LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California man has been arrested on charges he poisoned eight homeless people by giving them food laced with a caustic substance derived from hot chili peppers in a string of attacks videotaped for his own enjoyment, prosecutors said on Thursday.
William Robert Cable, 38, a handyman from the northern California town of San Andreas, was taken into custody on May 22 and has since been jailed on $500,000 bond as police continue their investigation, the Orange County district attorney’s office said in a statement.
The victims, all poisoned in the coastal town of Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles, had been tricked into ingesting oleoresin capsicum, a chemical compound from which the active ingredient in pepper spray is extracted, prosecutors said.
“These human beings were preyed upon because they are vulnerable,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement. “They were exploited and poisoned as part of a twisted form of entertainment, and their pain was recorded so that it could be relived by their attacker over and over again.”
The victims survived but suffered a variety of severe reactions, including convulsions, breathing difficulty, vomiting, and intense mouth and stomach pain, according to the district attorney’s office. Several required hospitalization.
The attacks spanned a little more than a week beginning in mid-May.
Many victims were unaware the food had been tampered with, while several were given other food and beer to entice them to eat the tainted offerings, Spitzer said. Some were told they were participating in a “spicy food challenge” as part of the ruse, prosecutors said.
Cable was charged with eight counts of felony poisoning, one count of elder abuse and eight misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
If convicted, Cable faces up to 19 years in prison. His attorney did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler