Just how crucial were experts for Arias defense?
PHOENIX (AP) – As Jodi Arias’ trial wraps up this week after four months of testimony, her fate rests in part on the testimony of expert witnesses who have offered up one clinical diagnosis after another for the small-town waitress and aspiring photographer from California to explain why she killed her lover five years ago.
Post-traumatic stress, amnesia, battered woman’s syndrome and borderline personality disorder are among the conditions that various experts have offered to describe Arias, who is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing and shooting death of Travis Alexander, 30, in his suburban Phoenix home in June 2008.
The jury must also come to grips with the defendant’s ever-changing version of events. After initially denying involvement and later blaming masked intruders, she now claims she killed him in self-defense but doesn’t recall details about the slaying.
Testimony began Wednesday with defense expert Robert Geffner, a psychologist and founding president of the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute in San Diego. His testimony aimed to counter a prosecution witness’s contention that Arias suffers from borderline personality disorder.
The jury could get the case by the end of the week after closing arguments Thursday and Friday.
Arias faces a possible death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder.
Testimony began in early January and quickly captured headlines with lurid tales of sex, lies, religion and a salacious relationship that ended in a bloodbath. The case spawned a virtual cottage industry for talk shows, legal experts and even Arias, who used her notoriety to sell her jail artwork, as it unfolded like a real-life soap opera for thousands of trial enthusiasts who followed every twist.
Clinical psychologist Janeen DeMarte, a state expert witness, testified previously that Arias showed signs of immaturity and an “unstable sense of identity.” People who suffer from borderline personality disorder “have a terrified feeling of being abandoned by others,” she said.
DeMarte also discounted defense experts’ testimony during which they told jurors that Arias suffered from battered woman’s syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and amnesia, which explains why she can’t recall details from the day of the killing. DeMarte said she found no evidence to support the defense experts’ diagnoses.
Geffner testified that DeMarte’s conclusions were flawed and inaccurate.
He later worked to discount previous testimony from a prosecution witness, Dr. Kevin Horn, a Maricopa County medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Alexander. Horn had told jurors that the gunshot wound to Alexander’s head would have rendered him unconscious and unable to defend himself.
Alexander suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, was shot in the forehead and had his throat slit. Arias said that Alexander attacked her on the day of his death. She said she ran into his closet to retrieve a gun, and then shot him. She testified that he kept coming after her, and despite claiming to have no recollection of what happened next, Arias acknowledged that she must have then stabbed him repeatedly.
Based on the defensive wounds on Alexander’s hands, Horn said Arias’ version of events would be impossible, given Alexander would have already been dead or dying before she stabbed him.
On Wednesday, Geffner, who has also studied neuropsychology, said the gunshot wound “would disorient the person” but not render them unconscious.
As testimony dragged late into the evening, prosecutor Juan Martinez recalled Horn to the witness stand.
The medical examiner stood by his previous testimony, explaining Alexander “would have collapsed to the ground and been unresponsive” within a few seconds of being shot.
Later Wednesday evening, forensic neuropsychologist Jill Hayes was called to testify as a prosecution witness to bolster DeMarte’s findings and discount Geffner’s testimony.
Judge Sherry Stephens told jurors trial would continue Wednesday, even late into the night, until all the witnesses had testified so the prosecution could begin closing arguments Thursday.
Wednesday’s testimony devolved into a battle of the experts, with each witness called to discount the testimony of previous witnesses.
Phoenix criminal defense lawyer Julio Laboy said the expert testimony from both sides will be key during deliberations as jurors look for anything that may help explain Arias’ behavior and lies in the days, months and years after Alexander’s death.
“You have to have these third parties to help mitigate her inability to stay on track with her stories,” Laboy said.
“What you have here now is the proverbial battle of the witnesses, and you may get a good grouping of the jury siding with the state’s expert witness, but you also might get a couple that don’t,” Laboy said, adding that he doesn’t think Arias has any shot at acquittal.
“The victory for the defense here will be saving her life,” he said.
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