A Berkeley man charged with raping a 15-year-old high school student at gunpoint and, less than two weeks later, attacking a UC Berkeley student in an effort to rape her is now standing trial in Alameda County Superior Court.
“This case is about two people, two people that don’t know each other and pretty much have nothing in common — except for this man and this trial,” prosecutor Nick Homer of the Alameda County district attorney’s office told jurors in late June as he showed them photographs of both students.
Defense attorney Sydney Levin told jurors that testimony in the case would “be difficult to hear,” and asked them to “take those emotions and feelings and put them to the side.” Levin, of the Alameda County public defender’s office, said the witnesses’ stories have changed over time and that “some parts of the prosecution’s case don’t make sense.”
Alphonzo McInnis, 28, has been in custody without bail since his arrest in May 2018. His DNA is a match to the sperm from the rape case, said Homer, whose evidence also includes surveillance video, cellphone location data and eyewitness testimony. Police also found clothing and a BB gun during a warrant search of McInnis’ room that link him to the crimes, according to authorities. And, when McInnis was arrested, he was wearing the same distinctive jeans that had been described by the girl who was raped, Homer told the jury.
On June 27, both attorneys made their opening statements before the jury of 12 and three alternates. The first witness, who taught high school in Berkeley until last year, then testified about how one of her freshman students had told her about being raped. When the teacher finished, the jury was released. Further testimony in the case is set to resume again Monday after the long recess.
Both attacks happened in April 2018, authorities said: the first in central Berkeley at about 11 a.m. while the girl — who had just turned 15 — was walking to school, and the second at 4:30 a.m. as the Cal student jogged the single block between her friend’s home and her own. The courts ruled that the identities of both victims would remain confidential due to the nature of the charges. In court and in court records they are named only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. Homer showed photographs of both students to the jury, however, in preparation for their testimony.
A rape in broad daylight
According to court papers, the 15-year-old girl had overslept and was walking to school at about 10:50 a.m. April 19, 2018, when a stranger grabbed her. The man “covered her eyes and held a gun to her side ordering her not to scream or look at him or he would shoot her.” He then took the girl to a sideyard near Addison and Spaulding Avenue.
The man told the girl they needed to go “where no one can see us,” according to testimony from the preliminary hearing in January, and asked her “where she went to school, what grade she was in, where she lived” and “if she knew anybody from West Berkeley.”
“She didn’t want anything to do with this person and … was fearful that he was going to shoot her,” Berkeley Police Detective Darren Kacalek, from the Special Victims Unit, testified in January at that hearing. She “went along with what he wanted so that she would be able to live.”
When the man demanded the girl’s phone, she told him her parents had taken it. She offered him $15: “He said that wasn’t enough,” Kacalek testified in January.
The man then groped the girl and pulled down her leggings. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” he told the girl, according to Kacalek’s prior testimony. The man forced the girl to perform oral sex on him, then raped her, according to police. Afterward, the man used a cloth or sock to try to wipe his semen off of the girl’s body “so that we, as police officers, couldn’t find it,” Kacalek testified in January.
The rape took place about 25 feet from the sidewalk, Kacalek said, in an area obscured by vegetation. The girl told police that five or so people walked by during the rape, but “no one appeared to notice them.”
After wiping her down, the stranger then let the girl go. She walked to school and reported the rape immediately to her teacher. Homer told jurors the report prompted what one officer called “one of the most extensive canvasses he’d ever participated in.” Officers looked for every possible surveillance camera in the area and spoke with every possible witness. They also did an “exhaustive search” of the crime scene itself but were unable to identify a suspect.
The second attack
Then, on April 28, 2018, at 4:30 a.m., the 18-year-old Cal freshman was attacked as she walked home from a friend’s place a block away from her own UC Berkeley residence hall. It was late, so the girl, who is from another country, set out at a jog. Along the way, she saw a man coming toward her wearing a sweatshirt with the word “cookies” written on it in large red letters. The man’s hood was pulled up over his head.
“Something about him made her nervous,” Homer told the jury. The two were on the same side of the street. The girl “wanted to appear confident” so she slowed to a walk and decided not to cross to the other side.
In court, Homer played a series of surveillance videos for the jury, which he said showed McInnis walking in the neighborhood shortly before the attack. The footage shows a man pacing the blocks in the middle of the night, walking back and forth around College Avenue and Channing Way, and passing by a male student without stopping.
Homer said McInnis was “almost like a shark or a predator circling,” telling the jury, “he’s not a student there. He has no reason to be there” at that hour. The man in the video walks into a courtyard by a university housing complex, then resumes his stroll through the streets: “He is hunting for someone walking alone, someone he can come up behind and surprise, someone he can assault,” Homer told jurors.
The Cal student and the man crossed paths. Then she heard a voice behind her, saying something like, “gimme your stuff.” Instead, the girl took off running toward her dorm as the man — whose face she had seen — chased her.
“She was screaming at the top of her lungs hoping somebody would hear her,” Homer told the jury. The man caught up to her and put his arm tightly around her neck. He held a gun to her head, Homer said, and forced her to walk down a secluded alleyway. Surveillance footage caught some of those moments. Homer played it for the jury in slow motion.
The girl still had her cellphone in her hands and was trying to dial 911 or call for help. But she wasn’t able to do it. The man told her he had a gun and was not afraid to use it.
