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Woman Convicted of Lighting Bikini Dancer on Fire at Tarzana Strip Club; Faces Life

VAN NUYS – from www.dailynews.com -A 28-year-old Tarzana woman was found guilty Thursday of a vicious attack on a bikini dancer last year in which she doused the woman with gasoline and set her on fire outside a Tarzana bar.

Rianne Theriault-Odom faces a possible life sentence for the guilty verdicts of one count each of aggravated mayhem and torture. The Los Angeles Superior Court jury found her not guilty of a third count, attempted murder.

“I’m satisfied that the jury listened to all the evidence and obviously deliberated thoroughly and held the defendant accountable,” said prosecutor Marcus Musante, with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. “All you can ask for is that justice be carried out.”

The victim, Roberta Dos Santos Busby, sat in the Van Nuys courtroom with her mother and aunt and quietly listened as the verdict was read, while looking down and holding a tissue to her tear-stricken face. The Simi Valley woman spent five months in the hospital and underwent 30 operations since the Feb. 5, 2009 attack, and the burn scars were still strikingly visible on her legs and face as she sat in the courtroom.

The defendant listened to the verdict in silence, at times biting her lips.

Minutes before the jury entered the courtroom to read the verdict, Theriault-Odom’s public defender, Lenny Jacobs, approached Busby and her mother and aunt to console them. She told Busby she had been courageous throughout the ordeal.

“You’re incredible,” Jacobs told Busby.

“I just want it over,” Busby replied.

Jacobs, who was holding back her own tears and brought tissues to Busby’s mother, would not comment to the media after the verdict.

The jury of five men and seven women deliberated for three days, at times asking that testimony be read back or video be played to them. Thursday morning they requested to see a portion of surveillance video taken outside the club, but by the time the footage was delivered to the jury room, they canceled the request, announcing they had reached a verdict.

A sentencing hearing before Superior Court Judge Susan M. Speer has been scheduled for March 4, and the prosecutor is seeking a life sentence.

During the trial, witnesses said that Theriault-Odom, who had been rejected for a job at the Babes N’Beer Bar in Tarzana, had feuded with Busby and felt disrespected by her. Theriault-Odom testified that “I felt offended – I felt she was trying to punk me. I had to stand up for myself. That’s the way it is on the streets.”

She also testified to being “very drunk” on the evening before the 1:45 a.m. attack, saying she had consumed two double shots of Russian vodka, half a fifth of Patron tequila and five shots of Hennessey cognac.

She denied, however, setting the dancer on fire.

Instead, she testified that while she scuffled with Busby outside the club, she was not the one who doused her with gasoline and set on fire.

But witnesses identified Theriault-Odom as the assailant, saying they saw her douse Busby with gasoline from a bottle, pull out a lighter and try three times before setting her on fire.

Surveillance video was shown of Busby running into the bar on fire – “like a human torch,” Musante said – as frantic club workers tried several times to put out the flames.

The defendant’s mother was not in the courtroom Thursday, but said in an interview Wednesday that she did not believe her daughter committed the attack.

“There isn’t any doubt in my mind that my daughter didn’t do this, knowing how she was raised,” said Elizabeth Odom of Van Nuys.

“I think she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. She’s a sweet girl. Never in my mind would I think that she would be somebody who could do anything like this.”

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