SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – The attorney for a woman released without charges Thursday after being accused of placing two bottles of poisoned orange juice into a Starbucks refrigerator in San Jose said her arrest was “a case of mass hysteria.”
Dennis Lempert spoke to reporters outside the San Jose home of Ramineh “Romi” Behbehanian, 50, after she was released from jail early Thursday evening and questioned whether witnesses actually saw his client place the bottles in the refrigerator and whether the bottles contained poison at all.
Behbehanian had been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and felony poisoning after a customer said she swapped out two bottles of orange juice with her own tainted bottles that she brought to the store in a Starbucks bag on Monday afternoon.
Police said the fire department responded to the coffee shop, located at 6009 Snell Ave., and determined that the bottles allegedly contained lethal doses of rubbing alcohol.
The case remains under review and Behbehanian has not been charged yet.
“We were not able to file charges because the investigation is not complete,” Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Luis Ramos said.
He said prosecutors either had to charge Behbehanian or release her by Thursday afternoon.
“It does not mean that charges will or will not be filed. There was just not enough time under the penal code to charge her,” he said.
She was released early Thursday evening from the Elmwood Correction Facility, Santa Clara County’s jail for women in Milpitas, sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Kurtis Stenderup said.
As she returned home in Lempert’s black BMW Thursday, Behbehanian shielded her face with a hooded sweatshirt from reporters gathered outside and declined to answer questions.
Her attorney, however, charged that the district attorney’s office has not found anything harmful in the orange juice containers and suggested it was possible that the juice had fermented on its own.
“I have not seen any evidence of any contamination of anything in the Starbucks store,” he said.
He also suggested that the witnesses may have been mistaken when they indicated that Behbehanian had placed the bottles in the refrigerator, and said sometimes witnesses “see things which are not there.”
Behbehanian, who lives in South San Jose, has undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry, according to her profile on Linkedin.
She lists her current position as associate director and project manager for Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, a drug company owned by Johnson & Johnson where she has worked since 2006.
She describes herself as a “Six Sigma Black Belt Principal Scientist/Engineer with 15+ years of experience in pharmaceutical, diagnostic and medical devise industries.”
Lempert said she recently headed a project for a new treatment for AIDS by Johnson & Johnson that has been approved in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. He said it is potentially a product that is going to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
As a chemist, Lempert said that if Behbehanian was going to put a harmful substance in the juice, she could have done something more effective.
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