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Interview With Mother of Andrew Luster

Aired August 18, 2003 - 20:01   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin, though, with an exclusive look at a sensational court case and manhunt that made international headlines. But all those headlines don't tell Andrew Luster's full story.

ZAHN (voice-over): The case seemed straightforward: one man, three women, accusations that he drugged and raped them in 1996, 1997 and 2000. There were home videos that seemed to chronicle what he has called consensual sex, but others have described as brutal rapes as the women laid unconscious. One woman was even seen and heard snoring on the video.

But the case would become far from simple. The man on trial, Andrew Luster, had the pedigree of his great grandfather, Hollywood cosmetics legend and multimillionaire Max Factor. Luster would say it was that name which made him a target for the police, who wanted to make big headlines.

And while the trial did make big headlines, it is what Luster did two weeks into the trial that grabbed the world's attention. He skipped bail and fled. An international manhunt ensued. Luster was on the run for five months, finally ending with a dramatic capture also caught on videotape in a Mexico resort town by a bounty hunter named Duane "The Dog" Chapman.

When Luster arrived back in Los Angeles, more cameras and a jail cell awaited him. He had been convicted in absentia to 86 counts and sentenced to 124 years in prison.


ZAHN: Andrew Luster, as we just said, is in prison, but his legal woes are far from over. Last Friday, a judge order him to pay $19 million to a 23-year-old woman who accused him of drugging and raping her six years ago. Other civil cases against him are pending.

Andrew Luster's mother, Liz Luster, and her attorney, Kiana Sloan-Hillier, join us tonight from Los Angeles for this exclusive interview.

Welcome to both of you. Thanks so much for being with us.


ZAHN: Liz, I'd love to start with you tonight. I know you had the opportunity to spend some time with Andrew on Friday. What was his mind-set?

LIZ LUSTER, MOTHER OF ANDREW LUSTER: More depressed, kind of resigned.

I'm sorry. I have laryngitis.

Hopeful and just kind of numb. "What's happened to me?"

ZAHN: Isn't it a little difficult for him to be hopeful at this point, particularly -- on the day you saw him, it was confirmed that this $19 million order came down.

LUSTER: I don't know that he knew about that last Friday.

ZAHN: Did he talk legal strategy with you at all, either when it came to his criminal cases -- case -- or the two civil cases that await him?

LUSTER: Very little.

ZAHN: What, then, did he talk about?

LUSTER: His life there, what it is like there, what he's hoping for, some of the things that had happened in the past. I just asked him some frank questions, and he answered them for me. We just talked about his family.

ZAHN: Are you able to share with us tonight any of those frank questions you asked of your son?

LUSTER: Some of the things that -- what had really happened, which I've asked him before. And we just went over some of the things that we have talked about in the past.

ZAHN: Prior to his legal problems, did the two of you ever talk about his sexual history with women?

LUSTER: No, not really, no.

ZAHN: So, when these videotapes became public, showing your son with a number of different women, was it surprising to you?

LUSTER: Very. I was not aware of their existence.

ZAHN: Have you ever seen any of the videotapes?

LUSTER: Yes, I have. I saw them during the trial, parts of them.

ZAHN: And for those of us who weren't in the courtroom with you, describe to us what your reaction was to some of the content of these videotapes.

LUSTER: He just obviously looked under the influence of something. It was like he was acting out a sexual fantasy. It was just all very unreal. ZAHN: Liz, as you know, the judge in the civil case has called the facts of this case -- quote -- "so perverse, so unconscionable and so despicable."

LUSTER: I know that, but I didn't feel that way.

ZAHN: And how is it that you interpreted what you saw?

LUSTER: I just felt that they were acting out sexual fantasies and private behavior that they never expected anyone else in the world to see. And something that people do in the privacy of their own home suddenly becomes international news.

ZAHN: So, on any level, was it disturbing to you?

LUSTER: Oh, certainly it was disturbing, because it became public.

ZAHN: And was this a part of your son's life that you had any knowledge of?

LUSTER: No, it was not.

ZAHN: Are you implying, then, when you watched these tapes, that you have a completely different take on it than people in the courtroom did?

