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Legal team misled convicted rapist Andrew Luster, witnesses say

February 21, 2013 |  8:58 am

Andrew Luster is escorted from Los Angeles International Airport by federal agents in 2003 after he was apprehended in Mexico. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.

A great-grandson of cosmetics magnate Max Factor says he was misled by members of his legal team and is seeking a reduction in his 124-year rape sentence, as well as a new trial.

Andrew Luster says the attorneys urged him to flee the country rather than face rape charges, according to witnesses in a court hearing Wednesday.

The hearing, which is being held at the Ventura County Courthouse before retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathryne Ann Stoltz, is expected to last into next week. Luster left the country in 2003 while out on bail on charges related to videotaped sexual encounters he had with unconscious women. He was convicted in absentia.

Months later, bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman apprehended him at a taco stand in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Chapman went on to star in a TV reality show, while Luster went to Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif.

A state appeals court last spring agreed that Luster's unusually long sentence should be reconsidered in light of claims that he had been poorly represented "in a textbook case of grasping lawyers seeking fame and fortune."

In a blue jail jumpsuit and orange T-shirt, the 49-year-old former surfer smiled at his old friend Darryl Genis, one of several witnesses who appeared Wednesday. A Santa Barbara attorney who specializes in drunk-driving cases, Genis recounted how the two met while surfing at Hollister Ranch.

Offering Luster apologies for his candor, Genis testified that his old surfing buddy was "childlike" and failed to comprehend that he could be sentenced to more than 100 years after he was convicted. Luster had been "able to live a life on vacation," Genis said, never rooting himself in such concerns as earning a living. Luster's financial advisor, Albert Gersh, had particularly harsh words for Richard G. Sherman, a Luster attorney who he said advised his client to head for the border.

Sherman, who died in 2011, and one of his investigators "encouraged him to leave the country … they said he'd be murdered in prison," Gersh said. The financial advisor said he told Luster that fleeing was "the stupidest idea I'd ever heard."

In court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michelle Contois expressed skepticism that Luster bolted only because Sherman and his investigator frightened him with repeated tales of death behind bars.

"Luster could have terminated their services if he didn't like the advice he was getting," she said.

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-- Steve Chawkins in Ventura

Photo: Andrew Luster is escorted from Los Angeles International Airport by federal agents in 2003 after he was apprehended in Mexico. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.

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