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We Have To Talk About The Danny Masterson Letters
The cast of That ‘70s Show is not all alright.
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There is at least one beautiful piece of America’s twisted legal system and that is DISCOVERY. I mean that both in legal terms and philosophical terms. If you want to find out some whack, random shit about anyone, just look up their name in Pacer, find a lawsuit and scroll down to the appendix. Celebrities are particularly exposed: We heard Britney Spears’ real voice for the first time in years during her conservatorship battle and we found out about Brad Pitt’s evil nonsense on that private jet through a lawsuit over a French winery.
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From depositions to actual courtroom appearances like Gwenyth Paltrow’s “I lost half a day of skiing,” there are nuggets of information to be gained from all stages of a trial. But sentencing hearings, when a person has already been charged with a crime and now a judge must decide on their jail time, are often overlooked. As a law reporter (yes, I do in fact have a real job I get paid for), anytime I’m writing about an older case, I always look for the sentencing hearing transcript. It’s often the only time you hear from the defendant, and it’s when judges are the most honest (and brutal), finally free to say what they really think without influencing a jury. Sentencing hearings are kind of like the Andy Cohen couch of criminal trials.
Friends and family of the accused can also write letters vouching for the defendant’s character leading up to a sentencing hearing. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, these letters can become public information after a sentencing memorandum is released. These statements hardly ever result in leniency from judges but they might be putting DUI mugshots out of a job when it comes to making celebrities look really really bad.
Legal reporter Meghann Cuniff last month posted Iggy Azalea’s sentencing letter, which asked a judge to lessen the sentence of rapper Torey Lanez, who is convicted of shooting Megan Thee Stallion. And woooooooof. “I would not write to you on behalf of an abuser,” Azalea typed. “I've never encountered this jealous, rage filled person he's accused of being.”
The gravity of these situations is always heavy, for both the victims of violence and those facing lengthy sentences, and I almost hesitate to contribute to the pile-on of hate towards people who write these kinds of letters. As someone who writes about the criminal justice system, I know it isn’t simple. You can still love someone even though they’ve done horrible things. You can want justice for the victims and not want to see a friend die in prison.
But there is a ridiculousness to these celebrity letters that I simply can’t overlook. Azalea started the letter touting her accolades, including outselling The Beatles and touring with Britney Spears. She told the judge: “In short, like yourself, I’m great at what I do, and I’m well respected by my peers.”
This letter makes it clear Iggy Azalea has never written a letter in her life.
She gives every sentence its own line with no space in between, like this.
And she doesn’t know that an apostrophe needs to go in the conjunction “I’ve.”
All this to say we absolutely have to discuss the sentencing letters for actor Danny Masterson.
A Los Angeles judge sentenced Masterson, who played Hyde in That ‘70s Show, to 30 years to life in prison for the violent rape of two women in 2003. At Masterson’s sentencing hearing, one of his victims said that violence towards women was Masterson’s “favorite thing.” Yikes.
Masterson is a Scientologist and at the time, so were both the women he raped. They said the Church of Scientology for years worked to keep the allegations silent. One of the victims, Niesha Trout, said at the hearing that the Church knew Masterson “had been raping its members” but covered the truth up and punished victims in sinister ways.
In a 2020 Instagram post, actress Chrissie Carnell Bixler, who had also accused Masterson of sexual assault, said she and her husband Mars Volta singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, had to put two of their dogs down because Masterson and the Church of Scientology tossed poisoned meat into their backyard.
“This is what Scientology does when you speak about the predators they protect,” Bixler-Zavala wrote.
Masterson’s lawyer, after his conviction, asked the judge to allow him to serve his two rape sentences concurrently, so he’d spend a minimum of 15 years behind bars instead of 30. And despite all that’s come out about Masterson, many of his famous friends sent letters in support of this request.
They were unsuccessful in lowering their buddy’s sentence, but very successful in piquing my interest, so let's get into it. Who wrote about Danny and what did they say?
Ashton Kutcher in his sentencing letter described himself as an “actor, investor, philanthropist and most importantly, a father” but curiously omitted “spokesperson for the Nikon Coolpix.” Kutcher has long spoken of his fondness for Danny Masterson. After the two wrapped That ‘70s Show in 2006, they worked together 10 years later, both starring in the Kutcher-produced Netflix sitcom The Ranch, which if you can believe it, ran for eight seasons.
Kutcher said years ago on Dax Shepherd’s podcast Armchair Expert that Danny had been a role model for him on That ‘70s Show, particularly because he didn’t drink or do drugs, and didn’t like anyone who did. And throughout all the letters, this seems to be Masterson’s defining good quality.
“I attribute not falling into the typical Hollywood life of drugs directly to Danny,” Kutcher wrote. “Anytime that we were to meet someone or interact with someone who was on drugs or did drugs, he made it clear that that wouldn’t be a good person to be friends with... I am grateful to him for that positive peer pressure.”
If the best thing about you is you’re kind of a narc.... I’m not saying that alone warrants jail time but at best it makes you Millie Kentner from Freaks and Geeks.
