Attorney general wants to drop most rape charges against reality TV surgeon from O.C.
State prosecutors on Friday sought to dismiss a host of rape charges filed against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend and concentrate the case around a 2017 sexual assault charge by bolstering it with new allegations that drugs were used to facilitate the attack.
It is the latest twist in a case that’s been embroiled in controversy since it began two years ago when then-Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas painted Grant Robicheaux, 40, and Cerissa Riley, 33, as sexual predators who used their good looks to prey on vulnerable women, drug them and take them back to their posh Newport Beach home to sexually assault them.
At the time, Robicheaux was charged with sexually assaulting seven women, and Riley was charged with five assaults. The couple have pleaded not guilty and have denied any nonconsensual sex.
Attorneys for Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who took over the case from the Orange County district attorney’s office last year, filed a motion Wednesday asking Judge Steven D. Bromberg to dismiss 10 sex crime charges involving six of Robicheaux’s seven accusers. The motion noted that state prosecutors said they had conducted an independent review and found that some allegations could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors also sought to dismiss three firearms enhancements against the couple and reduce four felony charges of drug possession for sale to misdemeanors.
During a hearing Friday, Bromberg said the case is “becoming the never-ending story” and directed the state to file a brief explaining why it plans to dismiss certain charges before he makes a decision.
“I don’t know how I could consider your motion unless you give me the tools,” he said.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Yvette Martinez said a team of four attorneys and two case agents reviewed all the evidence in the case, had three or four meetings with Bonta and spoke with five of Robicheaux and Riley’s accusers before making their decision early this week to amend the charges. Two of the women who have accused the couple of assault declined to speak with state prosecutors, Martinez said.
If Bromberg signs off, the state’s case will concentrate on allegations involving the alleged sexual assault of one woman, identified as Jane Doe 6, on April 16, 2017. Robicheaux and Riley each faces a charge of assault with intent to commit a sexual offense against the woman. Prosecutors are requesting that Bromberg dismiss a kidnapping charge that was filed in connection with that alleged attack.
Robicheaux began talking with Jane Doe 6, who was in her early 20s, on a popular dating app and agreed to meet in person at a Newport Beach eatery, court records show. Riley allegedly also showed up and posed as a friend. They went to a bar where prosecutors allege the woman’s drinks were drugged. Authorities say the woman woke up in the couple’s home during the sexual assault and ran to the bathroom, where she locked herself inside until the next morning.
Prosecutors are seeking to file four additional drug-related charges against the couple, alleging they administered drugs in furtherance of their desire to “engage in sexual intercourse with an incapacitated victim.” Those new charges include allegations that the surgeon drugged food or drinks, which the woman consumed. Riley is accused of providing the woman with cocaine, Robicheaux with supplying PCP.
“The defendants’ actions of facilitating the victim’s excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs to ultimately prevent her from possessing the ability to resist sexual intercourse was the underlying motivation for their behavior,” state prosecutors wrote in their motion.
Philip Cohen, Robicheaux’s defense attorney, said he’s not objecting to the amended complaint, but argued that the court doesn’t have the discretion to deny the attorney general’s request “absent a finding of grafted, political motivation” in their review, he said.
Martinez made it clear during Friday’s hearing that prosecutors are not saying Robicheaux’s other accusers are not being truthful in their allegations, but that the state believes it cannot prove its case.
“This case is a political firestorm,” Martinez said, referencing Rackauckas and current Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer’s political sparring over the charges during the race for Orange County D.A. “Any indication that this is a politically charged decision is completely unfounded. We were brought in to review the evidence. These are the charges we believe are supported by the evidence.”
In 2019, shortly after Spitzer took over as the county’s top prosecutor, he assigned two deputy district attorneys to conduct a review of all the evidence collected in the case. The unusual move came after a prosecutor pointed out “serious proof problems” with the case, Spitzer said at the time.
Over three months, prosecutors looked at thousands of photographs and videos that had been taken from the couple’s computers, hundreds of hours of audio recordings, thousands of pages of documents and tens of thousands of text messages between Robicheaux and Riley spanning a four-year period.
Ultimately, they determined there was insufficient evidence. Spitzer, who had accused his predecessor of overreaching in the case to bolster his reelection campaign, sought to dismiss all charges against the couple. The request, however, was denied last year by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Jones. Instead, Jones removed the district attorney’s office from the case and ordered it be turned over to the California attorney general’s office.
The review of the case by the D.A.'s office came under scrutiny during a personnel investigation into a district attorney investigator, Jennifer Kearns. In court filings, prosecutors have alleged that Kearns omitted pertinent information from reports she wrote about the case and claimed she led a “whisper campaign” to exaggerate evidence in favor of prosecution.
The agency launched a probe into Kearns’ actions and, as part of that inquiry, investigators concluded the review Spitzer ordered had been lacking.
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