Heir Will Face Trial in Date-Rape Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andrew Luster, the great-grandson of cosmetics magnate Max Factor, was ordered Monday to stand trial on 87 charges that he raped three women after giving them the date-rape drug known as GHB.

Luster, 37, declined comment after learning that he will be tried on charges including rape, sodomy, sexual assault, oral copulation, poisoning and drug possession. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to 150 years in prison.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger's ruling marks what prosecutors believe is the first time they will try a case in that county involving alleged sexual assaults on women rendered unconscious by the drug gamma hydroxybutyrate, also known as GHB and Liquid X.

Prosecutors say such cases are almost impossible to prove because the drug leaves a victim's system quickly, often in as little as six hours. But the discovery of several videotapes showing Luster having sex with apparently unconscious women, said Lela M. Henke-Dobroth, senior deputy district attorney, is "very powerful evidence."

During the five-day preliminary hearing, Luster's attorneys tried to discredit the testimony of the three alleged victims, who they allege include a scorned ex-girlfriend out for revenge and party girls who drank too much and are now embarrassed by their actions.

Referring to one alleged victim, defense attorney James Blatt recounted a night last July when the university student engaged in heavy drinking, a skinny dip in the ocean and then sex with a male friend in front of Luster and another man.

The woman testified last week that Luster had sex with her against her will three times that same night.

"And her argument is, 'That can't be me. It must be the GHB. I'm not that kind of person,' " Blatt said. "But when looking at that evening, she does appear to be that kind of person."

Confiscated Videotapes Screened at Hearing

Defense attorneys allege that all the sexual encounters at issue were consensual, but at the same time they acknowledge that some of the alleged victims took GHB voluntarily because it is a party drug and a known aphrodisiac.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John Blair, however, argued that the women were unconscious and incapable of consenting to sex.

"Sexual relations without consent are not sexual relations," Blair said. "It's rape. And on the videotape we see a defendant who enjoys raping and assaulting young women."

During the preliminary hearing, Blair played two videotapes that authorities confiscated from Luster's seaside home in Mussel Shoals.

According to court testimony: A 25-minute video shows Luster having sex with a young woman as she snores heavily. A 30-minute video shows Luster with an unconscious woman in October 1996, penetrating her with various objects. At one point, she is roused out of her deep sleep, apparently wincing in pain, before passing out again.

Both women said they had no idea the tapes existed or that they had had sex with Luster. One even went on to date Luster for three months. She said she did not know of the alleged drugging and rape until authorities informed her of the tape during their investigation last year. Although defense attorneys argue that the case is really about privacy, Blair said it is about "a chilling pattern of sexual assault against numerous women."

Luster, whose net worth has been estimated as high as $30 million, was arrested last July after one of the women told authorities she suspected he had sedated her and a male friend with GHB and sexually assaulted her at his home.

The woman said she and the male friend met Luster in a Santa Barbara bar and were offered a glass of water. Shortly afterward, both later told police, they felt extremely drunk and could not remember much of what had happened that night. The woman said she had memory flashes that included a sexual assault by Luster.

Acting on the woman's complaint, police searched Luster's home, where they uncovered the sex videotapes. In his ruling, Cloninger said he found the testimony of the woman and her male friend credible. The judge dropped a charge of eavesdropping, ruling that the video recordings did not qualify.

Luster is scheduled to return to court on June 25 to enter a plea.

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