William Turner. Photo: BPD

A bipolar homeless man charged with indecent exposure in Berkeley after he told a woman in September he wanted to have sex with her, then pulled down his pants, has promised to take a bus home to Iowa after his criminal trial ended Friday in a hung jury.

William Turner faced a misdemeanor indecent exposure charge that would have required him to register as a sex offender for life. The Alameda County Superior Court trial began last week Tuesday, and jury deliberations ended Friday at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland. One juror was replaced after he repeatedly dozed off during testimony, at one point announcing, with a startle, “I’m awake.”

Turner made headlines in Berkeley numerous times last year in connection with allegations related to bizarre interactions with children at local tot lots. Police said he also took off nearly all his clothes by a preschool after demonstrating strange behavior outside a yard full of toys. Turner was sent to John George Psychiatric Hospital, in San Leandro, for evaluations and acute treatment four times between May and September, according to testimony.

Last week’s trial focused on a Sept. 21, 2017, incident in the 1600 block of Alcatraz Avenue in South Berkeley where Turner told a woman he was “horny” and planned to “jerk off” while thinking about her, according to court papers and court testimony. He said repeatedly they should go into a nearby backyard to have sex, police said. When the woman rebuffed him, Turner walked away and “mooned” her, according to testimony last week, then is alleged to have shown her his penis as he turned to face her while pulling up his pants. He then walked away backward while smiling, taunting the woman with his expression, according to the prosecutor.

In closing arguments Thursday, Turner’s attorney, Morgan Janssen, with the Alameda County public defender’s office, argued that Turner was not sexually motivated when he exposed his buttocks to Berkeley resident Latasha Brooks in September. He reminded jurors that the other eyewitness in the case, a nearby AT&T worker, testified he never saw Turner expose his genitals.

“As his parting shot, he mooned her to offend her,” Janssen told the jury. If Brooks did see Turner’s penis, Janssen said, that was only “incidental” as Turner pulled up his pants. Janssen went on to describe Turner’s conduct as “crude and offensive,” as well as inappropriate, but said it did not rise to the level of indecent exposure because that must have a sexual motivation of some kind: “He turned around and he mooned her, but the question is why.”

Janssen also called in a forensic psychologist who said Turner was bipolar, and that he was likely having a manic episode at the time of the incident, according to records she reviewed. The psychologist, Shoko Kokubun — a paid expert witness for the defense — said she was never able to interview Turner directly, but that his records provided enough “rich information” for her to make her assessment. Kokubun said the manic episode could have begun as early as May, and lasted through September because, in her view, he was never completely stabilized despite the repeated visits to John George.

Prosecutor Elaine Ma, with the Alameda County district attorney’s office, said Turner’s numerous sexual remarks, along with pulling down his pants, made it clear his intent was sexual: “He had one goal in mind when he saw Ms. Brooks, and that was to have sex with her.”

Ma also reminded the jury that the psychologist said Turner’s mental health diagnosis would not have limited his ability to form intent, act with volition and understand his surroundings.

“The law doesn’t recognize poor judgment, poor decision-making, as a defense,” Ma said. Unfortunately, she added, “most oftentimes it goes hand in hand.”

She argued that the AT&T worker did not see Turner’s penis because of his vantage point some distance away from the sidewalk, by the house next door. The worker said he had seen Turner 20 minutes before the incident with Brooks. Turner had been shirtless and was carrying his shoes in his hand, walking barefoot on the filthy sidewalk. The worker noticed, but didn’t think much of it, according to Ma’s opening statement.

“He usually encounters bizarre behavior in Berkeley,” Ma told jurors. “It’s not uncommon for him.”

Brooks captured a brief video of Turner while attempting to take his photograph. (It appears below.)

YouTube video

The AT&T worker, Wyatt Heard, testified he heard Brooks yelling at Turner, then watched as he mooned her. He told jurors he paid close attention to see if he needed to intervene. He said he heard Turner tell Brooks something like, “I’m sorry if I offended you. I just don’t know how to ask” politely if they could have sex. Heard ultimately called police after Brooks, who was upset, left the area. Heard later told police Turner did not seem “right in the head.”

Turner then walked through South Berkeley singing, screaming and shadowboxing, according to court testimony, until authorities caught up with him about 20 minutes later. He told a Berkeley police officer that evening that he was “an FBI terrorist finder” and a “savior who saves the homeless.” He also told the officer, according to court records, that “police shame the power of the priesthood,” and that he was “praying for water and milk.” At some point, Turner told staff at John George he gets raped every time he’s admitted to the hospital. Turner’s defense attorney said statements like that made it clear his client suffered delusions.

