Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tony Zendejas not guilty of rape charges


POMONA - Former NFL placekicker Tony Zendejas was acquitted by a jury Tuesday on charges that he drugged a woman at his San Dimas restaurant in January 2008 and raped her at a nearby motel.

A jury of nine men and three women took about two hours of deliberations to reach a not-guilty verdict on the two felony counts.

As the verdict was read in Pomona Superior Court, 48-year-old Zendejas, a former Los Angeles Ram, hung his head and cried softly.

In an interview afterward, Zendejas thanked his defense attorneys, thanked family members for supporting him, and lashed out at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the woman who accused him of drugging and raping her.

"My reaction is it's unbelievable because you've been accused of something and you know you're innocent," Zendejas said in his first public statement since his arrest in July.

"What they did to me goes beyond criminal," Zendejas said of the Sheriff's Department and the alleged victim.

Prosecutors accused Zendejas, of Yorba Linda, of putting GHB or a similar date-rape drug into mixed drinks consumed by the alleged victim on Jan. 25, 2008, at Zendejas Mexican Restaurant. They alleged he then raped and sodomized the woman at a nearby Red Roof Inn.

"Obviously we're disappointed" in the verdict, Deputy District Attorney Rouman Ebrahim said shortly after leaving the courtroom.

Ebrahim said he believed the "evidence clearly showed (Zendejas) was guilty of those charges."

In testimony last week, the alleged victim said she was served two mixed drinks by Zendejas the night of the incident, and her memory of the night - save for brief flashes of being with Zendejas - ended about two hours later.

She testified that she woke up the next morning alone in a hotel room, and felt pain in her vaginal and anal areas.

The physician who examined the woman on Jan. 26, 2008 testified that the injuries were consistent with rape, and a toxicologist hired by the prosecution testified that the woman's story was consistent with drug-induced rape.

Zendejas testified in his own defense Monday, and said he had consensual oral, vaginal and anal sex with the woman. He said she did not appear intoxicated, and she pursued him aggressively earlier in the night at his restaurant.

The defense's expert witnesses refuted the prosecution's claims that date-rape drugs were used. Other defense witnesses supported Zendejas' claim that the alleged victim pursued him aggressively the night they had sex.

In the interview after the hearing, Zendejas called the charges "totally false from the get-go," and said prosecutors had "zero, zero evidence."

Of the woman who accused him of raping her, Zendejas said, "She lied the whole time."

Zendejas said he believes the woman wanted a relationship beyond their "one-night stand," was upset at him for ignoring her, and fabricated a story of being drugged and raped to retaliate against him.

Zendejas was also critical of the San Dimas sheriff's investigators who worked on his case, saying, "they didn't do an investigation."

He said he felt detectives ignored evidence indicating his innocence, and collaborated with the alleged victim to bolster the criminal charges against him. He said the Sheriff's Department was "trying to put an innocent man in jail."

He said he would consider bringing civil action against the Sheriff's Department and the alleged victim. He said he wanted to consult with his attorneys before making a decision.

The jury foreman said in a brief interview after the hearing that jurors "discussed the case, and decided there wasn't enough evidence to reach a guilty verdict."

The juror, who declined to give his name but said he was 51 years old and from Walnut, said "conflicting reports on the science alone was enough to put in some reasonable doubt."

"We collectively had issues and concerns with the credibility of many of the witnesses," the juror said, "(the alleged victim) included."


Link: http://www.sbsun.com/ci_11882018