WHY NOT KILL HER
by Paul Sanders
Travis Alexander & the Jodi Arias Retrial: A Juror’s Perspective
“BOULDER OF EVIDENCE”
This is the third phase of the death penalty retrial of Jodi Arias for the premeditated and heinous murder of Travis Alexander. The first phase is sometimes known as the “guilt”. The second phase can me known as the aggravation phase, that stage where the juror decides that the circumstances qualify the defendant for the maximum penalty. The third phase is sometimes called the sentencing or penalty phase. It can also be called the mitigation phase. This phase is different from the first two phases for a jury. In the prior two phases, they reach a decision “beyond a shadow of a doubt” and this is done collectively and requires a unanimous vote. The path that the jury takes in making the first two decisions must be collectively agreed upon.
The third phase requires a juror to come to his or her own decision in deciding life or death for the defendant. Their path of knowledge and experience does not have to be agreed upon by the jury as a whole. Each juror makes their decision influenced by their own personal experiences. It is usually those same experiences that are drawn out of the jury questionnaire prior to their final selection.
The questionnaire (voir dire) we were given in the DeVault murder trial would have been remarkably similar to the one given to the jury in the Arias trial. One of those questions would have read, “Have you ever experienced domestic violence in your direct household? Please explain:”
In the mitigation phase, a juror must ultimately decide if there is a preponderance of evidence, or it is more likely than not, that mitigating factors will reduce the culpability of the defendant’s act. For the juror to give abuse weight as a mitigating factor, they must determine that it was more likely to have existed than not. The juror may decide that some abuse may have existed but it is not enough to reduce culpability. Or, they may decide it did exist and should be considered as a mitigating factor. The jury is given a specific law addendum that focuses on domestic violence. Each must decide in their own way when they eventually deliberate.
Juan Martinez has to convince twelve jurors that the defendant’s aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors in this case.
The defense team only has to convince one and they would win the best possible scenario in their case: the life of the defendant.
Sometimes, when I go to the Jodi Arias retrial, I feel like I am walking down a slightly unfamiliar path but know exactly what is around the corner. I spent six months as a juror the similar case of the brutal killing of Dale Harrell by Marissa DeVault. Our case had similarities that extend to this Jury. It had a similar path of testimony and it required twelve of us to pass through all three phases separated by deliberation periods. The longest period we deliberated was in the third phase of the trial. We deliberated over a period of two and a half weeks to reach a decision in the sentencing phase. It is the most difficult phase of all. The difficulty is entrenched in “a preponderance of evidence” as opposed to a “shadow of a doubt”. It is the decision that requires truth from the soul as well as experiences of life.
Our jury included three survivors of domestic violence. I am one of the three domestic violence survivors. It is not a fact I am proud of and it is not a badge. It is a life experience that requires soul searching in determining if someone else was a victim of a similar experience. There are rarely witnesses. There are rarely those who will stand up and admit they were abusers or abused. There are, unfortunately, people who look away and pretend it does not exist. This jury is more likely than not, to have between two and four jurors who have experienced domestic violence.
I know that the jurors who admitted on the voir dire that they had experienced domestic violence all regretted writing the experience down while they were driving home on the first day of jury selection. During the written voir dire, jurors are not given any notice that such a question will be asked. Nevertheless, the answer to that question was a big reason they were qualified for the jury. Its importance will be realized in the deliberation phase and the law recognizes its challenges.
Jurors spend time throughout a trial wondering why they were selected. They wonder what made them better qualified than the other four hundred who could have been selected in this trial just as I wondered why I was picked over nine hundred other possible jurors. It was not until the third phase that I realized my selection was based on my history with domestic violence. It will be much the same with those selected with those jurors on this jury who experienced domestic violence. We realize were probably a defense team choice.
The juror who has experience with domestic violence tends to be highly critical of testimony in that area. This juror knows there are rarely police reports and there are rarely witnesses. They know there is oftentimes little supporting proof. All this juror has to go on is the believability of witnesses and how the person who experienced the alleged events survived it. A juror relates to their own lives how they recovered and they look for the same traits in the defendant. The domestic violence survivor can see truth where few others can. They can also read lies very well.
The day opened with Dr. Geffner on the witness stand, wearing a gray suit with a white shirt and blue tie, being questioned by Jennifer Willmott. It was not the most exciting day for many because the day was spent mostly educating the jury on domestic violence. It began with testing evidence. Jennifer Willmott put Dr. Geffner’s DAPS (Detailed Assessment of Post-Traumatic Stress) report on all the screens for the courtroom to see.
