Prosecution, defense strategies emerge in Stanford sexual-assault case

Day six of Brock Turner trial focuses on alcohol levels, incapacitation

Just how intoxicated several young adults were at a Stanford University fraternity party on Jan. 18, 2015, is playing a key role in the apparent legal strategies of both the prosecution and defense at the Palo Alto trial of former Stanford University student Brock Turner, who is facing three felony sexual-assault charges.

Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci, who works with the county's sexual-assault unit, has called numerous witnesses to testify to the level of intoxication of the woman, Emily Doe, whose name the Palo Alto Weekly has changed to protect her privacy.

Doe, then a 22-year-old college graduate, was found laying on the ground behind a Stanford fraternity house, completely unresponsive, with her dress pulled up and her underwear and cell phone lying on the ground nearby, multiple witnesses have testified.

The defense, meanwhile, has used its cross-examination of the prosecution's witnesses to probe their credibility. In his opening statement last week, defense attorney Michael Armstrong of Palo Alto firm Nolan, Armstrong & Barton characterized almost every witness in the trial as being impaired by alcohol. The only person who can account to what truly took place between Doe and Turner, Armstrong said, is Turner himself.

On Monday, the trial's sixth day, Alice King, the supervising criminalist for the Santa Clara County crime lab's toxicology unit, "back extrapolated" Doe's blood-alcohol content (BAC) to the time of the alleged sexual assault to be 0.241 or 0.249, three times the legal driving limit in California of 0.08.

Steven Fanchiang, a Palo Alto Fire Department firefighter and paramedic who responded to a call to treat an unconscious young woman on Stanford's campus, said the only time Doe responded to numerous attempts to wake her up — including what's called a "shake and shout," grabbing her shoulders and speaking to her in a loud voice — was when he pinched her fingernails, he testified in court Monday. She briefly opened her eyes but only once, and she never verbally communicated with him, he said.

That night, Fanchiang also conducted the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) on Doe, a neurological scale most commonly used to assess patients with brain trauma, but that can also be applied to people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He gave her a score of 11 out of the maximum 15, which would be considered normal. Anything less than 15 is considered "altered," he said.

Tiffany Doe, the woman's younger sister, who was with her that evening, described Emily Doe as "very drunk" and acting "silly" for much of the evening. Tiffany Doe thought her sister would be fine if left by herself for a brief time while Tiffany took another friend who was too drunk to a Stanford dorm to sleep safely.

Emily Doe testified Friday that she has no memory of the alleged incident and did not know what had happened to her when she woke up at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center around 4 a.m., several hours after she was transported there. Valley Medical Center is the designated hospital in the county to conduct Sexual Assault Response Team exams on possible victims of sexual violence.

Doe said in court that she drank several shots of alcohol at her home in Palo Alto before heading to the campus party that evening. She had several more drinks at the Kappa Alpha fraternity house, she said, including vodka and beer. She described her level of intoxication as going from "buzzed" and "silly" early in the evening to "very out of it" and "not articulating much" at the point of her last memory of the night.

The last thing she remembers, she said, is standing outside the Kappa Alpha fraternity house on a back patio with her younger sister, her sister's friend (a Stanford student) and three men. One of the men gave her a beer, she said, but she didn't drink much of it. (During their testimony, Tiffany Doe and one of Tiffany's friends identified one of those three men as Turner.)

When blood was drawn from Doe around 7 a.m. at Valley Medical Center, her blood alcohol content came in at 0.127 or 0.129, according to Kianerci. Using those amounts, King estimated Doe's blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the alleged sexual assault would have been 0.241 or 0.249. At Kianerci's prompting, she also added it could have been higher, given that Doe had been given an IV that diluted her blood.

King described the symptoms that someone with that amount of alcohol in their system might experience, though noted that it varies from person to person depending on tolerance, genetic makeup and environmental factors like a lack of sleep or food. Symptoms at that level could include loss of large muscle coordination, slurred speech, staggering, unable to wake or stand, sleepy and "total confusion," King said.

King was not able to say whether a particular person would black out or have short-term memory loss, or become totally unconscious at a specific BAC level.

Turner's blood was taken around 3:15 a.m.; his BAC registered at 0.13, according to Kianerci. Around 1 a.m., his BAC would have been around 0.171, King estimated.

In his cross examination of King, Armstrong noted that the physical and mental symptoms King described don't fit "neatly" into categories and can vary from person to person. She agreed. While she described someone with a BAC of 0.38 or above as being in a coma or possibly dead, she said she has seen cases in which someone registered at a 0.40 and had been driving a car.

Armstrong noted, too, that factors like one's tolerance to alcohol are generally subjective. King agreed.

Doe's blood also tested negative for the drugs that the Santa Clara County crime lab tests for, including cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, PCP and opiates.

While the jury was out of the room, King explained that a separate private lab the county contracts with to conduct further analysis tested Doe's blood for Rohypnol, or roofies. It came back negative, Kianerci said.

Neither the prosecution nor the defense brought this information into their line of questioning in front of the jury.

