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'Zoloft' rape sentencing delayed; jury misconduct inquiry ordered

August 16, 2012 | 12:05 pm

Orban with attorney
The sentencing hearing of a former Westminster police detective convicted of kidnapping and rape was postponed Thursday after a San Bernardino County judge ordered an inquiry into allegations of juror misconduct.

Anthony Orban claimed to have been in a drug-induced blackout caused by the widely used antidepressant Zoloft when he abducted and brutally sexually assaulted an Ontario Mills waitress in 2010.

Orban’s attorney, James Blatt of Los Angeles, told San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Shahla Sabet that, after the verdict, one of the jurors contacted his office. The juror said another juror was overheard saying she had taken Zoloft but that "it didn’t make her crazy," according to the defense motion.

Blatt argued that those statements showed a "presumed prejudice" because the juror failed to disclose that fact during the initial jury selection process when jurors were asked if they had taken Zoloft or had strong opinions about psychotropic drugs.

Sabet on Thursday ordered an inquiry, saying that Orban had the right to "12 unbiased jurors." If the court finds there was juror misconduct, Orban could receive a new trial.

The first step will be a hearing Sept. 14 to allow the juror in question to object to having her identity released to the prosecutor and defense attorney. If the juror cooperates, or the judge orders her identity released, a separate hearing will be held to determine whether the allegations are true.

Orban’s attorney also alleged that another juror had discussed being a victim of domestic violence. Blatt argued that the juror failed to disclose this information during jury questioning, when asked if she had ever been a victim of a crime.

The judge tentatively ruled against that argument, but will allow Blatt and the prosecutor to file additional motions on that issue. The eight-woman, four-man jury found Orban guilty of kidnapping, rape and multiple counts of sexual assault in June.

They also rejected Orban’s insanity defense during a separate phase of the trial that focused on his mental state during the attack. After the verdict, Deputy Dist. Atty. Debbie Ploghaus called Orban's claim of suffering a drug-induced blackout a ruse.

She called him dangerous and "very manipulative," saying she believed Orban never planned to let his victim live. Blatt, after the verdict, said one of the major goals of the defense was to expose the dangers of psychotropic drugs.

Experts for both the defense and for the prosecution agreed that Orban suffered some form of blackout during the attack but differed on what triggered it. On Thursday, deputies escorted a shackled Orban into the courtroom. He wore a forest-green jail jumpsuit, his head shaved.

The victim did not attend the hearing. Now 27 years old, the victim testified during the trial that Orban kidnapped her as she walked to her car in the mall parking lot, then forced her to drive to Fontana, where he raped and tormented her inside her SUV. She said she was able to escape when Orban was distracted by an incoming cellphone call.

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-- Phil Willon in Rancho Cucamonga

Photo: Former Westminster Police Det. Anthony Orban, with attorney James Blatt, left, June 26. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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