Medical testimony is usually as stimulating as watching paint dry. But jurors in the San Jose road-rage murder trial Thursday were treated to another riveting performance by a doctor in a case that could turn on testimony about the condition of the accused man's brain.
With a lilting British accent and quick smile, Dr. Marc Lee, an assistant professor at Stanford, had no trouble captivating even the usually impatient Judge Diane Northway. For nearly five hours of testimony, he made terms such as "csf" (cerebral spinal fluid) and "sulcus" (the folds of the brain) seem scintillating.
At issue in the trial is whether pressure from a brain cyst is to blame for the road rage that prompted San Jose motorist Armando Ochoa, 49, to ram his white SUV into three elderly men out for a stroll, killing two of them and severely injuring a third.
Ochoa's blood-alchol level at the time of the Sept. 14, 2008, crash was more than three times the legal limit. Before that incident, he'd racked up 10 speeding tickets, four drunken driving convictions and one hit-and-run accident.
Ochoa is facing a maximum sentence of about 45 years to life in prison if he is convicted in Santa Clara County Superior Court of killing Aproniano Siruno, 71, and Rodolfo Escurial, 67, and badly injuring Esteban Casiano, 73.
Lee's appearance for the prosecution followed an equally interesting presentation last month by defense witness Dr. Knut Gustav Wester.
Both doctors agree that Ochoa has a watery "arachnoid" cyst atop his left temporal lobe.
Wester contended that pressure from that spiderlike growth could have reduced the circulation of blood in Ochoa's brain, triggering a series of severe anxiety attacks that left Ochoa unaware he'd been in a fatal collision that day.
Without denigrating Wester, Lee gently made a strong case against the Norwegian doctor's theory.
Most arachnoid cysts, including Ochoa's, are stable, Lee said. In contrast, Wester believes many such cysts cause problems, a view that he acknowledged is "different from almost any other neurosurgeon in the world."
Wester also has surgically removed asymptomatic cysts, a risky practice that Lee said is "not justifiable in most people's practices." Lee also examined Ochoa; Wester did not.
Lee's credentials are also more impressive. He is an assistant professor of neurology at Stanford University and chief of neurosurgery at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
In the end, the surgeon's courteous manner and lucid explanations, which were delivered without condescension, boiled down to one key finding.
"I didn't find brain compression," Lee testified, referring to the effect of Ochoa's cyst.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.