Judge scales back charges against Orange County doctor, girlfriend in sex assault case
An Orange County Superior Court judge on Thursday approved a request by state prosecutors to drop a host of rape charges against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend.
Lawyers for Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who took over the case from the Orange County district attorney’s office last year, plan to focus their case around two women who say they were attacked in 2016 and 2017, according to court records.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Frank Ospino’s ruling is the latest twist in a case that’s been mired in controversy since it began in 2018 when then-Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas painted Grant Robicheaux, 40, and Cerissa Riley, 34, as sexual predators who used their good looks to prey on vulnerable women, drug them and take them back to their Newport Beach home to sexually assault them.
“Amendments to charging documents are routine and mundane,” Ospino said as he delivered his ruling. “There is nothing mystical, magical or rare about this. What makes it different in this case is frankly the tortured history of the case.”
Robicheaux was originally charged with sexually assaulting seven women. Riley, a former schoolteacher, was originally charged with five assaults. The couple have denied any nonconsensual sex.
Prosecutors say they intend to move forward with two of the original seven women whom Grant Robicheaux was accused of sexually assaulting.
Last month, an Orange County Superior Court judge dismissed charges related to allegations lodged by two of the seven women after they told prosecutors they had been “dragged through the mud” by the district attorney’s office and no longer wanted to participate in the case.
The couple now faces felony charges of kidnapping, assault with intent to commit a sex offense and administering a drug to facilitate rape related to two alleged assaults, one in October 2016 and one in April 2017, court records show.
One woman met Robicheaux and Riley in 2016 while she was out with her roommate in Newport Beach, prosecutors say. The woman woke up topless in Robicheaux’s home and screamed for help, which prompted neighbors to call 911, according to court documents.
The following year, Robicheaux — who had begun talking with another woman in her early 20s on a popular dating app — agreed to meet the woman in person at a Newport Beach eatery, court records show. Riley showed up at the April 2017 meeting 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 and ran to the bathroom, where she locked herself inside until the next morning.
Riley faces a separate charge of furnishing cocaine to the woman in the 2017 incident. Robicheaux faces felony charges based on allegations that he poisoned the same woman’s food or drink and gave her PCP.
He is also charged with possession of mushrooms, ecstasy and GHB — all misdemeanors — and two felony charges for possession of assault weapons that were discovered during a search of his home in 2018, according to court records.
The defendants have pleaded not guilty to all charges and have denied any wrongdoing.
A woman who alleges that in 2009 she was raped by a Newport Beach doctor who is charged alongside his girlfriend with drugging and sexually assaulting other women pleaded with an Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday not to drop charges against the man she said attacked her.
Defense attorney Philip Cohen, who represents Robicheaux, said that while he did not object to the amended charges, he plans to seek a complete dismissal of the case for outrageous government conduct.
“The way this has been handled from Day One ... is outrageous,” Cohen said. “I truly believe that all fairness that Grant and Cerissa were entitled to went out the door long ago, and I truly believe an outrageous government conduct dismissal is appropriate.”
Prosecutors from the attorney general’s office announced in May that they wanted to focus the case on just one woman. At the time, they said they didn’t have enough evidence to prove allegations beyond a reasonable doubt related to the other women who have accused the couple.
Since then, an attorney representing the woman in the alleged 2016 attack told prosecutors about a cellphone that contained potential evidence that could corroborate the woman’s claims. Prosecutors reconsidered dismissing the charges after those discussions, attorneys said.
The case, which Deputy Atty. Gen. Yvette Martinez has called a “political firestorm,” has faced a series of delays since charges were first filed against the couple nearly three years ago.
After beating Rackauckas in a contentious race for Orange County district attorney, Todd Spitzer sent a letter to the California attorney general asking the state office to take over prosecution of the case, which was discussed extensively during the D.A. campaign. After the state declined, Spitzer assigned two deputy district attorneys to conduct a review of all the evidence. 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 to prosecute. 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 state attorney general’s office.
During a hearing last week, a woman who alleges that Robicheaux raped her in 2009, pleaded with the judge not to dismiss charges related to her assault.
“This case is a complete travesty,” she said. “I’ve already begged a judge not to dismiss my case, and here I am again.”
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