Across their 25-year friendship, Kutcher said he doesn’t recall Masterson ever lying to him. Aside from this strongly invoking my favorite Timothee Chalamet line of Ladybird “I haven’t lied in two years,” it begs the question: Did Kutcher ever ask Masterson if the rape allegations were true? Did he ever think to call Masterson up when the rumors came out that he poisoned someone’s dog? Did Masterson own up to it and Kutcher doesn’t care or does he think everyone else is lying? Some TikTokers theorize that Kutcher has his own skeletons (like possibly enabling the Hollywood ripper?) which Masterson knows about and he’s staying close with his skeevy brother in crime to cover his tail. So it’s possible the two do have an honest, loving friendship, one in which you would never call the cops on each other.
Kutcher went on to describe one incident in which he and Masterson were at a “pizza parlor” and a “belligerent man” came in and was “berating his girlfriend.”
“We had never met or seen these people before, but Danny was the first person to jump to the defense of this girl. It was an incident he didn’t have to get involved in, but proactively chose to because the way this man was behaving was not right.”
First of all, who calls it a “pizza parlor”? Second, I agree with the comment under my “Contemplating the End” essay from Yes We’re Still Watching’s first hater (shoutout to Ship Shape Deluxe!) that, in this case, Kutcher calling this battered woman “a girl” rubs me the wrong way. Leave her out of this! Also, intervening when a man isn't behaving right? The Church of Scientology should be taking notes!
And finally, Kutcher, like me, felt now was the right time to bring up 9/11.
“After 9-11, Danny was a huge advocate for support of the Firefighters effected by the event...” The grammatical problems with this sentence alone prove Kutcher’s a little more like Kelso than he lets on. Celebrities will never cease to amaze me with how little they ask their assistants to proofread.
Where Ashton goes, his beloved wife follows. If there’s one thing I know about these two, it’s that they don’t bathe their kids and they ride for Danny Masterson.
Mila is her own person though. She didn’t match Kutcher’s pretentious Times New Roman letter, deciding instead to go with the understated Arial font.
Kunis described Masterson as “an older brother figure” to her. She could sense his “innate goodness and genuine nature” when they met on set of That ‘70s Show when Kunis was *checks notes* 14 years old and Masterson paid Kutcher $10 to french kiss her.
She also stressed Masterson’s “unwavering support of discouraging the use of drugs.”
Like... is just abstaining from drugs himself not enough for this man? What I am learning from both of these letters is Masterson, at best, does not mind his own business.
Kunis keeps the letter short and leaves out anecdotes or personal details, proving her slightly more intelligent than her husband. But it is worth noting that these two co-founded an organization that defends children from sexual abuse.
It’s not proven that Kunis or Kutcher are members of the Church of Scientology. My theory is they’re not allowed in because they’re so bad at keeping their mouths shut.
Speaking of keeping their mouths shut, since I started writing this, the couple has released an apology video. Apparently they didn’t realize these letters would become public record. Danny’s family had asked them to write a description of the friend they knew for 25-years so the judge could have the “full picture” and they obliged.
Their point was made incredibly poorly... Why does Mila sound like an eighth grader forced to read the Second Testament, Book of John at Wednesday morning mass? But it’s not entirely wrong. A sentencing letter is very different from posting your support for a convicted rapist on Instagram. They weren’t trying to convince the general public that Danny was good, they were trying to convince a judge holding the fate of the rest of Danny’s life in her hands. They’re idiots for thinking this wouldn’t go public, and therefore viral. But if they were ordinary people, I have to be honest, I wouldn’t entirely fault them for writing those letters, for not wanting to see their friend’s daughter grow up without a father. It might not be right, but it’s human, unlike Kutcher’s entire tech-investor persona and Kunis’ weird empty apology. I’ve been talking to incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated folks about how little our society cares about the impact having an incarcerated parent has on children. This situation is very different from that of the impoverished, often POC, communities I more often write about: Masterson and his family have money and resources. He’s, apparently, for years been shielded from facing the consequences of his actions by the all-powerful Church of Scientology. He’s obviously done evil, irreparable harm to women (who I absolutely believe, and I know all this discussion about him in the press has to be hurting them all over again). And the people writing these character letters could be doing it, not out of genuine love, but to cover their own asses. All of it skeeves me out, but what I’m not going to do is pretend the criminal justice system in this country is black and white. I worry that the vitriol towards Kutcher and Kunis, who might very well deserve it, will extend to anyone who is supporting a loved one facing a life sentence. Anyway, as I said earlier, issues like this surrounding the criminal justice system are always conflicting for me. I hope Masterson’s conviction brought some kind of peace to his victims. Now back to making jokes about celebrities!
Debra Jo Rupp
Debra Jo Rupp, who played Kitty on That ‘70s Show, also wrote a letter praising Masterson's character. She wrote that it is hard for her to “wrap her head around” the idea that Masterson could be convicted on two counts of “forceable rape,” but “I respect the law of the court. I always have.” That last sentence is dare I say... defensive? No one is questioning your respect for the law, Debra!
