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Luster Rape Victim Awarded $19 Million

Judge says the large sum reflects the 'perverse' crime and hopes it serves as a deterrent.

August 16, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

A judge Friday ordered convicted rapist Andrew Luster to pay $19 million in damages to a 23-year-old Oxnard woman, whom he drugged and raped six years ago while gleefully narrating his exploits before a video camera.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Frederick Bysshe called Luster's behavior so perverse and despicable that it warranted a large sum of punitive damages: $10 million worth.

Bysshe awarded $9 million more in compensatory damages and said he hoped the judgment would serve as a deterrent against drug-assisted sexual assaults and send a message that perpetrators like Luster would face significant monetary penalties as well as imprisonment for such conduct.

"Luster targeted a minor girl more than half his age, drugged her, raped her, humiliated her," Bysshe wrote. "He subjected her to one sexual indignity after another, all the while taping his sadistic assaults on her for his future depraved viewing."

The judge said Luster's narration at the beginning of the rape videotape "reveals a man exulting in the helplessness of his victim, a man totally lacking a moral compass."

Luster, 39, the great-grandson of cosmetics legend Max Factor, was convicted in January of raping three women in 1996, 1997 and 2000 after knocking them out with a potent anesthetic known as gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB.

Luster jumped bail and fled his trial on Jan. 3 after only one week of testimony, but was apprehended five months later in Mexico and handed over to state authorities. He is now serving a 124-year sentence at Salinas Valley State Prison in southern Monterey County.

All three of his victims, identified as Shawna, Tonja and Carey Doe, have sued Luster for claims that include sexual battery, rape and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Shawna Doe, who was 17 at the time of the assault, was the first victim to have her case go to trial. Tonja Doe's case is set for trial Monday and Carey Doe's is scheduled to go forward later this year.

Whether Shawna Doe receives any of the $19-million judgment remains to be seen.

During civil proceedings, Luster's financial worth was fixed at $20 million. He did not dispute the amount, which was proffered by Shawna Doe's attorney, and he failed to appear during court hearings to defend himself. Luster's former civil attorney left the case after the defendant skipped town, leaving him without representation.

On Friday, criminal defense lawyer Roger Diamond said Luster has no where near $20 million and questioned whether any of the victims would successfully collect civil damages.

"It seems to me that the alleged victims will be fighting over a limited amount of money, namely the $1-million bail," said Diamond, referring to Luster's forfeited cash bond.

Earlier this month, a criminal court judge ruled that the victims were entitled to a portion of the bail funds as restitution and law enforcement agencies could recoup about $154,000 spent trying to find Luster.

Beverly Hills attorney Barry Novack, who represents Shawna Doe, said he would ask that the remaining bail money be used to satisfy the civil judgment.

Beyond that, Novack intends to go after Luster's assets, including his Mussel Shoals beach house and trust funds. But he acknowledged, "It may be that he has depleted everything on his criminal defense and there is nothing left."

For Shawna Doe, the money will do little to ease the pain and humiliation caused by the sexual assault, according to her family. "I don't think any amount of money would compensate," Doe's mother said Friday. "It's going to be a long healing process for her."

At the civil trial last month, Shawna Doe testified she had no idea Luster had raped her in December 1997 until detectives investigating an unrelated sexual assault in July 2000 showed her a videotape seized during a search of Luster's house.

On the videotape, Luster is seen sitting on the edge of a bed with Doe passed out behind him. He tells the camera: "Some people dream about Christmas, Thanksgiving, getting together with friends ... I dream about this ... a strawberry blond, a beautiful girl, passed out on my bed and basically there for me to do whatever I choose."

Luster then undresses the girl and twice engages in sexual intercourse while she is unconscious. Doe can be heard snoring while Luster makes lewd remarks and leers at the camera.

The 30-minute tape was played for jurors at Luster's criminal trial and viewed by Bysshe as evidence in the civil case.

Shawna Doe testified that those images are seared on her memory and have led to ongoing therapy for depression and anxiety. That a portion of the tape, obtained by a CBS news crew, was played on national television only made matters worse.

"I don't remember the last time I was genuinely happy," Doe testified. "There is not a day that goes by that I don't remember what's on that video. It's really disturbing."

In his ruling, Bysshe referred to Doe's testimony and the unusual circumstances of the high-profile case.

"The defendant's sexual assaults and his video taping of these assaults set in motion a contemporary Greek tragedy where law enforcement and the media, each playing their respective roles, caused the plaintiff to suffer repeated and overwhelming episodes of humiliation and pain," the judge wrote.

"Because the facts of this case are so perverse, so unconscionable and so despicable, the court is impelled to award a very significant sum in punitive damages," Bysshe continued.

"The court intends to send a clear and uncompromising message to defendant Luster, as well as to any other person who contemplates the similar use of this type of heinous drug that in addition to criminal punishment, there will be severe financial consequences."

"I think he hit the nail on the head," Novack said of the decision. "I think that the magnitude of the award is reflective of the outrage over this conduct."

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