Orange County’s District Attorney Todd Spitzer tried last year to dismiss allegations of rape against a Newport Beach surgeon and his girlfriend based on a failure to review the evidence in the case, according to a group of senior investigators in his office.
The investigators’ results were published in a July by Cmdr. Clint McCall to chief Paul M. Walters who heads the prosecution’s investigative office. The Times checked an edited copy of the memo that was filed in court Thursday.
The review ordered by Spitzer of the case against Grant Robicheaux (40) and Cerissa Riley (33) ordered by Spitzer from top to bottom was “incomplete and contained inaccurate and misleading information” according to the memo. These shortcomings led the Spitzer prosecutor to argue in court why the couple should be dismissed, which “contained numerous unsupported allegations, false statements, falsehoods and factually inaccurate conclusions,” McCall wrote in the memo.
The memo and the internal departments highlighted therein mark another twist in a case that has been controversial for the past two years.
Kimberly Edds, a prosecutor’s spokeswoman, said Thursday night that the memo has been taken out of context.
“This internal memo was not a legal review of the evidence against Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley or their innocence or guilt,” she said. “This document was the final determination of a staff investigation into whether an investigator had included all relevant exculpatory information in her police reports, and the commanders unanimously agreed to an independent third party finding that she did not do so in accordance with the Office’s guidelines. ”
Robicheaux and Riley, a former school teacher, were first indicted in 2018 by Spitzer’s predecessor Tony Rackauckas. At the time, prosecutors painted the couple as sexual predators who used their good looks to hunt down vulnerable women, drug them, and bring them back to their posh Newport Beach home to attack.
Robicheaux was charged with sexually assaulting seven women, while Riley was charged with five. The couple pleaded not guilty and denied any non-consensual sex. Defense attorney Philip Cohen, who represents Robicheaux, declined to comment on the memo.
In 2019, shortly after Spitzer became the district’s chief prosecutor, he hired two deputy prosecutors to review all of the evidence gathered in the case. The unusual move came after a prosecutor pointed out “serious evidence problems” with the case, Spitzer said at the time.
Within three months, prosecutors viewed thousands of photos and videos captured by the couple’s computers, hundreds of hours of audio recordings, thousands of pages of documents, and tens of thousands of text messages between Robicheaux and Riley over a four-year period .
Ultimately, they discovered that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the case beyond doubt. Spitzer accused his predecessor of going too far in the case to step up his re-election campaign and moved to drop the charges. However, the motion was denied by Judge Gregory Jones of the Orange County Superior Court. Instead, Jones removed the prosecutor from the case and ordered it to be turned over to the California attorney general.
During a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Yvette Martinez said her office was still reviewing documents to make sure they received all of the evidence on the case.
“We are doing a very thorough and independent review of the case,” said Martinez.
Spitzer’s review of the case was examined during a staff investigation into a prosecutor’s investigator Jennifer Kearns.
In court records, prosecutors have alleged that Kearns omitted relevant information from reports she wrote about the case and alleged that she ran a “whispering campaign” to exaggerate evidence in favor of law enforcement.
The agency opened an investigation into Kearns’ actions, and as part of that investigation, investigators concluded that the review ordered by Spitzer was missing. Officials also decided that Kearns should receive additional report writing training.
Matt Murphy, a former prosecutor in the prosecution who represents four women who accused Robicheaux and Riley of assaulting them, said Thursday that no one from the attorney general reached the women.
“We’re trying to be cooperative, but I have to tell you that no one from the AG office has spoken to my customers,” he said during the hearing. “In this case, it’s totally unfair to the victims.”
Murphy and others also criticized prosecutors’ decision to prevent Kearns from speaking to someone in the attorney general’s office about the case without a supervisor.
Adam E. Chaikin, an attorney for the Assn. the Orange County’s deputy sheriffs emailed Walters in October that the policy is likely to prevent Kearns from sharing necessary details about the case with prosecutors without fear of reprimand.
Edds said in a statement Thursday that the office cooperated with the attorney general and turned over any discoveries in their possession.
Spitzer “has ensured that the attorney general has full access to all the district attorney’s staff to help review the case and answer questions or provide clarifications,” she said. “The attorney general, not this firm, determines who and when prosecutors speak to.”
Hannah Fry is a contributor to the Los Angeles Times.
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