US actor Danny Masterson has been sentenced to serve 30 years to life in prison for raping two women, the media reported. Masterson starred on 'That 70's Show', a TV series that was airing at the time of his crimes in the early 2000s, The BBC reported on Thursday. Prosecutors argued Masterson, 47, had relied on his status as a prominent Scientologist to avoid accountability.
Judge Charlaine Olmedo allowed the victims of his crimes to read impact statements in court ahead of his sentencing. Prominent former Scientologist and actress Leah Remini attended Thursday's sentencing hearing and comforted the women before and after they delivered their statements. "I wished I had reported him earlier to the police," one of the women said, according to US media.
Another woman told Masterson: "I forgive you. Your sickness is no longer mine to bear," according to Reuters.
Masterson remained silent throughout the hearing, The BBC reported. As the judge read his sentence -- the maximum penalty allowed -- his wife, Bijou Phillips, was seen in court breaking down in tears.
Masterson was found guilty in May at a re-trial after the first jury was unable to reach a verdict in 2022. After his conviction, Masterson was deemed a flight risk and was taken into prison custody. The actor was convicted after three women testified that he had sexually assaulted them at his Hollywood home from 2001-03 -- during the height of his television fame.
The jury heard testimony that he had given them drugs before he assaulted them. He was found guilty of rape against two of his three accusers. The charges brought by the third accuser were declared a mistrial and prosecutors said they do not plan to retry the case.
Alison Anderson, a lawyer representing two of the victims, said in a statement sent to BBC News that the women "have displayed tremendous strength and bravery, by coming forward to law enforcement and participating directly in two gruelling criminal trials".
"Despite persistent harassment, obstruction, and intimidation, these courageous women helped hold a ruthless sexual predator accountable today," she said, adding that the women will continue to speak out about the role the church allegedly played during their abuse, The BBC reported.
In court on Thursday, one woman described being shunned by her mother, who is still a practicing Scientologist. "She texted me and told me to never contact her again," she said, reported the LA Times. "She had warned me ahead of time she wanted to see Danny Masterson locked away for what he'd done to me, but not at the expense of her religion."
Another woman said she had been victimised by the church ever since she first spoke out. "Since the week I came forward to police I have been terrorised, harassed and had my privacy invaded daily by the cult of Scientology for almost seven years now," she said, adding: "But I don't regret it."
Masterson was first accused of rape in 2017 during the height of the #MeToo movement. He denied the accusations and said each of the encounters was consensual. Charges came after a three-year investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Prosecutors did not file charges in two other cases because of insufficient evidence and the statute of limitations expiring. Throughout the trial, prosecutors argued that the Church of Scientology had helped cover up the assaults -- an allegation the organisation has categorically denied.
At the time of the assaults, Masterson and all three of his accusers were Scientologists. Several of the women said it took them years to come forward because Church of Scientology officials discouraged them from reporting the rape to police. Scientology officials told one survivor she would be kicked out of the Church of Scientology unless she signed a non-disclosure agreement and accepted a payment of $400,000 (£320,000), according to prosecutors.
During the trial, Judge Olmedo allowed both sides to discuss the dogma and practices of Scientology, angering the organisation. In its statement after the verdict in May, the Church of Scientology said there was "not a scintilla of evidence supporting the scandalous allegations that the Church harassed the accusers".
Thursday's sentencing was also attended by Jessica Barth, who founded "Voices in Action" in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Barth was one of the women to publicly accuse disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of abuse. Her non-profit works to encourage others to come forward and report abuse. Before the hearing, a motion for a new trial by Masterson's defence team was denied by the judge, according to an Los Angeles court official.