Rupp said that Masterson was the leader of the kids on That ‘70s Show.
“One of the first things Danny did with them was to sit them all down (he had a little meeting) and had them all make a pact that no one would do drugs because of the nature of the show.”
The way Rupp put “(he had a little meeting)” in parentheses like that is SO Kitty, I’m sorry to say.
“The spotlight would be on them and he wanted everyone to succeed,” she said. “As a result, you never saw them in the tabloids. Danny made sure of that and I was so appreciative. They kept their word.”
She did not comment on Wilmer Valderrama plowing through every Disney 18-year-old (wink, wink) pop princess, but I guess that’s none of her business.
Rupp, like several of the other letter writers, noted how respectful and caring Masterson was towards the show’s crew and production staff.
What readers don’t know is that I too received a life sentence, and it is this bit of Rupp’s letter living in my mind rent free for the rest of eternity: “Danny is the one who shook each camera man’s hand before we started. He knew everyone’s name, where they lived and about their families. I did not.”
I did not. I DID NOT. This sentence and Rupp's absolute conquering of the idgaf wars alone drove me to write this newsletter. Self-awareness is key, Deb!
The next sentence is nothing but shade. “Over the years Danny is one of the few who came to support me by seeing my shows in the theater.”
Yeah, she’s looking at you Eric (Topher Grace, who has been minding his business but I’ll get to that later).
She did unveil what would have been a wholesome fact that Valderrama invited the entire cast to his graduation and only she and Masterson took him up on the offer, which is very Kitty and Hyde of them. “I remember looking at him and dying. It was outside, in the valley, really hot, and he was “V’ alphabetically.”
What she maybe didn’t know is Valderrama would go to many more high school graduations in the valley after that.
Rupp and her onscreen husband Kurtwood Smith ultimately did what Kitty and Red would have done if Hyde had joined The Church of Scientology and raped three women.
Smith’s letter largely echoed Rupp’s, though it lacked that 70-year-old-grandmother-pizzaz.
Notably both Smith and Rupp were cast in Kutcher and Masterson’s show The Ranch. This bit from Smith’s letter about his experience working with Masterson on both shows really rubbed me the wrong way:
“I found that Danny treated all women on the show with respect, not only women on the cast, but women on the crew as well. It was my observation that he treated the woman he married in a thoughtful and loving way. Later when we were working on The Ranch, I was aware that, not only were they a happy couple, but he was a wonderful father to his daughter.”
The “I’ve never seen him treat women badly” and “he has a daughter!” arguments for rapists are always tired. In fact, they do the opposite of convincing anyone this person shouldn’t be in jail. You mean they act completely normal and nice when other people are around and then turn into a violent monster when no one’s looking? That’s insidious as hell! I’d rather have a snake I know could bite me than a sweet puppy with rabies. Does that analogy make sense?
Who didn’t write?
There were some other celebrities outside of the That ‘70’s Show cast who wrote on Masterson’s behalf, including a Baldwin brother, William “Billy” Baldwin, and Ted actor Giovanni Ribisi. This was also a crazy way to find out that Masterson’s older brother Chris played Francis on Malcolm in the Middle. And his younger sister played Tara Chambler on The Walking Dead. I just hope that if the universe chooses to sacrifice another giant acting family it is not the Culkins or the Skarsgards.
But several of That ‘70s Show cast did not write in support of Masterson. Most notably, Topher Grace.
Rumors have circulated for years that Grace never got along particularly well with his castmates, leading him to leave the show a year before it wrapped. Although publicly, Grace has shared nothing but positive words about the show. He told PEOPLE in 2017 he'd return to That '70s Show "in a heartbeat," and he eventually did reprise his role in That ‘90s Show.
"I love that group," he said. "I thought I was lucky to get the part but I now realize I was really lucky to get a part that was with that group of people."
Topher’s kept quiet about Masterson’s conviction, but after the sentencing his wife Ashley Hinshaw posted an Instagram story that said “to every rape victim that is retraumatized by witnessing society debate and focus their attention on what is going to happen to the RAPIST. I see you.”
Laura Prepon, who played Donna, is an interesting case. She did not write a letter to the judge, and has stayed silent during the trial. It’s likely she and Masterson were close at one time though. She dated his brother Christopher until 2007, and was a practicing Scientologist up until 2016.
The two could have had a falling out either 1) when she broke up with his brother or 2) when she broke up with his cult. And some are curious if Prepon, having been inside the church, knew of Masterson’s misdeeds and kept quiet. But she’s keeping her mouth shut, which is why the Scientologists let her in and are keeping the Kutchers and their kids with jam-hands OUT.
Valderrama has also wisely abstained from comment, although it appears he and Masterson have had a long friendship as well (the guy showed up to his high school graduation for christ’s sake!). Silence is probably the best option for a man who talked about having sex with a teenage Mandy Moore on The Howard Stern Show.
You can read the support letters in full here:
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