La Jolla restaurant owner convicted of 19 sexual assault counts

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SAN DIEGO — A La Jolla restaurant owner was convicted Friday of 19 felony counts related to sexually assaulting intoxicated or unconscious women over a nine-year period, though jurors were unable to reach consensus on a dozen other counts and will continue deliberating after the holiday break.

Daniel Dorado, 61, owner of Voce del Mare, an Italian restaurant on La Jolla Boulevard in the Bird Rock area, was charged for sexual assaults of eight women in 2009, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018.

After a two-week trial and nearly a week of deliberations, jurors convicted Dorado of the 20 counts and acquitted him of three counts related to one specific victim. The convicted counts cover conduct related to four of the eight alleged victims.

However, the panel was unable to reach verdicts on 12 remaining counts.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Charles G. Rogers declared a mistrial on six of those counts, in which the panel declared they were hopelessly deadlocked, but they will continue deliberating Dec. 30 on six other counts.

Dorado, who was out of custody on bail throughout the trial, was handcuffed and booked into jail after the guilty verdicts Friday afternoon.

He is accused of meeting the victims — who range in age from 22 to 58 — at local bars and restaurants, sometimes under the guise of a job interview for a position at his restaurant, or through dating websites, then allegedly offered them spiked beverages, causing them to fall unconscious and later wake up in the middle of or just after sex acts by him.

He was taken into custody in March 2018 on suspicion of assaults on four women. The other alleged victims came forward after learning of his arrest.

Defense attorneys Kim Santini and Eric Youngquist alleged at trial that the sexual encounters with the women were consensual and that no evidence supported that the women had been drugged, as date rape drugs were not detected in any of the victims’ medical screenings. The defense contended the women’s supposed symptoms were more indicative of alcohol consumption.

Deputy District Attorney Jessica Coto told jurors that even if they didn’t believe the victims were given date rape drugs, evidence from the trial indicated the women drank enough to become noticeably unable to consent — in some cases vomiting on themselves or rendered unable to stand or walk — yet Dorado decided to have sex with them anyway.

“You can’t consent to something you don’t know is happening to you,” Coto said. “You can’t make a choice if you are not aware what is happening.”

Youngquist questioned the motivations of some of the alleged victims, particularly some who were allegedly raped following job interviews at Dorado’s restaurant, then proceeded to work for him even after the alleged assaults, but were later fired from their jobs.

One of the victims dated Dorado for months following her initial meeting with him, in which she told investigators she had drinks with him, became very intoxicated and collapsed, and later woke up naked in a hotel room, the defense attorney said.

Youngquist alleged she was essentially told by police and prosecutors that she was raped, but later testified at trial that she didn’t consider herself a victim. Quoting his co-counsel’s opening statements, Youngquist contended the charges were the result of “an overzealous district attorney and (a) detective” who planted the notion of drugging into the alleged victims’ minds.

Youngquist also alleged some of the accusers were seeking civil, monetary damages from Dorado, though Coto said only one of the victims ever sued Dorado and has since dropped the lawsuit.

Coto questioned what she said were shifting stories on the defendant’s behalf between his testimony at trial, conversations with police and phone conversations with some of the victims. At various points, the prosecutor alleged Dorado denied having any sexual contact with the women, then later admitted having consensual sex.

“If everything was consensual, why deny?” Coto asked the jury.

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