Eleven jurors ultimately saw it Janssen’s way, and said — in remarks outside the courtroom to both attorneys — they would have deemed Turner not guilty. One juror said he believed the prosecution did prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that he had been unable to reach a different conclusion.

Jurors said they agreed Turner’s behavior was inappropriate, but felt his intent was not sexual. They said they felt there was a lot of information, including medical history, that they hadn’t been given. Some felt Turner’s bipolar disorder limited his ability to form intent, while others said that wasn’t a concern. Jurors did say that, given Turner’s mental health history, they hoped he can get the help and medication he needs to get off the streets.

“We felt a crime was committed but not what he was charged with,” one juror told the attorneys. “It seemed like there was something else going on that we don’t know about,” said another. “He seriously needs help.”

Some said the fact that one eyewitness did not see Turner’s genitals introduced reasonable doubt.

Jurors began deliberations Thursday at noon, and wrapped up early Friday afternoon. They initially told Judge Delia Trevino late Friday morning they were “hopelessly deadlocked” 11-1. Trevino asked them to keep trying. Throughout the morning, they sent a number of questions to the judge to ask about different ways to understand the law and the evidence. Then, at 1:20 p.m., they sent a note to the court that further deliberations would not be fruitful. After jurors came back to the courtroom, Trevino said the hung jury thus resulted in a mistrial.

Several hours later, Trevino met with the attorneys and Turner again to discuss how to proceed. Prosecutor Ma said the district attorney’s office would dismiss the indecent exposure charge, on the basis of insufficient evidence, rather than retry the case. She argued, however, for a probation violation. The judge found Turner had committed the violation of lewd conduct, or soliciting another person to engage in lewd conduct, in public.

Judge Trevino said the testimony of the eyewitnesses “conflicted to such a degree” that it was hard to know, in the end, exactly what had happened between Turner and Brooks. She said Brooks may have seen Turner’s penis for “a number of seconds” as he was pulling his pants up. But she said the evidence did show Turner sought to have sexual contact with Brooks in a yard visible from the street.

The attorneys agreed to give Turner credit for time served, and the judge ordered his release that day, along with a stay-away order from the 1600 block of Alcatraz where the September incident took place. Janssen said Turner and his family were committed to getting him on a Greyhound bus home to Iowa as quickly as possible so he wouldn’t run into any further trouble in the Bay Area. (His family members did not attend last week’s proceedings.) The judge ordered Turner to enter into some type of unspecified mental health treatment, such as one-on-one counseling, and to commit to a treatment plan and medication.

Ma had asked the judge to require Turner to attend a sex offender treatment program, while Janssen said it would be more appropriate for Turner to get treatment for his homelessness and mental health needs. Janssen said the sex offender program requirement was not justified given Turner’s history.

Judge Trevino noted that court papers included Turner’s lewd conduct conviction, documentation of four or five troubling interactions with children, and one allegation of stalking. She described those as “alarming to say the least.” Turner also was alleged to have said he raped children and babies; defense attorney Janssen insisted this was another of Turner’s delusions. The judge said, regardless, there appeared to be “a sexual focus involving children.” (In fact, the incidents were of such concern to Berkeley authorities that police put out a community alert in September to warn residents about the “potential threat” to public safety caused by Turner’s release from custody at that time.)

Ultimately, however, the judge did not require Turner to attend sex offender treatment. She did not explain her rationale.

Earlier in the week, last Tuesday, defense attorney Janssen had argued before the judge — outside the presence of the jury — to have the words “children” and “being provocative” removed from Turner’s medical records that were made available to the jury for review. Janssen, upon observing this reporter enter the room, asked the judge to clear the courtroom to protect Turner’s privacy. Initially, the judge said it was a public courtroom and a public proceeding, and denied his request. But several minutes later, when Janssen renewed his request, the judge ordered the courtroom to be cleared until the jury returned.

Trevino ordered Turner to come back to California to appear in her courtroom Feb. 1 with the details of his treatment plan, including therapist information and his medication regimen. The sentence will be pronounced at that time.

In closing remarks, Janssen put on the record a few words from Turner, and said his client had wanted to apologize to victim Brooks from the beginning.

“Now that he is stable, he understands what he did was inappropriate,” Janssen told the court. “He sees that he caused her distress.”

Janssen also said Turner wanted to apologize to Brooks directly, but understood that wasn’t feasible.

Earlier in the day, as Janssen put a tie on Turner before court resumed proceedings, Turner could be overheard telling his attorney, quietly, “I can’t wait to go home.”

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...