The alleyway the assailant chose happened to lead to the student’s dorm on Channing Way. So, as they walked, she made a decision. She testified in January that she believed the man — who made no further attempts to take her belongings — was going to rape her. So, pushing and shoving, the 18-year-old broke free and ran.
“She chose instinctively to fight,” Homer told the jury in late June, describing the UC Berkeley student as a “very, very brave girl.” As she sprinted to her dorm, the stranger chased her. She used her key card to open her front door. But, just as she reached it, the assailant caught up to her, and there was a “violent struggle,” Homer said.
The man grabbed for the student’s tennis racket, which was slung across her back. She kicked at him and tried to get inside to safety. When he seized her jacket collar to drag her back outside, she elbowed him, then used her weight to fall backward into the dorm. In the video, the man identified by police as McInnis then runs away and out of the frame.
The Cal student reported the crime to authorities immediately, Homer said. Initially, the University of California Police Department released surveillance footage of the dorm attack when they were looking for leads in the case. But police took it off YouTube once they linked the two cases.
It was Kacalek who made the connection, Homer said, seeing similarities in the perpetrator’s description and his methods, including the way he used a gun to take his victims to an isolated place and threaten them.
Less than a week after the UC Berkeley incident, the Cal student picked McInnis out of a photo line-up, telling police he “could be” the person who had grabbed her. She said her assailant’s hair, which he’d worn in dreadlocks, was similar to the man’s hair in the photo. The skin tone was also consistent, she wrote.
Police arrested McInnis — wearing blue jeans with stitching on the knees and “white paint” stains on them — and got a warrant to take a DNA sample from him.
Police also noticed that McInnis, who was on parole for a 2015 Berkeley robbery series — had given his parole agent, as his address, a home on Allston Way around the corner from where the high school girl had been raped.
Police searched that home but determined quickly that McInnis didn’t actually live there, according to Homer. They found some mail addressed to him and an overnight bag but established that it was his grandmother’s house and that several older residents lived there.
Police decided to search an apartment in Oakland where they knew McInnis had stayed at one time with his girlfriend. Police tried McInnis’ keys when they got to the apartment and were able to open the front door, Homer said.
In the apartment, police found a black hoodie with the word “cookies” on it in red letters, and acid-washed jeans similar to those described by the Cal student and seen in surveillance footage that night. They found two pairs of shoes that matched the ones described by witnesses: blue high tops with metal eyelets and red-and-white Jordan 13 sneakers. Hidden in the closet, Homer said, police also found what turned out to be a realistic-looking BB gun. He showed that weapon to the jury.
Homer said a list of “significant locations” on McInnis’ phone — seized by police as part of the investigation — placed him on Addison Street at the time of the rape and on Channing Way when the Cal student was attacked. Homer explained to jurors, however, that the phone had been in airplane mode since police seized it “so nobody can erase it remotely.” As a result, the phone did not show intersections or further details about those locations.
When the DNA results came back from the lab from the sperm collected from the rape victim, Homer said it was a “full match” to McInnis. A DNA expert testified in January, at the preliminary hearing, that the chance that a random person’s DNA would match that sperm sample was “one in 47 octillion.” (That’s 27 zeroes, far more than the number of people estimated to have ever lived on Earth, according to expert estimates.)
“What this tells you is: it’s him,” Homer told the jury.
When it came time for Levin’s opening statement, she kept it brief. She told the jury the case was not the “open and shut” case Homer made it out to be. She said Homer was not there at the time of the reported rape or when the student told school staff about it. He wasn’t there when the Cal student was grabbed either, she said.
“He does not know if they are mistaken or exaggerated or are even lying,” she said.
Levin told jurors that McInnis had gone to Berkeley High School. He has three children, she said, including a baby who was born in December.
In April 2018, he was living with his girlfriend in Oakland, Levin said, and was also spending a lot of time with his mother, who lives in Contra Costa County with two of McInnis’ children.
Levin asked the jury to “pay attention” to all the testimony they would hear, and to “what has been added and what has been taken away” from it. She said there was evidence police did not pursue, but did not elaborate.
“I will ask you to return a fair verdict, and that is a verdict of not guilty,” Levin said. “Listen to all of the evidence with an open mind.”
Outside the presence of the jury, Levin asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Rogers to declare a mistrial. She said Homer should not have likened her client to a “predator” or a “shark.” Rogers denied the motion.
Levin then asked Rogers to tell jurors that Homer’s statements had been “improper.” The judge denied that request as well.
McInnis is facing seven felony charges, including forcible sexual penetration and oral copulation of a minor, two counts of forcible rape of a minor, and kidnapping to commit robbery and/or a sex crime in connection with the high school student; and, in connection with the 18-year-old, kidnapping to commit robbery or a sex crime and attempted robbery. He’s also been charged with a number of special allegations, including use of a deadly weapon identified as a BB gun, that would extend his sentence if McInnis is convicted.
According to court papers, McInnis’ first felony conviction, for unlawful sexual intercourse, came about in Contra Costa County in 2008. Three years later, he was convicted of felony burglary there. In 2012, he was convicted of felony grand theft with a firearm and sent to prison. The next year, he was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon, which is also a felony.
His only listed conviction in Alameda County came in January 2015 after a series of gas station robberies on University Avenue in Berkeley. The robbery locations weren’t far from McInnis’ grandmother’s home on Allston Way. He was sentenced to three years in prison and released in September 2017.
The second witness in the case is scheduled to take the stand Monday morning at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland.