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.
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.
Just before 6 p.m., Ramineh Behbehanian of San Jose left Elmwood Correction Facility in Milpitas, covering her head with a blue hoodie.
She had been booked on an attempted murder charge Monday because San Jose police said the orange juice contained what police said were lethal quantities of isopropyl alcohol.
But her scheduled court date of Thursday was postponed, because prosecutors did not yet have enough information to charge her.
She was driven home Thursday evening by her attorney, Dennis Lempert, who told a gaggle of reporters waiting for her: "There are no charges right now. And with any luck there will not be any charges filed."
Behbehanian ran into her home and shut the door behind her.
Prosecutors had a 72 hour window to file charges, but chose not to because they're still not completely sure what was inside the orange juice bottles.
"The District Attorney's office has not found any material that was harmful in either container as far as I know. Had there been any, I expect they would have filed charges," Lempert said.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney could still charge her, but prosecutors won't know with what until the lab results of the orange juice come back, a spokesman said. It is unclear just how much rubbing alcohol was put into the juice.
" I think what they're saying is we have more homework to do on this case," said Steven Clark, a legal analyst for NBC Bay Area. "We need to know exactly what was in those orange juice bottles and more importantly was what was in there a lethal dose. Something that could have injured or killed someone had they ingested it."
Clark added: "There probably was enough to bring charges at this point for at least the adulterated food count. However, it's dangerous for the DA's office to do that because if she had plead guilty to that on her first day in court, they could not have added additional charges later so that was a risk the DA didn't want to take."
Behbehanian has no criminal record in Santa Clara County, according to court records. Lempert said she worked as a chemist who worked on AIDS vacines for Janssen, a company owned by Johnson and Johnson.
San Jose police are still not sure why she would have allegedly mixed rubbing alcohol with some orange juice Monday afternoon, left the bottles in the refrigerated section alongside some yogurt and milk, and left the Snell Avenue Starbucks store about 3:30 p.m.
An alert customer standing behind her in line spotted her taking out her own bottles of juice from a green Starbucks bag, and put them in the refrigerator section. He also noticed a toxic smell. He told management. The woman might have felt under suspicion, police said, but a Starbucks employee got her license plate.
The San Jose Fire Department responded to the scene, retrieved the bottles and tested the contents with hazardous materials equipment. It turned out, the bottles were filled with orange juice and rubbing alcohol.
A Starbucks spokesperson told NBC Bay Area that the company destroyed all the other juices in the Snell Avenue store out of an abundance of caution and had all other stores in Bay Area check their juice seals.
All checked out OK.
On Thursday, students who attend the nearby Santa Teresa High School were at the popular cafe.
Victoria Felix, a junior, said many students on campus are now avoiding the coffee house.
"Honestly, I think that's scary," Felix said.