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Ex-cop says he has no memory of rape

Anthony Orban says Zoloft spurred violent thoughts and triggered a blackout. The prosecutor questions parallels between his testimony and similar accounts in a magazine and book.

June 21, 2012|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
  • Anthony Orban looks at bottles of Zoloft shown to him by Deputy Dist. Atty. Debbie Ploghaus during cross-examination. Orban, who has been convicted of rape and kidnapping, testified in the insanity phase of his trial. The former police detective says an antidepressant made him temporarily insane.
Anthony Orban looks at bottles of Zoloft shown to him by Deputy Dist. Atty.… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

A former Westminster police detective convicted of kidnapping and rape broke down on the witness stand on Wednesday, saying he had no memory of the attack because of a blackout triggered by the antidepressant Zoloft.

"It's absolutely horrendous," Anthony Orban told the jury, shielding his face with his hand. "I can't imagine doing this to another person."

Orban's testimony is crucial to his attempt to convince a San Bernardino County jury that he was legally insane when he abducted a young waitress from Ontario Mills Mall in April 2010 and then brutally raped her near a Fontana self-storage lot.

The prosecutor used her rapid-fire cross-examination to try to cast doubt on Orban's claim of being in a Zoloft-induced stupor, questioning parallels between his testimony and similar accounts in a magazine and book by a well-known critic of psychotropic drugs.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Debbie Ploghaus, glancing at the jury, also pressed Orban on the victim's testimony about the assault. The woman said that he had shoved his service weapon into her mouth, taken pictures with his cell phone as he brutalized her and threatened to "finish this" in the desert.

"I'm not denying her testimony,'' Orban said. "I don't remember."

One of the few times the prosecutor's jabs seemed to get under Orban's skin was when she implied that the victim resembled his wife, which he curtly disputed.

The jury charged with ruling on Orban's sanity is the same one that last week found him guilty, dismissing claims that Zoloft had rendered Orban mentally "unconscious" and therefore rendered him not responsible for his actions.

During the sanity phase of the trial, the defense has the burden to prove that Orban "more likely than not" was unable to tell the difference between right and wrong. If the jury finds he was insane, Orban would be sent to a state mental hospital for treatment. If not, he could face life in prison.

For defense attorney James Blatt, putting Orban on the witness stand was the only way to bolster his argument that a powerful dose of prescription Zoloft caused his client to have a psychotic break in the days before the attack.

Orban had been on the antidepressant, prescribed by his psychiatrist as the police officer and Iraq War veteran struggled with his failing marriage, financial woes and consuming depression. But he quit Zoloft for nearly a month, resuming the medications less than a week before the attack.

Within days, he said, he was overwhelmed, hearing voices at night, contemplating suicide and fantasizing about killing his wife and dog.

"I keep having this obsession with suicide. I had this drive of self-destruction," Orban testified. "I felt that I had to kill my wife. …It wasn't a matter of thinking about it, it was the way it had to be."

The prosecutor pressed the former detective to admit that his alleged Zoloft-induced fantasies were lifted from a Time magazine article about a returning Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who killed his wife, dogs and himself. And she asked whether the symptoms he claimed to suffer, including feeling "zombie-like," were lifted from a book called "Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood-Altering Medications." The book's author, New York psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin, testified for the defense on Tuesday.

Orban acknowledged reading both works, but denied they had influenced his testimony.

Orban said his last memory before the attack was drinking three margaritas with a friend. He said he couldn't remember sending 45 text messages to a woman he had an affair with, groping a waitress or grabbing a man's crotch.

When he came to, he said, he was standing outside a Denny's near Interstate 15.

The prosecutor asked Orban if he thought he should be punished for kidnapping and raping the young woman.

"That's up to the jury to decide," he answered.

phil.willon@latimes.com

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