‘That ‘70s Show’ actor Danny Masterson gets 30 years to life in prison for rapes of 2 women

The judge handed down the sentence to Masterson after hearing statements from the women. (CANN, KACB, KCBS, KCAL, FOX, GETTY IMAGES, CNN, KCBS/KCAL)
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 5:31 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2023 at 7:42 PM CDT
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge sentenced “That ‘70s Show” show star Danny Masterson to 30 years to life in prison Thursday for raping two women, giving them some relief after they spoke in court about the decades of damage he inflicted.

“When you raped me, you stole from me,” said one woman who Masterson was convicted of raping in 2003. “That’s what rape is, a theft of the spirit.”

“You are pathetic, disturbed and completely violent,” she said. “The world is better off with you in prison.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo handed down the sentence to the 47-year-old Masterson after hearing statements from the women, and pleas for fairness from defense attorneys.

The actor, who has been in custody since May, sat in court wearing a suit. Masterson watched the women without visible reaction as they spoke. He maintains his innocence and his attorneys plan to appeal.

The other woman Masterson was found guilty of raping said he “has not shown an ounce of remorse for the pain he caused.” She told the judge, “I knew he belonged behind bars for the safety of all the women he came into contact with. I am so sorry, and I’m so upset. I wish I’d reported him sooner to the police.”

After an initial jury failed to reach verdicts on three counts of rape in December and a mistrial was declared, prosecutors retried Masterson on all three counts earlier this year.

Masterson waived his right to speak before he was sentenced and had no visible reaction after the judge’s decision, nor did the many family members sitting beside him. His wife, actor Bijou Phillips, was tearful earlier in the hearing.

At his second trial, a jury found Masterson guilty of two of three rape counts on May 31. Both attacks took place in Masterson’s Hollywood-area home in 2003, when he was at the height of his fame on the Fox network sitcom “That ‘70s Show.”

They could not reach a verdict on the third count, an allegation that Masterson also raped a longtime girlfriend.

The judge sentenced the actor after rejecting a defense motion for a new trial that was argued earlier Thursday. The sentence was the maximum allowed by law. It means Masterson will be eligible for parole after serving 25 1/2 years, but can be held in prison for life.

“I know that you’re sitting here steadfast in your claims of innocence, and thus no doubt feeling victimized by a justice system that has failed you,” Olmedo told Masterson before handing down the sentence. “But Mr. Masterson, you are not the victim here. Your actions 20 years ago took away another person’s voice, and choice. One way or another you will have to come to terms with your prior actions, and their consequences.”

The defense sought to have sentences for the two convictions run simultaneously, and asked for a sentence of 15 years to life. The prosecution asked for the full 30 years to life sentence Masterson was eligible for.

“It’s his life that will be impacted by what you decide today,” Masterson’s lawyer Shawn Holley told the judge before the sentencing. “And the life of his 9-year-old daughter, who means the world to him, and to whom he means the world.”

After the hearing, Holley said in a statement that “Mr. Masterson did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted.” She said a team of appellate lawyers has identified “a number of significant evidentiary and constitutional issues” with his convictions, which they are confident will be overturned.

Prosecutors alleged that Masterson used his prominence in the Church of Scientology — where all three women were also members at the time — to avoid consequences for decades after the attacks, and the women blamed the church for their hesitancy in going to police about Masterson.

At the sentencing hearing, one of the women, who like Masterson was born into the church, said she was shunned and ostracized for going to authorities in 2004.

“I lost everything. I lost my religion. I lost my ability to contact anyone I’d known or loved my entire life,” she said. “I didn’t exist outside the Scientology world. I had to start my life all over at 29. It seemed the world I knew didn’t want me to live.”

The church said in a statement after the trial that it has “no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of anyone — Scientologists or not — to law enforcement.” It has also denied ever harassing any of the women.

No charges came from the woman’s 2004 police report, but she returned to authorities when she learned they were investigating Masterson again in 2016. The other two women had waited more than 15 years before reporting him to anyone other than church officials.

The women testified at both trials that in 2003, they were at Masterson’s home when he drugged them before violently raping them.

They said Thursday that the trauma plagued them for the decades that followed, hurting their relationships and filling their lives with fear. But they said his sentencing gave them some relief.

“I don’t have to carry your shame around with me anymore,” the first woman who spoke said. “Now you have to hold that shame. You have to sit in a cell and hold it.”

Masterson starred with Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Topher Grace in “That ‘70s Show” from 1998 until 2006.

He had reunited with Kutcher on the 2016 Netflix comedy “The Ranch,” but was written off the show when the Los Angeles Police Department investigation was revealed the following year.

While that investigation began before a wave of women shook Hollywood with stories about Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the conviction and sentencing of Masterson still represents a major #MeToo era success for Los Angeles prosecutors, along with the conviction of Weinstein himself last year.