Los Angeles, June 1 (IANS) Actor Danny Masterson, the actor best known for his role in 'That '70s Show', was found guilty of two counts of rape in a Los Angeles retrial in which the Church of Scientology played a central role.
The jury of seven women and five men reached the verdict after deliberating for seven days spread over two weeks. They could not reach a verdict on the third count, that alleged Masterson raped a longtime girlfriend. They had voted 8-4 in favour of conviction, reports 'The Guardian'.
Masterson was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. The 47-year-old actor faces up to 30 years in prison. His wife, actor and model Bijou Phillips, wept as he was led away. Other family and friends sat stone-faced.
Prosecutors, retrying Masterson after a deadlocked jury led to a mistrial in December, said he forcibly raped three women, including a longtime girlfriend, in his Hollywood Hills home between 2001 and 2003. They told jurors he drugged the women's drinks so he could rape them. They said he used his prominence in the church - where all three women were also members at the time - to avoid consequences for decades.
'The Guardian' further states that Masterson did not testify, and his lawyers called no witnesses. The defence argued that the acts were consensual, and attempted to discredit the women's stories by highlighting changes and inconsistencies over time, which they said showed signs of coordination between them.
"If you decide that a witness deliberately lied about something in this case," defence attorney Philip Cohen told jurors, "you should consider not believing anything that witness says."
The Church of Scientology played a significant role in the first trial but arguably an even larger one in the second. Judge Charlaine F Olmedo allowed expert testimony on church policy from a former official in Scientology leadership who has become a prominent opponent.
Tensions ran high in the courtroom between current and former Scientologists, and even leaked into testimony, with the accusers saying on the stand that they felt intimidated by some members in the room.
Actor Leah Remini, a former member who has become the church's highest-profile critic, sat in on the trial at times, putting her arm around one of the accusers to comfort her during closing arguments.