Juror misconduct alleged, sentencing delayed in Zoloft rape case
The sentencing hearing of a former Westminster police detective convicted of kidnapping and rape was postponed Thursday after the officer’s attorney alleged possible 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 was reached, one of the juror’s contacted his office. The juror overheard another juror say that she had taken Zoloft but that “it didn’t make her crazy," according to the defense motion. Another juror also talked about being a victim of domestic violence.
Blatt argued that those statements showed a “presumed prejudice” since the jurors failed to disclose those facts during the initial jury selection process when asked about those topics.
The judge admonished Blatt for not contacting the court immediately when he first learned of the jurors' alleged comments instead of waiting more than two weeks to file a motion for a court inquiry. Still, Sabet said she had no choice but to hold a hearing about the allegations.
The hearing, and Orban’s sentencing, were postponed until Aug. 16.
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 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 sat in the front row during the hearing, her eyes filling with tears after it was postponed. The woman, 27, 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 was able to escape when Orban was distracted by an incoming cellphone call.
-- Phil Willon in Rancho Cucamonga
Photo: Former Westminster police Det. Anthony Orban looks at bottles of Zoloft shown to him by Deputy Dist. Atty. Debbie Ploghaus during cross examination on June 20. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times