DA: Starbuck's OJ Test Could Take Weeks

Suspect's lawyer attributed the case to "mass hysteria," and maintained that the smell of alcohol in the juice could have been due to fermentation

Monday, May 6, 2013  |  Updated 10:03 PM PDT
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Woman Arrested at SJ Starbucks for Potential Orange Juice Poisoning Released

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Starbucks on Snell Avenue in San Jose where a woman allegedly put rubbing alcohol into two orange juice bottles. April 29, 2013

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Motive For Starbucks Poisoning Attempt a Mystery

A 50-year-old woman was arrested Monday night after police say she removed two bottles of orange juice from a bag - which they say were filled with rubbing alcohol - and placed them on the shelf with other refrigerated items at a Starbucks in San Jose. Kris Sanchez reports.

Woman Arrested at SJ Starbucks for Potential Orange Juice Poisoning Released

A 50-year-old chemist who used to work on AIDS medications who was arrested after police say she filled two bottles of orange juice with what appeared to be rubbing alcohol at a San Jose Starbucks was released Thursday evening from custody, until lab tests return confirming what was actually inside the bottles. George Kiriyama reports.
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It may take up to three weeks to test orange juice allegedly poisoned a week ago at a Starbucks in San Jose because no one knows what is in it yet, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

"They have to test a lot of things when they don't know what it is they are looking for," Deputy District Attorney Luis Ramos said. Ramos had the orange juice sent on Friday for testing and it may take two to three weeks to compare it to untainted juice to see "what, if anything, that was contained in that juice was foreign or toxic."

The results of tests are crucial if a case is to be made against Ramineh "Romi" Behbehanian, 50, whose arrest last Monday for allegedly placing rubbing alcohol in two bottles of juice at a Starbucks at 6009 Snell Ave. made national news.

Behbehanian was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and felony poisoning after a customer said she swapped out two bottles of orange juice in the cafi's refrigerator with her own tainted bottles that she brought to the store in a Starbucks bag.

Witnesses said Behbehanian left the store after the customer told cafi employees about it and a person followed her to her car to obtain her license plate number for police.

San Jose police arrested Behbehanian on the basis of a determination by the San Jose Fire Department that the bottles allegedly contained lethal doses of rubbing alcohol.

Ramos said he assumed the fire department used a test kit, with paper or a vial, to conclude there was enough rubbing alcohol mixed inside the bottles to kill someone if they drank it. But Ramos sounded skeptical that the juice contained that much or that kind of alcohol. "I don't know how they could know that," said Ramos, adding that the alcohol may have come from natural fermentation of the orange beverage after it spoils.

"There's not enough information at this point," Ramos said. "Simply not enough to make a charging decision, certainly not enough on the charge she was booked for."

Behbehanian was released Thursday from the Elmwood Correction Facility, Santa Clara County's jail for women, hours after the district attorney's office missed a 48-hour deadline to file charges. A trained chemist who works for a subsidiary of drug maker Johnson & Johnson, she is represented by criminal defense attorney Dennis Lempert.

"I am waiting for the district attorney to do their thing and come to a conclusion and that's precisely what I'm going to do," Lempert said Monday.

After his client's release last week, Lempert attributed the case to "mass hysteria," disputed the statements from witnesses and maintained that the smell of alcohol in the juice could have been due to fermentation.

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