SAN JOSE -- Under intense questioning by defense attorney Allen Ruby on Friday, the wife of a Silicon Valley real estate mogul who claims her husband chained her to a bed for two days and sexually assaulted her with a golf putter fled the courtroom for the second time this week, jeopardizing the prosecution's case.
Ellena Berg, 37, was being queried about how she occupied herself during her purported ordeal last fall, which she says came at the hands of 74-year-old Clyde Berg while she was nine months pregnant. Earlier this week, she told the prosecutor she lay in a fetal position for much of the time in dire fear.
"Did you use any electrical appliances?" Ruby asked.
"No," she said.
"You didn't watch TV?" he inquired incredulously.
"I don't remember," she said.
"You don't remember whether you watched TV?" he rejoined.
Moments later, she requested a break, saying that she had drawn a complete blank about the incident.
She never returned to the courtroom. Half an hour later, prosecutor Alison Filo informed the court that Ellena Berg could not go on.
"She believes she is sort of breaking with reality to the point where she needs medical help," Filo said. "She cannot continue."
Sources familiar with the case say it is possible Ellena Berg broke down because she feared being caught in a lie. The defense is trying to obtain Comcast and PG&E records that it has reason to believe show that electrical appliances, including the TV, were used extensively on Sept. 5, the first day of the alleged incident. Ellena Berg testified that her husband left for work after chaining her up, and no one else was home at the time.
Citing Ellena Berg's "illness," Judge Ron M. Del Pozzo postponed the rest of the preliminary hearing until Monday morning. Filo declined to comment.
Ellena Berg had refused to answer most of Filo's questions during preparation for the preliminary hearing, forcing the highly regarded veteran prosecutor to conduct the proceeding without knowing what her star witness would actually say. All along, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office has said the preliminary hearing would be a chance to test Ellena Berg's credibility.
The case, including politically explosive allegations of domestic abuse, presents yet another challenge for the District Attorney's Office, which just grappled with a suspected crime involving another rich and powerful man, 49ers star linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
Ellena Berg also fled the witness stand Wednesday, the second day of the hearing, in tears without asking the judge's permission. Both moves surprised veteran lawyers and the judge.
It will be up to Del Pozzo to decide after the hearing if there is sufficient evidence to hold Clyde Berg over for trial. The standard of proof is if there is probable cause to believe a crime occurred and that he did it, a much lower standard than at trial.
If Ellena Berg is too ill to keep testifying, it is likely the judge will have to dismiss the charges because it is largely a he-said-she-said case. The prosecution also can drop the case at any point.
Clyde Berg is charged with two felony counts -- corporal punishment of a spouse and penetration by a foreign object while the victim is tied and bound -- that carry a sentence of more than 15 years to life.
In a lawsuit seeking punitive damages from Clyde Berg's fortune of more than $200 million, Ellena Berg claims her husband abused her physically and sexually throughout their 10-year marriage, culminating in the bizarre incident at the couple's home overlooking the San Jose Country Club. The two met when she was working as an au pair for a family in Monte Sereno.
Clyde Berg is the brother and business partner of billionaire Carl Berg, one of the richest people in the United States. The brothers developed campuses for many of the valley's signature companies and recently sold their firm for $1.3 billion.
The tycoon said Friday outside court that he believes his wife is truly mentally ill and he cannot fathom why prosecutors are proceeding. He has had her committed twice in the past. She claims he engineered the commitments as part of his abuse; he says he acted because she constantly threatened to commit suicide, including in an email introduced in court.
"They know they have no case," Clyde Berg said. "The DA is torturing a mentally ill person. They're the ones putting her through this."
Even if the case does proceed, it is far from clear whether prosecutors can win. Defense attorneys already have begun poking holes in Ellena Berg's credibility.
Ruby and co-counsel Kurt Seibert insinuated Friday that she has a history of accusing her husband of crimes, including murder.
For instance, she testified she has had three failed pregnancies, including an ectopic pregnancy that involved twins. However, she refused to answer even prosecutor Filo's sympathetic questions about the pregnancies.
Sources familiar with the case say records indicate she miscarried. Yet, in an email introduced in court, she blames her husband for the loss of the unborn children, saying his desire not to have kids and his abusive behavior put her under enormous stress.
In one email that she acknowledged in court she had written, she told him, "I don't want to live in a world where 60-year-old men make 20-year-old women murder their children."
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.