Jurors Told Defendant in Rape Case Fled
Jurors in the trial of fugitive rape suspect Andrew Luster heard evidence for the first time Monday that the 39-year-old cosmetics heir jumped bail and fled during a two-week break in the Ventura County proceedings.
Before resting their case, prosecutors called a detective who searched Luster’s beach house in Mussel Shoals a day after the defendant failed to check in with the probation agency as required by the terms of his $1-million bail release.
Investigators found Luster’s clothing drawers empty and his toiletries, car, dog and a collection of Native American artifacts missing during the Jan. 4 search of his property, sheriff’s Det. Scott Peterson testified.
“Nobody was inside the house,” he told the jury. “We noticed all his warm weather clothes were gone.”
For the last week, the panel of five men and seven women has been told nothing about the conspicuous absence of Luster, a real estate investor and great-grandson to cosmetics tycoon Max Factor, who failed to return to court last week after a holiday recess in his trial.
Luster faces 87 criminal counts for allegedly drugging and raping three women at his beachfront home. He faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted.
Santa Monica defense attorney Roger Jon Diamond, who was ordered by the judge to continue with the case despite his client’s absence, gave an opening statement Monday and then called three of four defense witnesses.
Diamond told jurors in his opening remarks that evidence will show Luster engaged in consensual sex with the purported victims. Diamond described one of the women as a scorned ex-lover out for revenge, and portrayed the others as party girls who lied about the sexual encounters because they were embarrassed by their actions.
Addressing multiple charges of poisoning and sex by use of drugs, Diamond told jurors the three women voluntarily took the drug GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, while partying with his client.
“The sex was hot and heavy, and it included GHB,” Diamond said, referring to one of the women, identified as Tonja Doe, who lived with Luster and had a sexual relationship with him in late 1996 and early 1997.
During their case, prosecutors played two 30-minute videotapes that show Luster engaging in sex acts with snoring and seemingly unconscious women. Law enforcement officials say the tapes, recorded in 1996 and 1997, are powerful pieces of evidence that show Luster raping two comatose victims.
But Diamond told jurors in his brief opening statement that the women knew they were being videotaped, and were “pretending to be asleep.”
As for the third alleged victim -- a 23-year-old former UC Santa Barbara student identified as Carey Doe -- Diamond said the sex was consensual.
The lawyer held up an enlarged photo, taken on the night of the alleged rape, in which the student is seen smiling while sitting between two men at Luster’s house. Diamond told jurors the photo casts doubt on her credibility.
Diamond also said the evidence will show Carey Doe did not want Luster prosecuted, and indicated as much on a report filed with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
But a detective with that agency then testified that a box on the report checked “No” to indicate there was no request to prosecute was completed in that manner because the alleged crime did not occur in Santa Barbara County.
Det. Mark Ward went on to testify that he did not recall Carey Doe ever saying she didn’t want to report a crime. He said the case was referred to Ventura County authorities because that is where the alleged sex assault occurred.
Diamond called two other witnesses Monday to rebut statements given by alleged rape victims Tonja and Shawna Doe, who denied engaging in sex with Luster before a video camera. Shawna Doe told jurors she never had sex with the defendant.
But a friend of the woman testified Monday that Shawna Doe confided that she did have sexual relations with Luster in July 1997 -- six months before the videotaped sexual encounter.
Diamond is expected to call his final witness this morning, “unless someone else appears,” he said in reference to his client. Closing arguments in the case could begin as soon as Wednesday.