LUSTER: I'm sure I did, maybe not entirely. I don't know how the people in the courtroom took it.

ZAHN: Well, clearly, you have seen some of the very harsh things that have been said about your son. He has been described as a sociopath, a sexual predator. How do you reconcile any of what you're hearing about your son with this young man that you raised?

LUSTER: He is none of those things. He's not a sexual predator. He is not any of those things that have been described. Those were extrapolations that were made up, mostly. Mostly, they were blatant lies.

ZAHN: When you say you believe blatant lies were being told, why is it, then, that your son did not remain in the country to stand trial? Why did he flee?

LUSTER: I think Kiana can talk about that.

ZAHN: Kiana, why did Andrew Luster leave the country?


SLOAN-HILLIER: I would like to clear up one thing. I'm not Elizabeth Luster's attorney. I'm Andrew Luster's attorney.

And so, obviously, there are certain things that we can't discuss because of the ongoing litigation from the litigation and civil litigation, but -- and, obviously, I wasn't privy to what -- he didn't consult with me. I wish he had have. I would have urged him not to flee. I think it was a big mistake. And he was obviously prejudiced by that. I would have urged him to stay here, because Andrew Luster's trial, for lack of a better word, was -- as Elizabeth has called it just today, sort of a kangaroo court.

We went forward without being ready. We advised the court that we were not ready to proceed. There were numerous discovery problems at the beginning of this case. We went forward with this, if you can believe it, Paula, without ever seeing these original videotapes, which ended up convicting him. We saw copies made by the prosecution as exhibits. And my client has advised me that, had the original videotapes been presented to the court, there was exculpatory evidence available.

He's also indicated that there -- all of the videotapes were not returned to us, that there were other videotapes with these women on them, apparently indicating that they were very comfortable in front of cameras. I know that one of the civil judgments, they found that part of the reason that the award was so enormous was because of the media exposure that the complaining witness had to endure.

And I think that a lot of this was -- most of this was not Andrew's idea. He didn't want this in the media, certainly, either. And so why did Andrew -- long answer to a short question, Paula -- why did Andrew Luster leave? I think he left because he felt he wasn't getting a fair trial. The last thing he saw was one of the complaining victims lying on the stand and the court stopping the cross-examination and allowing the jury to go home on a Christmas break with that lie.

ZAHN: So, Kiana, if you believe -- and do you believe, in all three of these cases, this was consensual sex?


ZAHN: So let me ask you this. If you believe these women, some of them lied on the stand, do you also believe the judge is lying here about the behavior that he believes Andrew Luster exhibited on these tapes?

SLOAN-HILLIER: Well, I would -- I don't know this, but I'm assuming that that judge never saw the original videotapes either. I know the jury never saw them. I know that the criminal judge, Judge Riley, never saw them. I know the defense never saw them. And we asked a lot, and for a long time. And we were put off and put off and put off.

And, suddenly, we went to trial without ever having seen the original videotapes. And we were shut down every time. I think that's a pretty simple request. And basic evidentiary rules require that the original videotapes at least be viewed by the defense.

ZAHN: Kiana.



ZAHN: Sorry, I've just got 15 seconds left here. I want to pose this question to you. Your client lost his case before the appellate court. What makes you think you would have any more success at the state Supreme Court level?

SLOAN-HILLIER: We're asking the California Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision. We think that there is good law and that that was an error and that the California -- we're really optimistic the California Supreme Court will take this up on review and find that he has a right to an appeal here.

I would like to add that a trial in absentia, I think particularly under the fact that this case was unconstitutional and that what we should all be thinking about is less about -- well, we should be thinking more about what the system is doing here. We need to have a system that works.

ZAHN: Liz, final question to you. Do you believe that your son will be spending the rest of his life in prison?

LUSTER: Absolutely not.

ZAHN: And you think his out is at the state Supreme Court level?

LUSTER: Perhaps. I hope so.

ZAHN: Well, I know it has been difficult for you to relive all this tonight, and also considering the fact you have laryngitis. We appreciate your coming on tonight, Liz Luster and Kiana Sloan-Hillier. Thank you for both of your perspectives tonight.

SLOAN-HILLIER: Thank you, Paula.


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