Dr. Sam Dubria was ordered Wednesday to stand trial for murder and rape in the death of his 20-year-old traveling companion, who died of chloroform poisoning last August in a Carlsbad motel.
Vista Municipal Judge Donald Rudloff called the 28-year-old man's explanation of the death "pathetic at best" and one that wouldn't even convince "a jury of junior high school students."
The case, believed to be the first prosecution of murder-by-chloroform in the nation, attracted other attorneys into the preliminary hearing Wednesday as the district attorney's office wrapped up case against the New Jersey doctor.
Dubria is charged with knocking out Jennifer Klapper with chloroform so he could rape her. She died from the drug.
Klapper, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Dubria had met 10 months earlier at a hospital where they both worked, and the doctor invited her to accompany him on a week's vacation to Southern California. Klapper's family claims the doctor had promised the trip would be platonic.
The couple had spent several days last August at Dubria's family home in Glendale, using it as a base camp to play Southern California tourist. On Aug. 15, they watched a taping of the Tonight Show in Burbank, then headed for Tijuana, stopping for the night at the All-Star Inn in Carlsbad.
Dubria told detectives that Klapper was not feeling well during the drive south, and they checked into the motel around 11:30 p.m. Dubria said that, around 3 the next morning, while he was in the bathroom, he heard "a thump" and found that Klapper had fallen out of her bed, unconscious and with no heartbeat, according to transcripts of the police interrogation that were entered into evidence on Wednesday.
After trying to resuscitate her, he called paramedics, he told detectives. Klapper was declared dead at Tri-City Medical Center in nearby Oceanside.
Dubria said he had sex with Klapper in the motel room while the "Tonight Show"--which they watched being taped earlier that same day--aired on the television.
When homicide detectives told Dubria during interrogation that Klapper had died of chloroform intoxication, he speculated that she might have been poisoned by the gas while driving down Interstate 5 from Los Angeles.
"What if, what if we were driving to San Diego and ran into a truck that was, that had chloroform on it?" Dubria said, according to a transcript of the tape-recorded interrogation.
"Ha-ha," the detective responded.
"We were driving on the freeway," Dubria continued. "There were chemical trucks driving around."
Detective Donald DeTar interjected: "Sam, think about it. . . . You're alive and sitting here right now. She isn't. She's got a fatal dose of chloroform in her."
"Right," Dubria said. "I'm telling you when I drove down the San Diego Freeway, I was a little dizzy also. . . . But I didn't think about it because . . . I assume . . . it was because of lack of sleep.
The detectives repeated the scenario and DeTar told Dubria: "Sam, I want you to think about what you're saying. I want you to think. . . . If you tell that story, man, there ain't nobody that's going to believe that."
"Especially coming from a doctor, Sam," another detective added.
"Yeah, but it's the truth," Dubria answered.
At Wednesday's hearing, prosecution witness Dr. Roderick K. Calverley, a San Diego anesthesiologist who has studied the history of chloroform, said the amount of chloroform found in Klapper would have been too little to put her under for a surgical procedure--but that even small amounts can lead to death if improperly administered.
Outside the courtroom, Calverley said he had never heard of the use of chloroform as a tool for murder in this country. Chloroform has not been used widely as an anesthetic in the United States since World War II, but still is in use in laboratories and to put animals to death.
Defense attorney Elisabeth Semel argued that the prosecution had failed to present a convincing argument that her client poisoned Klapper, or show how the chloroform was administered.
"There is no evidence of an intentional killing, no evidence of rape in this case," Semel argued. "They had sexual intercourse. Indeed, it was consensual intercourse."
Answered prosecutor Tim Casserly: "There's no other explainable cause of death. She died after the administration of chloroform. He was the only one who could have administered it to her. He was the only one with her. Why? The answer is clear.
"You find her dead with semen in her. He had raped her. He put her under for the purpose of having sex with her, and she died."
Rudloff agreed with the prosecution.
"I'm impressed by the presentation by the defense team," Rudloff said. Referring to Semel, he added, "however, she's not a miracle person. She can't work miracles."
Rudloff said he didn't doubt the credibility of the toxicology findings by the San Diego County medical examiner's office.
"There was nothing wrong with her heart, except that she's dead," Rudloff said. "So many circumstances are unexplained and somewhat bizarre."
He said he didn't buy the notion that the couple had consensual sex, especially if Klapper was feeling ill, as Dubria told detectives.
"Human experience tells us that if a partner is not feeling well, it's not time to be involved in consensual intercourse," the judge said.
Rudloff also hit hard on the fact that Klapper's skin-tight stretch pants were inside-out when paramedics took her to the hospital.
"It doesn't take much imagination," Rudloff said. "When taking the pants off, they're turned inside out, and the (sex) act is accomplished. The pants are returned in haste, and put on, inside-out."
There was no obvious trauma caused by the rape, Rudloff reasoned, "because the victim was unconscious."
He ridiculed the notion that Klapper could have inhaled chloroform while driving down the freeway.
"I doubt one would see a truck whipping down I-5, leaking chloroform," Rudloff said. Besides, he said, "it's packaged in something less than tanker trucks."
Dubria remained in jail, his family unable to post $500,000 bail.
His arraignment in Superior Court was set for April 3.