NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: Nightclub Cleared In $1M Civil Lawsuit

OCEAN CITY — A popular Ocean City nightclub this week was cleared in a $1 million civil lawsuit by a plaintiff who was brutally raped on a private parking area away from the establishment in 2008.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">

After a two-week trial in U.S. District Court ended on Monday, a federal jury found in favor of Seacrets in a case brought by a plaintiff known only as Jane Doe, who was brutally beaten and raped on a private condominium parking lot adjacent to the night club in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 24, 2008 after she was ejected from the premises for being intoxicated.

The plaintiff claimed Seacrets was negligent for ousting her from the nightclub without her purse, hotel room key and identification and without allowing her to find her friends before she was escorted out of the establishment. She also claimed the private parking lot where the crime occurred should have been monitored by Seacrets security after the establishment had closed for the night around 2:15 a.m.

Over the course of the two-week trial, the federal jury heard testimony from several witnesses, including the plaintiff’s friends, Seacrets security personnel and OCPD officers on the scene. After carefully reviewing the evidence presented, the jury returned on Monday with a verdict in favor of the defendant. U.S. District Court Judge William Nickerson confirmed the jury’s findings with a formal dismissal in favor in Seacrets.

“The judgment is hereby entered in favor of the defendant against the plaintiff and any and all prior rulings made by this court disposing of any claims against any parties are incorporated by reference herein and this order shall be deemed to be a final judgment,” Nickerson’s order reads.

Seacrets owner Leighton Moore this week declined to comment on the verdict, only to say he was relieved the trial was over and his establishment and his staff were vindicated.

Seacrets’ attorney Laura Walters also declined to speak on the specifics of the verdict, but thanked the jury for their diligence in the case.

“It is the practice of this law firm not to discuss verdicts,” she said. “The management and staff of Seacrets would like to thank the jury for its time and careful attention to this matter.”

According to the facts presented at trial, the plaintiff and her friends went to Seacrets on Friday of Memorial Day weekend 2008. Around 1 a.m., while still with her friends, the plaintiff noticed she had missed calls from her boyfriend. She allegedly asked her friends to watch her purse while she went to find a quieter place to return the calls from her boyfriend. Her purse contained her money, identification and hotel room key.

After making the call, the plaintiff was intercepted by Seacrets security personnel and was told she was being ejected for being too intoxicated. The plaintiff allegedly told security her friends and her belongings were still inside, but security told her she was not allowed to go back in and attempt to locate them per bar policy and protocol. Instead, Seacrets security escorted her to a bench outside and continued to monitor her and even offered her a courtesy ride or a cab waiting nearby.

At some point, the plaintiff wandered away and walked back to her hotel about five blocks away hoping her friends would soon return. Around 2:15 a.m., when the large crowd was exiting the establishment, the plaintiff walked back to area of 49th Street but did not return to the establishment. Instead, she lingered in the area of a private condominium parking lot adjacent to the nightclub property, an area obscured from view by a large SUV and a boat on a trailer.

A short time later, she was approached by an unidentified man and was brutally beaten in a violent attack during which the assailant punched her several times in the face and body. The assailant then left the plaintiff in the parking lot before returning minutes later when no one came to the plaintiff’s aid. The assailant then dragged the plaintiff behind a building out of sight of the bar security, police officers and numerous patrons exiting the area and brutally raped her.

Following the brutal attack, the suspect, later identified as Lorenzo Ivan Garcia-Moreno, 25, of Florida, fled the scene after private citizens attempted to detain him. Garcia-Moreno ran toward the beach, touching off a massive manhunt including helicopters and police dogs, but the suspect eluded capture and remained at large for nearly two years.

After continuously pursuing leads for almost two years to no avail, OCPD detectives got a break in the case in 2010 when the FBI Laboratory’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) positively matched DNA collected from the Ocean City rape victim in 2008 to Garcia-Moreno, who had been convicted of burglary in Ft. Lauderdale. Last March, Garcia-Moreno pleaded guilty to first-degree rape and was sentenced to 30 years in jail.