Billed by a defense lawyer as the "world's leading sleep expert," a retired Stanford doctor tried Thursday to persuade a jury that a murder confession made by a 15-year-old boy was invalid because the young man was sleep-deprived.
Dr. William Dement, director emeritus of Stanford University's sleep studies center, testified on behalf of Jae Williams, who is accused of helping a friend stab to death fellow Santa Teresa High sophomore Michael Russell in 2009 for thrills.
Williams confessed -- and told police the approximate area where he dumped two sweatshirts spattered with Russell's blood -- after spending 12 hours at the police station in a small interview room where he slept intermittently for a disputed amount of time.
A detective who testified for the prosecution said Williams slept at least five hours after he was taken to the station, a day or so after Russell's mangled body was found by his uncle in his back yard. But Dement disagreed.
"He got very, very little sleep," Dement said, basing his conclusion on a videotape of Williams while the young man was in the small room, waiting to be interviewed the next morning.
Dement said Williams, now 20, also appeared to be impaired in the subsequent interview with detectives.
"Sleep deprivation impairs everybody," Dement said. "And 15-year-olds are probably more sleep-impaired than other adults. I thought his answers were also incomplete, or mindless, like, 'yeah, yeah.'"
But although Dement's credentials appeared to impress the jury -- he pioneered the concept of Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep among other achievements -- the 85-year-old doctor faltered under cross-examination by prosecutor Valerie McGuire.
He was paid $3,000 to testify, according to the Independent Defense Council Office (IDO), which is overseeing the private attorney appointed by the court.
And he gave McGuire several long, rambling answers, including an amusing story about the Stanford band's ability to sleep on a concrete floor and wake up the next morning unimpaired. A musician as well as a doctor, Dement joked the band played as badly as ever, prompting many jurors to giggle.
But the testimony contradicted the notion that a young person might confess to a murder -- and provide telling details of the crime -- because he was tired.
Williams' lawyer, Lewis Romero, plans Friday to call an expert on false confessions to testify that Williams was trying to please police when he conceded he had participated in the killing.
A separate trial will be held for Williams' friend and accused accomplice, Randy Thompson, after the jury reaches a verdict.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport