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Prosecution in Danny Masterson trial scheduled to rest after odd turns on Wednesday
The prosecution in the Danny Masterson trial is supposed to rest its case today, we think.
We say “we think” because so often during this trial what we’ve been told is coming turns out to change. But it’s our understanding that after finishing up with actress Tricia Vessey this morning, the government will rapidly try to get through a couple more witnesses (Jane Doe 1’s mother and Rachel Smith) and then rest in time for the lunch break, when the jury will be sent home for a three-day weekend.
Perhaps the prosecution’s case will be held over until Monday, we just don’t know. But before this morning’s testimony resumes, we want to go back over a couple of things that happened yesterday which we can see left readers with questions.
First, we know that you are just as disappointed as we are that the prosecution has decided not to call Lisa Marie Presley after Judge Charlaine Olmedo limited her testimony. Deputy DA Reinhold Muller had said in court Tuesday that Presley planned to testify that Scientology had instructed her to dissuade Jane Doe 1 from going to the LAPD after her April 2003 sexual assault by Masterson. As we pointed out, there’s another name for that: obstruction of justice. And Presley’s attorney was apparently so concerned that she would be testifying about a crime she herself had taken part in, he told Mueller that if she was asked about it on the stand, Lisa Marie would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Wowsers. Mueller said he told the attorney that the statute of limitations would probably keep her safe, but he offered her immunity so she would testify. She then gave a recorded statement to the DA’s office on Friday. But Judge Olmedo ruled that Presley couldn’t testify about Scientology’s role, and that she could only offer evidence of “prior consistent statements” that Jane Doe 1 might have made to her. She said that the testimony about Scientology would be more appropriate for the civil lawsuit that was filed by the Jane Does in 2019, and that it was irrelevant to Masterson’s criminal case.
Well, we see her point. But the prosecution apparently decided that there wasn’t enough left for Presley to testify to that would be worth putting her on the stand. Yesterday morning, they announced the bad news that they wouldn’t be calling her at all.
But the most important thing that happened yesterday was that Tricia Vessey, known as Jane Doe 4 or “Tricia V.” in court, took the stand to testify. (Tricia has given the Underground Bunker permission to identify her.)
She was allowed to testify as what’s known as a “past bad acts witness,” and Danny Masterson is not being charged on her allegations. But you know if you were following our updates on Monday that the defense had fought bitterly to keep her out of the trial altogether. And after Judge Olmedo did allow her in, the defense tried to limit her testimony to only one of two sexual assault incidents, both of which allegedly took place in 1996.
The reason that defense attorney Philip Cohen gave for not wanting the second incident in was that of the two, it suggested an inference of drugging. He argued that the jury has heard enough from the first three Jane Does about becoming mysteriously intoxicated after Masterson gave them drinks that it would be prejudicial to pile on a fourth. And Judge Olmedo, after overcoming his strenuous objections about allowing Vessey in at all, gave him that small victory and told Deputy DA Reinhold Mueller that he could only ask Vessey about the initial incident.
In that incident, which she described on the stand yesterday morning, she said that the cast of a film had a wrap party at the restaurant La Poubelle (which is on Franklin Avenue across the street from the Scientology Hollywood Celebrity Centre), and then went to Masterson’s house which was then in Laurel Canyon. She said she had a couple of glasses of wine at the restaurant, several more at Masterson’s house, and also took a hit on a marijuana “blunt.” By that time, she was “lightly drunk” and sleepy, and she and another cast member, Justin Pierce, found an empty bedroom to get some sleep. She said that Pierce took the bed, and she simply went to sleep on the floor. Some time later, Masterson came into the room and began dragging her away on the pretense that he was protecting her from Justin. (Sadly, we can’t ask Justin for his version. He ended his life in a room at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas in 2000.)
Vessey testified that she remembers Masterson carrying her down the hall with his arms around her waist, and then later coming to and finding that he was on top of her and was inside her.
We can tell you that we found her testimony to be riveting. She did not rush, she seemed very thoughtful about how she described her memories, and when she got emotional a few times it had a lot of impact.
