Max Factor heir's rape trial gets under way
By Aron Miller, email@example.com
December 17, 2002
Andrew Luster sat handcuffed to a police interview room table as detectives accused him of drugging and raping a college coed.
An heir to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune, he denied doing anything wrong. He said he was rich, that he had too much at stake to risk it all by sexually assaulting women.
"I can't screw up," he told them in that July 2000 interview. "I'm a wealthy guy."
On Monday, a prosecutor read portions of that interview to a jury to punctuate her opening statement on the first day of Luster's trial.
"What the evidence will show is that Mr. Luster did screw up," Senior Deputy District Attorney Maeve Fox said.
He screwed up, Fox told jurors, by videotaping sexual encounters with two women who appear to be unconscious. The prosecutor showed the jury graphic still photographs taken from those videos found in Luster's Mussel Shoals home that depict him having sex with the women, at one point even using a candle, while they lay still.
"He manhandles her," Fox said of one alleged victim. "She never bats an eyelid. She never moves, she never flinches."
Luster, 39, has pleaded not guilty to the 87 criminal counts against him that could put him in prison for 150 years. He asserts the acts were consensual.
His attorney, Roger Diamond, might give his opening statement today, but that was unclear Monday after he urged Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley to let him give a dry run of his remarks in closed court to make sure they complied with the judge's pretrial orders.
After dismissing the jury for the day, Riley closed the courtroom to give Diamond that opportunity. The attorney can choose not to give an opening statement until the prosecution has rested its case, or not give one at all.
During pretrial hearings last week, Diamond argued that Luster was a budding pornography producer who was simply making a movie when he taped those women.
Diamond also has argued that the entire case is a blatant example of police and prosecutor misconduct, that investigators somehow doctored the tapes and coached the women to lie.
During her two-hour opening statement, Fox said the evidence is overwhelming that Luster used a drug called gammahydroxybutyrate, commonly known as GHB, to incapacitate three women and rape them.
In larger doses, the clear, odorless liquid with a slight salty taste can render women unable to fight off a sexual assault. It was Luster's "weapon of choice," Fox said.
Police began investigating him in July 2000 when a 21-year-old University of California, Santa Barbara, student reported being raped.
She described meeting Luster at a Santa Barbara bar and gulping down a drink he gave her on the dance floor. She said she thought it was water.
After that, she told police, she remembers flashes of that night. Eventually, she ended up at Luster's beachfront home with two other men: a friend of hers and a friend of Luster's.
Fox displayed for jurors a photo taken of her, her friend and Luster's friend, all smiling for the camera inside his home. It is unclear when the picture was taken. The defense says it is clear evidence the woman was not raped, and instead consented to sex with Luster and enjoyed it.
The woman, who in court was referred to as Carey Doe, is expected to testify Luster raped her in the shower as she stood helpless, physically unable to resist because she was drugged. He raped her again in his bedroom, Fox said.
After getting a search warrant, police found 17 videotapes that show Luster having sex with what appear to be unconscious women. Two of those women came forward.
The first, known in court as Tonja Doe, said she dated Luster for three months in 1996. Their relationship was sexual, and she enjoyed his company until "he began giving her the creeps," the prosecutor said.
With no memory of being raped, she went to police to see if she was on any of the tapes they found. She was.
Luster recorded the tape in October 1996. On the outside, he labeled it "Malibu Fire/Tonja and me, 2nd time."
Prosecutors contend Luster raped her the first night they met. She told police she met him at a bar, went home with him and tried some GHB. The last thing she remembers is talking to him about her childhood cat, she told detectives.
Photos from the video show her lying naked on Luster's bed, eyes closed, her arm contorted in a seemingly uncomfortable way.
Luster has sex with her, sometimes smiling and mugging for the camera. He never says her name.
Tonja wakes once and is seen grimacing and rolling over. At the same time, Luster rushes to turn off the camera, Fox said.
When she allegedly falls back to sleep, Luster resumes.
The third woman was 16 when she met Luster at a beach party.
The two socialized a few times, and in December 1997, she drank alcohol with him, then passed out. She doesn't remember having sex with him.
In the photos from the video he has sex with her, plays with her breasts and pinches and pulls her nipples. The word "GHBing" is in the video's title.
"Her facial muscles never move," Fox said while showing the photos. "He clearly is enjoying this."
After Carey Doe came forward, police had her call Luster as they recorded the conversation. In that call, Luster says he gave her GHB and asks her if she liked it.
During his three-hour police interview, he initially denied doing any drugs with her and said the sex was consensual.
When confronted with the tape-recorded call, he admitted giving her GHB.
When detectives asked what he did for a living, he said he was a stock trader who dabbled in real estate.