A judge said on Friday That 70’s show Actor Danny Masterson is on trial for three rapes.
Los Angeles District Supreme Court judge Charlaine F. Olmedo made the decision on the fourth day of a preliminary hearing at which prosecutors presented their evidence.
This included dramatic and emotional statements from three women who spoke out in favor of Masterson raping 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 the trial.
Masterson has denied the charges. His attorney, Thomas Mesereau, said Masterson was having consensual sex with the women and that he would prove his client’s innocence. Mesereau declined to comment outside the court on the judge’s decision.
During the hearing, Mesereau repeatedly urged the women about inconsistencies in their stories over the years they said they had been raped and suggested that the charges were marred by anti-religious prejudice against the Church of Scientology.
Masterson is a prominent Scientologist, all three women are former Scientologists, and the Church and its teachings kept popping up during the testimony.
The judge said she found credible the women’s statements that church teachings prevented them from reporting their allegations to the police for years.
The 45-year-old actor has been bailed out since his arrest in June. He has been charged with violence or fear on three counts of rape and could serve up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
The impending trial represents the rare pursuit of a Hollywood character in the #MeToo era, despite dozens of investigations by the Los Angeles police and district attorney, most of which ended without charge.
The allegations came at the height of Masterson’s fame when he appeared as Steven Hyde on the Fox TV retro sitcom That 70’s 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 broke out in March 2017, the news had no immediate impact on Masterson’s career, but he was written off the show later in the year after allegations against Harvey Weinstein rocked Hollywood.