Jodi Arias vs. the State of Arizona; practical use of forensic psychology | 03
The complexity of human nature became more visible with the continuous development of the scientific study, of which psychological study is the pioneer. The application of psychological study in the field of law and order opened a new branch of study, which is solely dedicated for the application of psychological science within the legal system to address and solve the legal issues concerned in a case; which is known as “Forensic Psychology”. With time forensic psychology has proved its importance by adding the system to find out proper answers to decide key issues that could change the result.
A real-life example could focus some light on the subject, it will also help us to understand the nature and scope of the subject; the subject matter, connection with the legal field, undertaken tasks, working methods as well as outcome shall be more tangible by an example.
To pick an example case, what can be better than The case of “Murder of Travis Alexander”!; which is one of the most covered cases in the US history with a lot of issues relating to forensic psychology with sensational twists, turns and findings during the proceedings. The legal proceeding of the case started in June 2008 and the final verdict after all analysis held on May 2013 and the convicted got her final sentence on April 2014.
Let’s dive into the fact first. Travis Alexander, a young white man with dark hair, who used to be a motivational speaker and was known for his strict Mormon lifestyle and striking appearance; found dead at his apartment by his friends after reported missing about 5 days. The victim found in the large pools of blood having 30 (approximately) stabs in his body along with one gun shut in his forehead with a deep slit in his throat that almost decapitated his head.[i] The accusation by his friends was towards his ex-girlfriend Jodi Arias as per the conversation recorded in the emergency 911 call.[ii] His friends accused that she tried to stack him and threatened him as well.
During the investigation, it is found that Jodi Ann Arias; Alexander’s ex-girlfriend who meet each other in 2006, soon after they find each other attractive and start dating and had intimate time with each other, by Alexander’s influence she got her baptized and moved from California to Arizona, to be closer to Alexander. But unfortunately, the relation doesn’t last long, it ended after four-month as Jodi found Alexander not faithful to her and she claimed he was meeting other girls too. Even after the breakup they start meeting each other regularly and was having physical relation too.[iii] Meanwhile, Alexander was furious about her, he complained to his close friend about Jodi’s strange behaviour and threat.
During the police investigation, her fingerprint and DNA were found in Alexander’s murder place, moreover, a hand-held camera was found which was left in the washing matching to decapitate the evidence within it. However, that camera was recovered by the forensic team and photos inside were astonishing. Eventually, three sets of photos came out. The first set reveals that Jodi was there at the date of Alexander’s murder day and they had had sex. The second set shows that Alexander was showering and Jodi was taking his photo. The third which were the most influential set, in one photo that showed the dead body of Alexander with one bare foot of Jodi. Another one showed that Jodi was trying to remove the body of Alexander. Lately, these photos were the key evidence to convict Jodi Arias.
When investigation and trial were at their full speed, Jodi came up with surprising stories one after another and each contains sheer amount to data that needed to be analyzed. At first, she claims her alibi that she was not there at all and she does not know how Alexander is killed but after showing the forensic evidence and the recovered photographs she tried to convince the cops that she was there but she did not kill Alexander, moreover she made and acted a story, how two people came up all of a sudden killed Alexander and threatened her in a mafia-style but cops showed no interest to her made up story.[iv]
Her Third story was more buzzer though; in 2010 she finally admitted during trial that she killed Alexander but she did it in self-defence. She also tried to justify her action saying that Alexander was abusive and he suddenly turned violent and tried to kill her; she also claimed Alexender did these sort of activities before so she got panicked, she also testified that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has amnesia and can’t remember what happened after she shot him in his head.[v] On the other hand the prosecution lawyer Mr Juan Martinez argued that was cold-blooded planned murder. On his support, he produced documents like her credit card bill, purchase history travel route, behaviour etc. and connect with the proven fact to establish his point, even though her mental condition and her claim of her mental condition needed to be confirmed and to do that forensic psychologist were involved.
Psychologist (forensic and others) were called to find the mental competency of Jodi at the time of the murder, whether she was really a victim of abuse or the perpetrator? Whether her claims of PTSD and blackout was reasonable or not? Several more relevant issues were brought into question to understand the situation and enforce the law more sophisticatedly so that no innocent is hurt.
This dramatic case was then become a battle of experts in the witness box, let’s analyze the events accordingly.
Jodi seemed quite relaxed with her false confession until the prosecutor put her in a corner, she showed no hesitation or guilt fleeing telling all those lies. So her lies were remarkable; not only that she lied about the murder but also accused Alexander to be pervert, abusive and immoral person.
