Sex Tape Shown at Heir's Hearing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bolstering charges that a Mussel Shoals millionaire sexually assaulted three women, Ventura County prosecutors on Wednesday played a videotape in court that showed Andrew Luster having sex with an unconscious 17-year-old girl.

The woman, now 21, tearfully watched the 25-minute video, which captured the sound of her snoring as Luster played rock music and occasionally spoke into the camera.

"That's exactly what I like," Luster told the camera. "A passed-out, beautiful girl."

The shaken woman reacted: "I'm angry and disgusted. I can't believe someone would do that."

Wednesday was the first day of testimony in a hearing to determine if prosecutors have sufficient evidence to try Luster on 88 counts of rape, poisoning, sodomy, oral copulation, sexual battery and possession of a deadly weapon.

Authorities allege that the 37-year-old Luster, great-grandson of cosmetics giant Max Factor, used a date rape drug known as gamma hydroxybutrate, or GHB, to knock out three women so he could sexually assault them.

Investigators found tapes of encounters with two of the women at Luster's Mussel Shoals home, where he has been under house arrest after posting $1-million bail in December.

"We have almost 60 minutes of images on videotape of the defendant sexually assaulting women," Deputy Dist. Atty. John Blair told Judge James P. Cloninger, who will decide if the case should proceed to trial.

Defense attorneys, however, argued that the women all agreed to take GHB, a known party drug with a reputation, they say, as an aphrodisiac. And, attorneys said, they were all willing sex partners. In the past, defense attorneys have charged that the allegations are fueled by overly ambitious prosecutors, scorned lovers with an ax to grind or young party girls embarrassed by their behavior.

"Certainly there were sexual relations that occurred," said Joel Isaacson, one of three attorneys representing Luster. "But this was a mutual lifestyle type of event. There was no lack of consent. No void area where people couldn't give consent."

From the stand, however, the first of three victims expected to testify in the hearing said she did not agree to have sex with Luster and never knew that any sexual activity had occurred until detectives told her so during an investigation last summer.

The woman, an Orange County resident identified only as Shawna Doe, said she was 16 when she and a female friend met Luster at a beach along the Pacific Coast Highway. The three gathered a few times at Luster's house to drink and hang out, she said. During one of those occasions, she said, she "made out" with Luster.

But she did not have sex with him, she said. She felt uncomfortable because of the large age gap.

"It was odd," Shawna said. "I was young and so were my friends."

It was nearly a year before Shawna agreed to see Luster at his house again, this time by herself. She said they began drinking, but she soon felt dizzy. And though it was only late afternoon, she said she felt very tired. She lay down on his bed and woke up about midnight, she said.

"I just woke up kind of in a daze," Shawna said.

But as she slept, Blair said Wednesday, Luster set up a video camera and began a 25-minute sexual assault against the teenager.

Over rock music, Luster's voice boomed from the small television screen: "The most perfect gifts, I think, are a perfect surf and a beautiful blond girl passed out on your bed, waiting for anything."

As the tape--shown with the screen facing only the judge, witness and prosecutors--played, Shawna bowed her head and sobbed. At times, she shielded her eyes from the screen, and at one point, Cloninger ordered a break to give her time to compose herself.

Luster, dressed in a beige suit and tie, was expressionless as he viewed the tape from the jury box. Listening from the audience was his mother, Elizabeth Luster, and several friends and relatives.

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