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Tests May Take Weeks In San Jose Starbucks Alleged Poisoning Case

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Ramineh Behbehanian

Ramineh Behbehanian (San Jose Police Dept.)

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — 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 cafe 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 today.

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.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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