LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge on Friday said “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson must stand trial on three counts of rape.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo made the determination in the fourth day of a preliminary hearing where the prosecution laid out its evidence.
That included dramatic and emotional testimony from three women who took the stand to say that Masterson raped them in 2001 and 2003.
Olmedo said she found the women’s testimony credible for the purposes of a preliminary hearing, where the bar for sufficient evidence is much lower than at trial.
Masterson has denied the charges. His attorney, Thomas Mesereau, said Masterson had consensual sex with the women and that he would prove his client’s innocence. Mesereau declined to comment on the judge’s decision outside court.
During the hearing, Mesereau repeatedly challenged the women on discrepancies in their stories in the years since they said they were raped and suggested that the prosecution was tainted by anti-religious bias against the Church of Scientology.
Masterson is a prominent Scientologist, all three women are former Scientologists and the church and its teachings came up constantly during testimony.
The judge said she found the women’s explanations credible that church teachings kept them from reporting their accusations to police for years.
The 45-year-old actor has been free on bail since his June arrest. He is charged with three counts of rape by force or fear and could get up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
The forthcoming trial represents the rare prosecution of a Hollywood figure in the #MeToo era despite dozens of investigations by police and the Los Angeles district attorney, most of which have ended without charges.
The allegations happened at the height of Masterson’s fame, when he starred as Steven Hyde on Fox TV’s retro sitcom “That ’70s Show” from 1998 to 2006 alongside Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace.
He had reunited with Kutcher on the Netflix Western sitcom “The Ranch” when the LAPD investigation of him was revealed in March 2017. The news did not have immediate career repercussions for Masterson, but later in the year, after allegations against Harvey Weinstein shook Hollywood, he was written off the show.