Charges to be dropped against Calif. surgeon and girlfriend accused of drugging and raping women
Darran Simon and Stella Chan, CNN
Published at | Updated at
(CNN) — Prosecutors in California plan to drop charges against a surgeon and his girlfriend who were accused of drugging and raping women, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Tuesday.
Dr. Grant Robicheaux, 39, and Cerissa Riley, 32, had been charged in September 2018 by the county’s previous district attorney of using their “good looks, charm” and drugs to lure women home to rape while they were unconscious or semiconscious.
The couple and their attorneys had repeatedly denied the accusations.
The case made international headlines and was an issue in the 2018 election for district attorney, when Spitzer challenged incumbent Tony Rackauckas.
Spitzer said a team of prosecutors he assigned to review the case after he was sworn into office concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove the cases beyond a reasonable doubt.
Spitzer said his office will go to court to seek a dismissal of the charges.
Rackauckas, who was the Orange County District Attorney in 2018, said then that investigators had found hundreds of videos of women in various states of consciousness on Robicheaux’s phone. Many of the women seemed unable to consent to a sexual act and many videos included Riley, Rackauckas said.
Rackauckas estimated more than 1,000 videos were on the phone and said then that “there might be many unidentified victims out there.”
Spitzer said prosecutors combed through a trove of evidence, including photographs, videos, text messages and transcripts of interviews with alleged victims.
“There is not a single piece of evidence or video or photo that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted. Not one,” he said.
Spitzer accused Rackauckas of missteps and of using the high-profile case to help his bid for reelection for district attorney.
“I didn’t create this situation but it’s my responsibility to fix it,” an emotional Spitzer said at a news conference.
“Doing justice is not always pretty. It’s not pleasant many times. This is not pleasant at all,” he said. “But these are important decisions that affect people’s lives.”
In a statement sent to CNN on Wednesday, Rackauckas denied Spitzer’s claim that he used the case for political gain. “I never made a single decision or statement about the case for any political motive,” Rackauckas said in the statement.
In a statement the previous day, Rackauckas said he believed the women’s complaints based on the evidence he had before leaving office.
“I just feel terrible for the women who had the courage to come forward and give their evidence to the authorities in this case,” his statement said.
“It’s hard for them to make these reports about things that were so very humiliating in the first place then have to relive the pain,” he said. “Certainly, any prosecutor should think long and hard before dismissing such a case where multiple women have independently come forward and subjected themselves to the hard process of (baring) their souls to the authorities.”
Thomas M. Ferlauto, who represented Robicheaux and Riley, thanked Spitzer.
“He made a very courageous decision. It was the right decision, but one that might expose him to criticism,” he said of the district attorney in an email.
“Grant and Cerissa’s lives were destroyed by the prior administration’s misuse of the justice system,” Ferlauto said.
He referred a request for comment to the couple’s publicist. Robicheaux, an orthopedic surgeon, was featured in an episode of Bravo’s “Online Dating Rituals of the American Male” in 2014.
An apology to the suspects
Spitzer said a team of prosecutors began its review in October and presented the findings last week.
“Some of the women who came forward were doing it to support the other women, even though they weren’t victims because when they heard thousands of victims on video, they wanted to come forward,” Spitzer said.
He apologized to the accusers and to Robicheaux and Riley. He said his office couldn’t ensure them a fair trial or meet its burden of proof.
“What happened to their lives and how this case materialized is nothing short of a travesty,” he said.