serial rapist, which this defendant is.”
Masterson’s family and friends wrote letters to Olmedo that Holley referenced on Thursday. She said they describe how Masterson became a father figure to his younger siblings. Holley said they submitted 50 letters from people discussing Masterson’s kindness and generosity.
The two trials focused heavily on the Church of Scientology, which is recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization by the Internal Revenue Service but has long been dogged by claims that it’s a cult, including from former members.
Masterson is a lifelong member whose mother, Hollywood talent agent Carol Masterson, has been a member for decades. She was in court on Thursday, as were Masterson’s younger brothers Christopher Masterson, who played eldest brother Francis on the TV show Malcolm in the Middle, and Jordan Masterson, who played in Mark in the movie The 40-year-old Virgin. Their sister Alanna Masterson, who was Tara Chambler on the TV show The Walking Dead, also was in court.
The victims allege Scientologists have been stalking and harassing them for reporting Masterson to police. Judge Olmedo allowed them to testify to that in trial but cautioned each jury that the testimony was to be considered not for the truth of the matter but to establish state of mind.
The second trial focused more on Scientology: Olmedo allowed former high-ranking Scientologist Claire Headley to testify for prosecutors as an expert witness about Scientology and its approach to criminal justice. Her testimony supported the victims’ testimony about the scrutiny and discouragement they faced within the Church when they first reported being raped by Masterson.
The second trial also had much more commotion involving Scientologists and Scientologist, including a hallway confrontation that resulted in jurors being sequestered during lunch and taken out a back exit at the end of each trial day.
Like Trout, Jennifer B. was a Church of Scientology member who met Masterson through Scientology. She first reported her rape to police in 2004.
Jennifer spoke Thursday about her mother’s loyalty to the Church of Scientology and how she told her daughter not to bring the Church into her allegations against Masterson. She now has no contact with her mother, saying that while she believes she’s still alive, in her mind, she’s dead. Jennifer said the rape occurred on April 25, 2003, which was her father’s birthday. He died a few days later.
“I didn’t chose to be born into Scientology and their rules, just like I didn’t choose to be raped by Danny Masterson,” Jennifer said.
She said Masterson “just laughed at my suffering.”
“I still remember him saying he was afraid I’d knock over the lamp on his night stand, and that he loved that lamp,” she said. Jennifer testified in trial that she saw a handgun in the nightstand drawer when Masterson opened it.
Jennifer testified that Masterson forced her into a shower before raping her, which she said Thursday still haunt her.
“I can’t shower in peace,” she said. “My husband knows better than to even come into the bathroom when I shower.”
Jennifer signed a disclosure agreement in 2004 when Masterson was represented by prominent Hollywood power lawyer Marty Singer.
The document included Jennifer’s then-nine-year-old daughter’s full name but used an alias for Masterson. Years later, Singer notified Jennifer that she was breaching the non-disclosure agreement.
“I’m here to say that I did not govern myself accordingly,” Jennifer said on Thursday. She said the years-long investigation “wasn’t easy.”
“It’s been filled with attempts to silence us all, to intimidate us and even obstruct,” Jennifer said. But, she said, “This is a real court. This is not the Celebrity Centre”
Trout also spoke for about 10 minutes on Thursday, “After you raped me, I stopped living and was in full-blown survival mode 24/7,” she said. She told him it’s important for him to know because “I know you take pride in hurting women, that you never took my integrity.”
She said Masterson’s attack “hijacked” her life, ruined her acting career and left her with debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Olmedo said in August that all women would be allowed to give victim impact statements at sentencing, including the alleged victim whom jurors did not convict Masterson of raping.
The decision is unusual: In disgraced Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial on the same courthouse floor, Judge Lisa Lench declined to allow victim impact statements from the prior bad acts witnesses and the four alleged victims that jurors didn’t convict Weinstein of assaulting. Famed women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred asked the appellate court to intervene, but the court didn’t address her request prior to Weinstein’s sentencing, then rejected it outright.
But in Masterson’s case, Olmedo said the victims’ rights law Marsy’s Law allows for anyone who was a charged victim to speak at a defendant’s sentencing, regardless of whether the jury convicted.
That allowed for Masterson’s former girlfriend of six years, Chrissie Carnell-Bixler, to speak on Thursday. She’s been identified in court as Christina B., but she’s also publicly identified herself as a “rape and cult survivor” and is currently suing Masterson and the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles County Superior Court under her full name.
An Alabama native, Carnell-Bixler moved to Los Angeles for her modeling career and met Masterson at a party Revlon hosted for her in 1996 after she secured a modeling contract with Cindy Crawford. She moved in with Masterson’s shortly after, and she testified that everything was great for the first year of their relationship until Masterson began acting sexually aggressive. Her husband, The Mars Volta singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, testified in both trials about a difficult conversation he had with his wife in which he told her that what she was describing was Masterson raping her.
The couple’s lawsuit against Masterson and the Church of Scientology reached the nation’s highest court last year, with the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 3 declining the Church’s petition to review a California appellate court ruling that said Carnell-Bixler wasn’t bound by the church’s arbitration requirements.
Before N.T. spoke on Monday, Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson read aloud a written statement from Carnell-Bixler, who attended the hearing with her husband. She first thanked Olmedo for allowing her to speak at sentencing: “You’ll never know how much this means to me, and my hope is that it helps me and my family.”
Carnell-Bixler said the fact that people have difficulty believing she would stay in such a bad relationship was at the forefront of her mind when she spoke to police and prosecutors. She also said her friends persuaded her to stay with Masterson after she hid from him in a friend’s room for two hours the day after she said he raped her.
“Mr. Masterson was very charming. So charming, in fact, that he the convinced my roommates that perhaps what he had done to me the night before wasn’t so bad,” the statement said. Her roommates told him “how sweet he is” and how romantic it was for him to wait for her for so long, so she should “give him a chance, apologize to him.”
“So I abandoned my intuition and did just that,” she said. Carnell-Bixler said rape “damages you on a cellular level.”
“I was extremely naive and trusting,” her statement said. After committing to Masterson, she said she was “stripped” of her family, friends and her career.
“I believed him when he called me stupid, untalented, embarrassing, trash,” the statement said. “I believed him, but I never stopped making him try to be proud of me. … When he was kind to me, it gave me hope … Maybe if I can just endure…maybe he can return” to the person she thought he was.
Before sentencing, Judge Olmedo considered a motion for new trial that Masterson’s lawyers filed on Tuesday.
Appellate lawyer Ben Coleman of San Diego argued on Masterson’s behalf, telling Olmedo that new case law has changed the statute of limitations regarding Masterson’s rape charges, but Olmedo disagreed and also said the motion asked her to overturn another superior court judge’s decision, which she can’t do.
Olmedo also heard a request from the victims’ lawyers regarding a discovery leak the judge addressed back in June with Masterson’s former lawyers. Tom Mesereau and Sharon Appelbaum.
Olmedo sanctioned both Mesereau and Appelbaum $950 for leaking discovery in the case, including information about the victims, to the Church of Scientology. Prosecutors learned of the leak when Scientology’s outside counsel Vicki Podberesky emailed the office complaining about the Masterson case and included link to a trove of confidential discovery.
Mesereau and Applebaum abandoned their appeal of the sanctions on Wednesday. On Thursday, the victims’ attorneys asked for copies of the leaked discovery “so the victims … can know what was compromised and therefore plan accordingly to protect themselves.” Olmedo told the attorneys to talk with prosecutors and she’ll take the issue up again later.
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