DNA analysis; the defense

A Santa Clara County forensic biologist who analyzed both Turner's and Doe's DNA testified Monday that Doe's DNA was found on Turner's right and left fingernails and right finger shaft, all of which were "brown-red stained," indicating the possible presence of blood. Fingernail swabs from Turner also reacted positively to a test for blood, said county criminalist Craig Lee.

Slides and swabs taken from Doe's private areas all tested positive for blood, Lee testified. A Valley Medical SART nurse

who examined Doe at the hospital described last week abrasions on Doe's body that were consistent with "penetrating trauma," but she could not say what had caused it.

There was no semen found on Doe's body nor on her underwear, Lee said.

Turner also did not match DNA found on the waistband of Doe's underwear, Lee said.

Prompted by a question from Armstrong, Lee said that DNA similar to his own was also found on one of Turner's swabs.

Earlier, Lee said that his office takes several precautions to preserve the DNA in a sterile environment: wearing protective gear, bleaching their work station and putting down fresh butcher paper to prevent contamination.

Throughout his cross-examination, Armstrong recalled previous information witnesses had provided in court or to law enforcement.

Last week, Armstrong asked Stanford graduate student Peter Jonsson, who tackled Turner after seeing that Doe was not moving while Turner was on top of her, to confirm that he didn't tell the investigating police officer about a key comment that he's since claimed he made that night. Kianerci used that phrase -- "What the ---- are you doing? She's unconscious" -- as the dramatic entry into her opening statement last Thursday. Jonsson confirmed he didn't tell the investigating officer that.

Armstrong also asked Doe about statements she had previously made to police about "partying in college" and blacking out due to alcohol and, in court, about whether her phone was set to ring audibly that night.

On Monday, Armstrong also pushed Tiffany Doe to adhere to a statement she made at a preliminary hearing in October describing her sister's level of intoxication at one point in the evening as "totally fine." Tiffany Doe told Kianerci Monday that they were all "pretty drunk" and Doe was slurring her words at that same point in the evening.

Tiffany Doe also testified Monday that Turner had tried to kiss her, unsuccessfully, two times throughout the evening, but the two never exchanged any conversation. She said she never saw Turner talking with her sister. Emily Doe testified that she did not have any memory of talking or interacting with Turner.

Since the trial started last week, Kianerci has called 12 witnesses, including law enforcement officers who were first to the scene that evening, the two graduate students who saw and interrupted the alleged sexual assault, friends who attended the fraternity party with Doe, Doe's boyfriend and the SART nurse who conducted exams of both Doe and Turner in the early hours of Jan. 18.

Turner is facing three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person; sexual penetration of an intoxicated person; and sexual penetration of an unconscious person. In February, he pleaded not guilty to five felony charges, which were later reduced to three. He was a freshman at Stanford last January and voluntarily withdrew soon after his arrest on Jan 18.

The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday, March 22, at 10:30 a.m. at the Palo Alto Courthouse on Grant Avenue.


Follow Weekly reporter Elena Kadvany on Twitter (@ekadvany) throughout the trial.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 22, 2016 at 9:27 am

[Post removed.]

32 people like this
Posted by student
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 22, 2016 at 10:01 am

Drunkenness excuses rape? Seriously?

22 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 22, 2016 at 10:33 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

He was on top of her, she was undressed, and she was drunk/unconscious. It's pretty obvious what his intentions were, even if interrupted.

10 people like this
Posted by no means no
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2016 at 10:40 am

[Post removed.]

18 people like this
Posted by Shocked
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 22, 2016 at 10:45 am

[Portion removed.] This girl was unconscious by all accounts and he was on top of her but with the wherewithal to run away when he got caught. I hope they throw him in jail. Rape is never okay and obviously an unconscious girl is incapable of consent. This boy's life is being torn apart by his own reprehensible actions, not by a flawed justice system.

13 people like this
Posted by parent of young adults
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2016 at 11:30 am

Abusing alcohol is the elephant in the room - NONE of this would have happened if we did not have a culture of binge drinking in high schools and colleges. People do dumb and aggressive things when they are drunk. They are also unable to communicate as the testimony of all these witnesses show. So how in the world can anyone expect there to be consent etc.? Face up to the alcohol problem and these other problems will drop dramatically.

4 people like this
Posted by Concerned Senior
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2016 at 3:52 pm

Concerned Senior is a registered user.

I have attended much of the trial and consider the reporting here to be accurate and fair to both sides. What leaves me feeling depressed is the level of alcohol consumption and its importance in the social life of undergraduates at Stanford. I agree with parent of a young adult who suggests getting a handle on excessive and binge drinking will dramatically lessen ugly events of this type. We can all agree that Stanford students are talented and have a bright future. To see all of that jeopardized or lost over a senseless episode of any type precipitated by excessive drinking is so very sad.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Contemporary Indian restaurant, Ettan, headed to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 6,298 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,533 views

Two degrees can do all that?
By Sherry Listgarten | 17 comments | 1,299 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 41 comments | 1,233 views

Tame, Maim and Claim the Wild Sea Vegetable
By Laura Stec | 9 comments | 768 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More