Forensic psychologist Dr Stephen Reich view her as women who were very self-aware and want to be in the control of her situation,[vi] his opinion indicated towards Narcissistic Personality Disorder[vii] of Jodi as opposed to Pathological lying where subject lies without any reasonable benefit and cannot control her lying.[viii] Which may also relate to Borderline Personality Disorder.[ix]
Jodi Arias claimed that after being attacked by Alexander she was immediately suffered panic than for the sake of her survival she shoots Alexander then due to such traumatic even she could not remember any further event. To validate her such testimony Jodi’s attorney called psychologist Dr Richard Samuels on the stand. in his testimony, he said he tested Jodi Arias and found that she may have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and that may have caused Dissociative Amenatia.
Here, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stress-related disorder that may develop after exposure to an event or ordeal in which death, severe physical harm or violence occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or unnatural disasters, accidents, or military combat[x] and Dissociative Amanita means, the Amanita (blacked out) triggered by the PTSD event. But the heavy questioning from the prosecutor eventually discredited his finding as the attorney proved that the answers Jodi gave to determine her PTSD were not true and she gave the answer prior to her confession which proved that she was lying to her psychologist.
Another expert on Alyce LaViolette Anger Management, Domestic Violence Consultant testified on behalf of Jodi, she agreed with Jodi and her defence team that she was a victim of domestic violence and could have suffered from PTSD for that reason but on the face of the question by Juan Martinez it came out that her observation was motivated depending on Jodi’s personal concern.[xi]
On the other hand, expert witness Janeen DeMarte; clinical psychologist retained by the prosecution opened that Jodi Arias is suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as per her investigation.[xii] DeMarte explained BPD as a situation where the subject is or act like an immature person, stay in constant fear of abandonment. They generally keep their anger inside but certain outburst is common at that time they can act violently too. They are usually in an unstable interpersonal relationship with whom they want to adjust at the same time the subject try to take control of the partner. They want the partner happy but push them to their (subject’s) wish which ironically pushes the partner away.[xiii]
The defence lawyer sticks to the PTSD and tried to prove DeMarte’s findings wrong but so far he failed as Janeen DeMarte was standing strong on her position and answer most of the questions connecting with the fact. Afterwards, the defence lawyer brought David Lohr another psychologist with Thirty-five years of the experience in the field to prove their point. He referred to Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence (RMSE) and said witness Janeen DeMarte cannot be treated as an expert to comment on this heavy case as she had less than five years of experience. In the time of Cross-examination, the prosecution lawyer argued that even she did not have five years or more experience she had the authority to comment. On the other hand, David Lohr’s findings were also questioned on the method he sued to understand the situation of Jodi Arias; the floods in the system was pointed out by the prosecutor with his smart questions.[xiv]
Among other things, prosecution also pointed out the lack of collaboration of the evidence, false statement, personal attachment to the issue etc. Last but not list the prosecution was able to satisfy the jury to convict Jodi Arias for first-degree Murder. This way forensic psychology helped conclude the precise decision to find out the exact scenario of the perpetrator and the victim and upheld the justice.
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[i] Key facts about Jodi Arias murder case. (2018). Fox News. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/02/25/key-facts-about-jodi-arias-murder-case.html
[iii] Jodi Arias – Cold Blooded Killer or Victim of Abuse?. (2018). ThoughtCo. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from https://www.thoughtco.com/profile-of-jodi-arias-971055
[iv] Inside The Mind Of Jodi Arias. (2018). HuffPost UK. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/24/inside-the-mind-of-jodi-arias_n_2528011.html
[v] Gray, M., & Gray, M. (2018). 5 Bizarre Revelations from the Jodi Arias Trial | TIME.com. TIME.com. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/09/5-bizarre-revelations-from-the-jodi-arias-trial/
[vi] Linda Watson, W. (2018). Forensic Psychologist Stephen Reich Interviewed on Jodi Arias Murder Case | Mind of a Killer | Motivation for Homicide. Forensicpsychologyexperts.com. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from http://www.forensicpsychologyexperts.com/itn_jodiarias.shtml
[vii] Narcissistic Personality Disorder | Psychology Today. (2018). Psychology Today. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/narcissistic-personality-disorder
[viii] Dike, C., Baranoski, M., & Griffith, E. (2018). Pathological Lying Revisited. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from http://jaapl.org/content/33/3/342
[x] (2018). Retrieved 12 February 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
[xi] Did Alyce LaViolette commit perjury on the stand? and other ramblings.. (2013). Jodi Arias Trial. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from https://skittlezblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/did-alyce-laviolette-perjure-herself-on-the-stand-and-other-ramblings/
[xii] Psychologist Says Jodi Arias Was Not A Victim Of Domestic Violence. (2018). HuffPost UK. Retrieved 12 February 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/jodi-arias-trial-day-50_n_3115685.html
[xiv] CrimeTimeVids. (2013, May 02). Jodi Arias Trial Day 54 Part 4. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HmeYoZoiTw&index=140&list=PL_Rz53XTtnkEf4qetcdaEwSY00mKCOoYo