Cohen, however, was livid. He had an epic tantrum after the jury was pulled out of the courtroom, claiming that Mueller had elicited testimony from Vessey that there was a suggestion of drugging in this first incident. He also complained bitterly that she had been allowed to report something Justin had said. We were pretty confused, because we didn’t really see that there was much evidence of either, and we still don’t after looking back at our notes. Judge Olmedo denied his motion for a mistrial, saying that the reference to feeling intoxicated that Vessey had made was not what Cohen made it out to be. (We agreed with her.) Cohen believed that a line had been crossed, but if it had, it really wasn’t very obvious to the court or this observer.
Anyway, Mueller then began to lead her to another incident that took place some time later, and Judge Olmedo cleared the courtroom to ask him about it. Was he leading Vessey into the second incident, which she ruled on Monday that he could not do? No, he explained, he wanted to ask her about an odd thing that Masterson did at a friend’s house, that he had blocked a doorway while Vessey was in a bathroom. Mueller just wanted to get that small act of intimidation on the record. So we resumed, and Mueller led Vessey through that and said “no further questions.”
Then something very odd happened. Before he could begin cross-examination, Cohen asked for a sidebar. There was a brief discussion, and then Judge Olmedo announced that direct examination would continue and Deputy DA Mueller went back to the podium.
He then continued questioning Vessey, and began leading her into the second incident, the one that Cohen had fought so hard on Monday to keep out.
We can tell you that the reporters were looking at each other, wondering what was going on. But into the second incident they went: About a month after the first one, Vessey said that Masterson had suddenly showed up where she was living in a vehicle with several other guys, who dropped him off. He had with him a flask, and offered her a few sips as they went up to her apartment. About 15 to 20 minutes later she then felt suddenly very intoxicated, and she then remembers him pulling her pants off, and then later being on top of her and inside her.
Not only had she been allowed to testify to yet another sexual assault by Masterson, but also one that carried the implication of drugging. What was going on?
It seemed pretty obvious to us reporters that the decision to allow testimony on the second incident could only have come from Cohen. One of our colleagues followed him into the hallway at the end of the day, pressing him for an answer on that, but she said he refused to say anything. We also followed Mueller and Deputy DA Anson through the hallway, and they also would not give us a hint as to what was said in the sidebar.
Why did Cohen decide to allow testimony on the second incident? He didn’t say, but we suspect it might have had something to do with his epic blowup earlier in the day. Remember, he believed that a line had been crossed during testimony of the first incident, and that might have convinced him he might as well allow the second incident to come in. He certainly focused more of his subsequent cross-examination on that second incident in the afternoon. Namely, he asked Vessey questions about why she would allow Masterson in her apartment after what she had described happened a month earlier in the first incident at his house.
Her cross-examination will continue this morning.
The other small mystery we knew some of you had questions about was the woman in the audience who caused a bit of a stir. She had introduced herself to us as a reader of the Bunker when she first arrived in the courtroom in the morning. We chatted with her at lunch, and she described wanting to come see the trial for herself after reading about it here. In the late afternoon, she was sitting in the audience on the side near the jury taking notes, and the bailiff had come over and took her notebook away.
Judge Olmedo, after sending home the jury for the day, asked the woman to stay while clearing the rest of the audience, which included all of us reporters and the Masterson family and friends. When the woman emerged, she was surrounded by reporters who wanted to know what happened. She said everything was fine, the judge was very gracious, but she didn’t want to say more.
It turned out that she wanted to give the story to us. We saw her outside the courthouse and she told us that the bailiff for some reason had become suspicious because she had been looking at the jury and taking some notes. We have a feeling the court is on a heightened sense of security because of a certain organization with a certain reputation that is tangentially involved with this case, if you know what we mean. But she said that Judge Olmedo apologized, that of course a member of the public can come in, take notes, and sure, observe the jury. She had done nothing wrong. And she said she will probably come back to court today.
We certainly will be there as well, and you’ll get some reports coming at you later today. Here is the short video message to our subscribers at the end of an eventful day in court. We’re releasing it to everyone this morning, and here’s also the version at our YouTube channel.
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