This is the fourth in a series of articles on the case of The People vs. Daniel Masterson in which Masterson is charged with sexual assaulting three women in 2001 and 2003. You can find links to all of Crime Story’s coverage of this case here.
The line at the county clerk’s office within the Clara Shortridge Foltz Center for Criminal Justice is long, even during the citywide shutdown due to Covid-19 guidelines. Meeting with a clerk is “by appointment only,” so I make sure to call before I come, slotting myself into the soonest available time. The clerk — the same man who has handled each of my previous requests — wears a bright, tropical shirt, with floral designs. His jubilant wardrobe choice seems incongruous in this Soviet-style building.
I repeat the request I already gave over the phone. Mr. Tropical Shirt slides me a piece of paper, where I write my name, the case number, and the files that I am requesting. I slide the paper back. Mr. Tropical Shirt squints at it through his glasses, taps on the computer keyboard, stands up and disappears into a back room. Ordinarily if the file I want exists, it takes Mr. Tropical Shirt a half an hour to find it.
But today I wait for only about ten minutes.
Mr. Tropical Shirt’s eyebrows crest high above his forhead. He puffs out his cheeks and says, “It’s with the Judge, and not yet available to the public. This is a high profile case.”
The case: The People vs. Daniel Masterson.: Actor Danny Masteron stands accused of three counts of rape. And this appears to be the latest indication that information on this case will be difficult to come by.
The document that I have requested is the Defense team’s motion for a “demurrer.”
A demurrer is a pleading that objects or challenges the relevance or validity of a pleading filed by an opposing party. In this case, Masterson’s lawyers are challenging the validity of Masterson’s indictment, and have moved for the case to be dismissed.
Tony Ortega, formerly the editor of The Village Voice, has been breaking developments in the Scientology world since 2012 via his website The Underground Bunker. A quick search of the internet shows that Ortega has posted what he claims is a draft of Masterson’s demurrer motion.
The essence of this pleading is as follows:
As we suggested in our previous story The People vs Daniel Masterson: The Tension between Due Process and #MeToo, the prosecution has alleged that Masterson has committed crimes which can be prosecuted without regard to the age of the accusations. Ordinarily a rape indictment must be made within 10 years of the incident. Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller asserts that because Masterson’s rape indictment is accompanied by certain aggravating factors it exposes him to a potential life sentence and per California’s One Strike Law the statute of limitations does not apply.
According to California law, these aggravating factors include:
- Kidnapping the victim;
- Using a dangerous or deadly weapon or a firearm in the commission of the assault;
- Administering a controlled substance to the victim in the commission of the sexual assault; or
- Having been convicted of committing sexual assault against more than one victim.
The defense argues that there has been no evidence presented of the presence of any of the the first three of these aggravating circumstances and that, since Masterson has never been convicted of rape, the fourth aggravating factor is similarly inapplicable. For that final argument, Masterson’s team cited the People v. Turner case in which the court ruled that the underlying offense should govern the statute of limitations. Consequently, the defense argues, the court should rule that the statute of limitations has expired.
Prosecutors countered that Masterson stands accused of two or more counts of rape and that — per the California Court of Appeal’s ruling in another sexual assault case, People vs. Perez — this constitutes a sufficient aggravating factor to invoke the One Strike Law. Although Mueller has hinted that other aggravating factors may later be brought into evidence — and some of Masterson’s accusers have alleged that his assaults on them involved firearms, drugging and forced captivity — he did not rely on these allegations in invoking the On Strike Law.
On October 19, Masterson’s attorneys Tom Mesereau and Sharon Appelbaum and Deputy DA Mueller argued these motions before Judge Eleanor J. Hunter.
Hunter’s ruling was quick and concise:
Judge Eleanor J. Hunter:
Judge Hunter then set Masterson’s arraignment for November 2, but that proceeding was further delayed while Masterson sought a review of Judge Hunter’s ruling. Hunter’s ruling was upheld, but the arraignment was postponed until January 6 when Danny is expected to finally enter a plea of not guilty.