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Jamesblatt.comLos Angeles Times - June 13, 2012
Jury rejects 'Zoloft' defense, finds ex-detective guilty of rape
Anthony Nicholas Orban will next face a sanity hearing. If found to be sane, he
probably faces a life term.
By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
A San Bernardino County jury Wednesday rejected a controversial "Zoloft" defense presented bya former Westminster police detective accused of kidnapping and raping a waitress in 2010,finding the defendant guilty of all eight charges.
Anthony Nicholas Orban's attorney acknowledged from the outset that his client attacked thewoman, but argued that the former detective was rendered mentally "unconscious" by a powerfuldose of the prescription antidepressant and was not responsible for his actions.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated less than a day before dismissing that defenseand finding Orban guilty of kidnapping, two counts of rape, two counts of forced oral copulation,two counts of sexual penetration with a foreign object and one count of making a criminal threat.
The victim sat in the front row of the packed Rancho Cucamonga courtroom, reacting with asubtle smile as Superior Court Judge Shahla S. Sabet read the guilty verdicts. The victim'sunflinching, graphic account of the sexual assault was the most compelling testimony givenduring the month-long trial.
Orban showed little emotion as the verdicts were read. His wife wept gently in the back of thecourtroom.
Orban will face a sanity hearing to determine whether he knew the difference between right andwrong at the time of the attack. He almost certainly faces a life prison sentence if the jurydetermines he was sane. If declared insane, he would be sent to a state mental institution fortreatment, and later could be released. The same jurors will be impaneled for the sanityproceeding.
"What it comes down to is whether, at the time of this incident, he understood the differencebetween right and wrong," Orban's attorney, James Blatt of Los Angeles, said outside thecourtroom. "I believe [the jury] will keep an open mind in reference to the sanity phase." The hearing is scheduled to begin Tuesday and testimony is expected to last two days.
The psychotropic effects of Zoloft again will be central to the sanity phase.
Psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin of New York, a controversial critic of psychiatric drugs, will be thedefense's sole medical expert. Earlier in the trial, Breggin testified that Orban had stopped taking the prescribed antidepressant, then resumed it at full dose, provoking a psychotic break duringwhich he was "delirious" and not fully aware of his actions.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Debbie Ploghaus, in her closing argument earlier this week, called thatdefense a "bunch of baloney." She told jurors that Breggin's opinions ran counter to medicalconsensus on the drug's effects. Prosecution expert Dr. Douglas Jacobs, an associate clinicalprofessor at Harvard, testified that Zoloft has been prescribed to millions of people and provedsafe. He attributed Orban's actions more to alcohol consumption.
Orban had shared eight margaritas and two pitchers of beer with a friend, and was seeking sexualencounters before he kidnapped the victim at gunpoint and made her drive to a Fontana storagefacility, where he raped her, Ploghaus told jurors.
"He had sex on the mind. Don't forget that," Ploghaus told jurors.
Ploghaus on Wednesday declined to comment on the verdict because the case is ongoing.
Proving insanity is a "high hurdle" and successful in a minuscule number of cases, said USC lawprofessor Elyn Saks, head of the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy and Ethics. Even ifa defendant can convince a jury that he has no memory of an incident, that by itself is not enoughto absolve him of responsibility.
"It's a difficult case to make, and it's a difficult case to win," Saks said.
The victim, then 25 and working as a waitress, testified that Orban punched and slapped herthroughout the sexual assault. He shoved his police service gun into her mouth, threatening tokill her if she continued crying. The victim believed killing her was his plan all along.
"He pulled the gun out and said, 'I think we'll continue this in the desert,'" she told jurors.
When Orban was distracted by an incoming cellphone call, the woman said, she jumped out ofthe car and ran to safety at a nearby liquor store.
Police later recovered Orban's gun, with his name on it, from the victim's car.
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