The jury saw what I saw. The paper displayed on the screen had been copied about twenty times with little gray flecks all over the documentation. There were a bunch of scribbled dates on the top of the sheet done with a Sharpie. The dates were scribbled out and changed. The doctor claimed he got his paperwork mixed up. The graphs on the screen did not look computer generated although they may have been.
The center of the graph had a thin line going through it. The jury was told it represented the “mean” or average results. Jodi Arias’ results featured a bar graph that was at the very top of the graph. Dr. Geffner stated as to her results “profile is extreme with some exaggeration.”
The jury would not spend a lot of time looking at that document in the deliberation room. It impeached itself by its presentation so all the words that may have been spoken to the jury may as well have been the same white noise we heard in the gallery whenever the judge and attorneys had a bench conference.
“Let’s get back to domestic violence,” Jennifer Willmott redirected Dr. Geffner. She was wearing all black business skirt with knee-high black leather boots. “Can you tell us about your experience in this area?”
Dr. Geffner turned in his chair and smiled at the jury. “Domestic violence can be said to be a combination of nature and nurture. I have spent many years training judges on the dynamics and effects of domestic violence.”
“What do you educate judges on?” Willmott asked.
“Not all victims of domestic violence turn out to be traumatized. But, an abusive home has a strong effect on a person as they become an adult. We call this an “Adverse Childhood Experience” and it is a predictor of how a person will develop as an adult,” Geffner explained.
“Can you give us some examples?” Jennifer Willmott asked.
Dr. Geffner chuckled. “Certainly. It is a predictor of obesity, heart attacks and premature death in many cases. Domestic violence leads to risky behavior which can cause disease and has a host of long-term effects. Research, however, shows that fifteen percent of those who experience domestic violence turn out okay. Of course, those are pretty low odds and something must be a vehicle for change in their lives which could be coaching, counseling and better parental support. It is hard to tell what gets a person on the right path after a negative childhood experience.”
The jurors who had experienced domestic violence in their own lives would have an opinion if they had been asked. These jurors would listen carefully to Dr. Geffner and apply it to their own lives. It would generate memories of a trauma they had long stopped thinking about. They would feel a sense of gratitude that they were in the category of fifteen percent who saw their way to the other side of domestic violence. They would be surprised that only fifteen percent make it in the doctor’s eyes.
He and Jennifer Willmott continued the education of the jury on domestic violence by putting up a chart that displayed a circle with pie slices. Dr. Geffner called it the Power and Control wheel.
“If you look at it as a pie,” Dr. Geffner explained in an affable tone, “You will see that each piece is has a name for it and represents a segment of domestic violence. Consider the entirety of the pie as power and control. One piece of it is physical abuse. This covers such things as hitting, hair pulling, slapping and generally violent physical behavior.”
The jury looked at him and I saw two or three taking notes. I would have expected more taking notes. I remember as a juror that I took notes on everything because I did not have the knowledge to discern what was important or not. There were times I did not take notes because we had either heard it before or the testimony was valueless because the witness had impeached him or herself.
In my book, “Brain Damage: A Juror’s Tale”, one such witness was Stanley Cook, a direct witness to the murder of Dale Harrell. One would think a juror would be a voracious note taker when that witness was on the stand. Once you meet the witness in the book, you’ll understand why none of us wasted our time with notes.
The fact that few are notes taking notes, tells me many are not appreciating the weight of his testimony, as much as the defense would like.
The doctor continued, “There is emotional abuse which includes putting a person down, calling a person names and blaming the other person for many things. We can see another slice enumerating isolation as a form of abuse. The abuser will keep a person hidden away from family and friends.”
Although it was simple to follow, the doctor’s testimony became repetitive in its unending detail of the complete rainbow of abuse spectrums such as sexual abuse, intimidation, economic abuse, using male privilege to control and threats of suicide.
I felt the air change when Jennifer Willmott began pursuing how these attributes applied to Travis Alexander. I thought this psychologist was genuine yesterday but I felt my opinion changing with each question that Willmott asked. I did not feel that this was a foundation of what Travis Alexander was as a person and I did not agree with the doctor “making the pieces” fit. I don’t think the jury liked it either because we were back on Travis Alexander with only one day of respite in his character assassination.
“Now, Doctor,” Jennifer Willmott continued, “you have told us about patterns of abuse but we would like to know how this applies to Travis Alexander.”
“Well, there are patterns that I was able to see. Isolation and emotional abuse was present. There was a lot of intimidation such as screaming, hitting and yelling. I also saw his threats of committing suicide as a way to yield power in this relationship with Jodi Arias,” the doctor explained to the jury. He rubbed his mustache and continued.
