By Rollo Ross
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -"That '70s Show" actor Danny Masterson was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison for raping two women who on Thursday said that the Church of Scientology sought to protect the actor and intimidate them into silence.
The 47-year-old actor and prominent Scientologist, who starred in the retro TV comedy for eight seasons until 2006, was convicted in May in a second trial. A jury deadlocked on a charge that he raped a third woman.
Judge Charlaine Olmedo of Los Angeles Superior Court imposed the maximum sentence allowed by law. Masterson, who has been in jail since his conviction, will be eligible for parole in 25-1/2 years.
The case drew attention in part because Masterson met the women through the Church of Scientology, and his accusers said the organization discouraged them from contacting law enforcement.
The Church of Scientology denied that claim and said Masterson's religion should not have been an issue in the case, calling it "an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment."
Prosecutors based the case on Scientology and "fabrications about the Church to introduce prejudice and inflame bigotry," the organization said after the sentencing.
The women said Masterson drugged and raped them in separate incidents between 2001 and 2003 at his house in the Hollywood Hills.
With his wife, actor Bijou Phillips, and his brother, "Malcolm in the Middle" actor Christopher Masterson seated nearby, Masterson showed little reaction on Thursday as the women gave victim impact statements. He was offered the chance to speak, but declined.
“I forgive you. Your sickness is no longer mine to bear,” said one victim, identified as Jane Doe 2 in the case.
The woman, who was a member of the Church of Scientology when she met Masterson, described the religious organization as an “enabler and protector” for him and said she was “terrorized and harassed” by the church when she tried to speak out about her rape.
“Rape is a theft of the spirit,” she said, adding that she developed PTSD and her promising acting career withered.
LEAH REMINI SUPPORTS VICTIM
The other victim, identified as Jane Doe 1, said her mother is a Scientologist who disowned her after she criticized the group during the trial.
“I didn’t choose to be born in Scientology just like I didn’t choose to be raped,” she said, accusing the organization of seeking to silence and intimidate her in the rape case.
“King of Queens” actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist and vocal critic of the organization, stood with her arms around Jane Doe 1 as she spoke in court.
The victims told the judge that Masterson ruined their lives and asked that he receive a sentence of life in prison.
The victims were "strong, they were committed to making sure that justice gets served and today they got it," said Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller after the sentencing.
Defense attorney Shawn Holley said Masterson planned to appeal based what she described as substantial errors in the case.
Allegations against Masterson hurt his career. When he was first accused of sexually assaulting multiple women in 2017, he was fired from the Netflix series “The Ranch.”
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)