santa-ana-zoo

A transient who claimed he was Tarzan and was found swinging from trees at the Santa Ana Zoo pleaded guilty Tuesday to robbery and burglary charges and was immediately sentenced to four years in prison, according to his attorney.

John Williams Rodenborn, 38, pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and making criminal threats, both felonies. Sentencing enhancement allegations for using a gun were dismissed.

In a separate case, Rodenborn pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary, a felony, and aggravated trespass, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison for that case, but that will run concurrently with the 4-year term.

Misdemeanor charges of possession of a controlled substance and entering an animal enclosure at a zoo were dismissed.

“He’s not Tarzan anymore,” said his attorney, Jim Sweeney. “He’s not anywhere near the erratic behavior as before. And I think maybe Patton (hospital) deserves credit for that.”

Rodenborn on Nov. 12 was found mentally unfit to assist in his defense and was sent to Department of State Hospitals — Patton in San Bernardino County until he could return to court this year to face charges again

Rodenborn, who “languished” in jail for four months before a judge interceded and had him sent to Patton, where he recovered after 11 days, Sweeney said.

“Whatever it was they did it worked. It really did,” Sweeney said. “He’s been kind of a model prisoner since.”

Rodenborn was charged in August 2015 with stealing a cellphone at a Costa Mesa art gallery two days after the zoo incident as well as committing a gas station holdup in April.

Rodenborn was arrested in August 2015 hours after he stole an iPhone from Dax Gallery, according to Roxi Fyad of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Rodenborn robbed a Chevron gas station in Westminster about 4:30 a.m. on April 2, 2015, Fyad said. He  threatened an employee at gunpoint to give him cash, she said, adding that a cigarette butt left at the crime scene was used to make a DNA match to Rodenborn.

Rodenborn has multiple prior convictions for burglary and a vehicle theft, Fyad said.

For the gas station robbery alone, he could have faced up to 46 years to life in prison if convicted, she said. In all, Rodenborn faced up to 60 years to life in prison, Sweeney said.

After the phone was stolen, Rodenborn was tracked down to Bristol Street and Santa Ana Avenue with an application that helps iPhone owners locate their device, according to Costa Mesa police Lt. Victor Bakkila.

The victim called police about 5:20 p.m. to tell investigators the location of the phone, as shown on the app. When officers got to the location, they spotted Rodenborn in a flood-control channel, Bakkila said.

Rodenborn hopped a fence into a Newport Beach neighborhood to evade his pursuers, and then later hid in a garage, Bakkila said.

The homeowner called police, and when officers arrived, Rodenborn climbed into a nearby apartment complex garage, where he was taken into custody, Bakkila said.

Police were called at 10:37 a.m. Aug. 4, 2015, about a shirtless man plastered in mud “climbing into trees and attempting to get into the exhibits” at the Santa Ana Zoo, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

A zookeeper called 911 when he saw the man had climbed up about 20 feet in a tree at the bird exhibit, Bertagna said. The suspect, proclaiming he was Tarzan, then tried to crawl into a monkey exhibit, the corporal said.

He had fled by the time police arrived, but was taken into custody nearby a short time later.

— City News Service

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