“The sexual component was very strong and an indicator of abuse. He exerted pressure with “make-up sex”. He saw Jodi Arias as a sexual object. Even though she was not comfortable with it and it was not mutual, he performed anal sex.”
“What other pattern did you observe?” Willmott queried.
“This was a cycle of violence. There was clearly an escalation phase followed by an explosion phase and then the cycle would complete with a calming phase. This cycle manifested itself over and over in their relationship. It was clearly a cycle of abuse,” the doctor answered as he smiled at the jurors.
There would be some jurors who would think that just because the doctor said abuse existed did not make it true. The jury wants to know about Jodi Arias and this argument was deflected in the wrong direction. Juan Martinez raised objections regarding much of this testimony’s relevance throughout the day.
The jurors who have experienced domestic violence would not have been relieved when the doctor’s focus changed to the upbringing of Jodi Arias.
The doctor spoke in long dissertations about the psychological reactions to being an abused child and how it manifests itself in adulthood. He talked of the loss of identity a victim goes through. He spoke of the fears, guilt, shame, self-blame, depression and suicidal thoughts of victims of child abuse. He was not afraid to speak of the dependency, emotional instability and host of other ramifications of abuse that appear in adulthood.
Doctor Geffner drizzled the knowledge he was conveying to the jury by randomly connecting it to Jodi Arias and the abuse she allegedly suffered. He spoke of the wooden spoon incident about seven times throughout the day emphasizing its welts. It was because of her upbringing that she became the introverted victim that she was. The results of abuse were conveyed in her cognitive, emotional and social character of being a victim of intimate partner violence.
Jodi Arias’ mother sat in the front row. I wondered what the jury searched for on her face.
I watched Juan Martinez as he sat at the prosecution table, just as some of the jurors would have observed. Occasionally, Juan could see him jotting notes while at other times, he gazed at the screen that hung down across from the jury. I could not help but think that Juan is going to have a field day with this psychologist. I noticed that the doctor brought up incidents between Arias and Travis Alexander from 2006, 2007 and 2008. He used these dates more than once. The jurors would be wondering how that is possible if the two only dated for four months.
The jury was also introduced to a new “memory gap” from Dr. Geffner. He claimed Jodi Arias had issues remembering anything from when she was twelve to fourteen years of age. I don’t think it got past the jury to see that it coincidentally lined up with when she was caught growing marijuana in her room in the seventh or eighth grade. The doctor offered that Jodi Arias could not remember the trauma she must have suffered.
We were in the middle of the afternoon and I noticed that no one on the jury was taking notes.
Doctor Geffner stated that Jodi Arias’ second memory gap surrounds the murder of Travis Alexander however the doctor admits that Jodi Arias is “remembering bits and pieces”. I looked toward the prosecution table and thought about what Juan Martinez might do with that tasty morsel. Juan loves dates. If asked, Dr. Fonseca would recall that much of her interrogation.
It was starting to appear that this jury does not care to see this doctor much longer. It is hard for them to pay attention. The doctor’s evidence is like an artificial boulder made from Styrofoam. It looks big and heavy and when lifted it is weightless.
Those who have survived domestic violence, a unique experience to each, can see straight through this red herring. There is nothing there and its value lost in paperwork somewhere. Somebody forgot to prove that Jodi Arias experienced abuse whether it was in her childhood or by the hands of Travis Alexander. The rest of the jurors will dismiss it far faster than those who have experienced it.
The feigning of abuse by partner or parent is particularly personal to those who have been persecuted by an abuser. It makes the abused angry because it diminishes its great importance and reality that it exists. Domestic violence exists behind closed doors and to the deaf ears of neighbors. It has many forms and its damage is real. Many survive the effects while some do not. We have heard stories of feigned abuse all of our lives which is a survivors reminder, and it upsets the survivors.
There is a line between discipline and abuse. If the discipline is physical to a child, the line is defined by the presence of a mark. Jurors had heard abuse existed but none of them had seen proof of it.
Most on the jury would have a challenging time trying to link abuse to Jodi Arias. They would have a much more difficult time seeing Travis Alexander as an abuser.
Jodi Arias wore her “poor little me” face all day. I did not see her look at her mother once…
“Every good relationship that has developed as a result of this trial is the manifestation of the Spirit of Travis Alexander.”
Justice 4 Travis Alexander…
Justice for Dale Harrell…
Paul A. Sanders, Jr.
The 13th Juror @The13thJurorMD (Twitter)