The Hall of Justice, where the District Attorney’s office is housed, in Downtown San Diego is shown on Jan. 29, 2019. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

Why this matters

inewsource’s investigation into experimental brain treatments by a former UC San Diego oncologist, Dr. Kevin Murphy, is now part of a massive six-week trial between the doctor and the university.

On the last day of testimony in a major six-week trial, a flustered philanthropist sat on the witness stand to explain the origins of a controversial $10 million donation at the center of dueling lawsuits between UC San Diego and one of its former doctors.

The dispute dates back to 2015, when Ernestina Kreutzkamp’s husband, Charles Kreutzkamp, died from lung cancer. At the time, a document from his family trust directed the multi-million dollar gift to the UC San Diego Foundation “for cancer research.”

Months later, another document — a letter from the widow — emerged, raising questions about the gift’s intended purpose. Oncologist Kevin Murphy cited it to UCSD administrators as proof that the money was intended for him to research his experimental brain stimulation technology, which he’d used to treat the brain fog Charles Kreutzkamp experienced while undergoing cancer treatment.

During her testimony Tuesday, Ernestina Kreutzkamp said she did not write or read the letter before signing it at Murphy’s request. But later, she said, she came to believe Murphy was the intended recipient of the gift. 

Kreutzkamp’s testimony offered new details in the trial that suggest Murphy went to great lengths to use the major donation to further his experimental brain treatments, known as PrTMS.

The dispute is layered and complex.

Dr. Kevin Murphy gives inewsource reporters a tour of the empty UCSD Center for Neuromodulation on Dec. 6, 2019. (Brad Racino/inewsource)

UCSD claims once it directed the money to Murphy, a former university department vice chair, he misspent $7 million of the donation to benefit his private brain treatment businesses, violating university policy. No research was performed using the funds.

But Murphy blamed that failure on UCSD, which he says thwarted his research efforts and retaliated against him for rightfully directing the money for his use.

Years of conflict between the doctor and UCSD over the funds ultimately brought the two sides to trial in San Diego Superior Court. Both parties are asking for millions of dollars in damages.

Accompanied by an interpreter, Kreutzkamp told the jury in Spanish that she did not know what treatment Murphy was performing on her husband or what the two may have discussed about future donations to study his technology.

UCSD’s lead attorney asked Kreutzkamp about the 2016 letter, which attested that the $10 million donation was meant for Murphy and not as a general gift to UCSD’s cancer center. Murphy used the letter, bearing Kreutzkamp’s signature, in talks with university administrators, and it became crucial in his efforts to get UCSD to direct the money to his research.

An excerpt of a letter written by Dr. Kevin Murphy and signed by Ernestina Kreutzkamp. It was sent to UC San Diego administrators in June 2016.

During her testimony, Kreutzkamp said she did not write the letter. Murphy wrote it and she signed it at his request. She didn’t even know what it said, she testified, because she cannot read English.

Kreutzkamp added that she was not involved in drafting her husband’s will and did not know what it said. But, she explained, she later came to believe through conversations with her attorneys that her husband had wanted the money to go to the doctor all along.

“That was my husband’s intention,” she said in Spanish.

Throughout Kreutzkamp’s testimony, Judge James Mangione instructed the jury that they would not decide the late donor’s true intention. Instead, they could use the testimony to determine Murphy’s credibility.

Some of what Kreutzkamp disclosed contradicted Murphy’s earlier statements

Emails presented at trial show Murphy did not tell university officials that he had authored the letter himself, and he had told higher-ups that the donor was upset about the way the funds were being used.

Murphy also told the jury he drafted the letter at Kreutzkamp’s request, but Kreutzkamp said she never asked him to write it.

Another claim of Murphy’s — that university officials attempted to “change” the trust to misuse the funds for their own purposes — did not hold up against documents and other statements made during trial.

“I know someone changed it,” Murphy said in his deposition.

However, the judge read a statement in court from Robert Pizzuto, an attorney representing Charles Kreutzkamp’s estate, which explained that nobody at the university asked for the trust to be changed.

During Murphy’s cross-examination by UCSD’s legal team, other statements from the doctor about the Kreutzkamp family came into question. Although Murphy said he knew the Kreutzkamps well, Murphy acknowledged during questioning that the family did not reach out to tell him when Charles Kreutzkamp died.

Emails show Murphy learned about his death months later in 2016, when UCSD administrators told him in an email. Murphy responded to the email nine minutes after, saying he was sorry to hear what happened and immediately asking how to access a donation from the Kreutzkamps.

UCSD’s lead attorney presented the emails as evidence that Murphy was not close with the family and was fixated on the money he could get from them.

Robert D. Eassa, at left, the lead attorney for UC San Diego, arrives at the Hall of Justice in San Diego, June 21, 2023. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

During her 30 minutes of testimony, Ernestina Kreutzkamp stated several times that she could not remember certain details of her interactions with Murphy or UCSD. She had trouble keeping track of the many questions asked of her by the attorneys.

“I’m going crazy,” she said in Spanish during the questioning. “This is too much for me.”

Kreutzkamp is now the chair for the CEK Foundation, a $25 million charity in Chula Vista started in honor of her late husband. It funds art projects, healthy eating initiatives and other local causes.

As she stepped down from the witness stand, Kreutzkamp smiled at the jury and quickly walked out of the courtroom. Murphy waved to her as she exited.

“Thank you everybody,” she said in English with her Spanish accent. “Have a good day.”

Outside the courthouse, Kreutzkamp’s attorney said the philanthropist would not comment on the case. She entered a private van next to the courthouse steps and was driven away.

Closing arguments and jury deliberations are expected to take place next week.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Jill Castellano is an investigative data coordinator for inewsource. When she's not deep in a spreadsheet or holed up reporting and writing her next story, she's probably hiking, running or rock climbing. She also loves playing board games and discussing the latest chapters with her book club. Jill...