California judge vacates Max Factor heir's 124-year prison term

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California judge threw out a 124-year prison term handed down a decade ago to an heir to the Max Factor fortune for raping three women and related crimes, ruling on Monday that the original sentencing had been improper.

Fugitive rapist Andrew Luster (L) is led out of the U.S. Customs building by federal agents after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, June 19, 2003. REUTERS/POOL/Gina Ferazzi

But the judge declined to give 49-year-old Andrew Luster a new trial. Luster was convicted in 2003 in absentia of 86 counts including rape of an intoxicated person, rape of an unconscious person and sexual battery. He fled to Mexico during the trial.

Luster’s grandfather is the late Max Factor, whose make-up was used by screen actors during the early years of Hollywood. Max Factor & Company later expanded to the consumer market and became of the nation’s largest cosmetics brands.

In the months following Luster’s conviction, bounty hunter Duane Lee “Dog” Chapman captured him in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta, in a development that helped propel Chapman to fame and his own reality TV show.

Luster ultimately sought a new sentencing hearing, and Ventura County Superior Court Judge Kathryne Stoltz ruled on Monday that the judge who sent him to prison for 124 years “failed to state specific reasons for imposing full consecutive sentences” rather than having them run concurrently.

“The previously imposed sentence is vacated and a new sentencing hearing will be held,” Stoltz wrote in her 28-page opinion that also denied him a new trial.

Attorneys for the Max Factor heir had argued he deserved one, in part because his original attorneys presented weak defenses at trial and that one lawyer, the late Richard Sherman, gave him ill-conceived advice to flee to Mexico.

But Stoltz wrote that Luster’s attorneys did not fail him at trial, and she rejected his current lawyers’ arguments that Luster was manipulated into fleeing.

“Although several witnesses did describe Luster as ‘childlike,’ it appears that this was primarily because he did not have to work at a regular job due to the fact that he had a trust fund, and he lived the life of a carefree ‘beach bum,’” Stoltz wrote.

She added that Luster, who spent much of his time surfing, described himself as being involved in real estate and stock trading, and that he did not appear to have a low IQ.

Luster was found guilty of giving three women the date rape drug GHB and raping them while they were unconscious or intoxicated. Video tape Luster took of his sexual acts with the women was presented against him at trial.

A representative for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office did not return calls regarding the judge’s ruling. Stoltz set an April 4 sentencing hearing for Luster.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bob Burgdorfer