Every day in the United States of America, about three women are killed by their abusive intimate partner. The case of Jodi Arias is a stark dichotomy – was it an abused woman attacked by an abusive man who lost control – or was it a cunning pre-meditated murder, perpetrated by a diabolical “femme fatale“? Some circumstantial evidence suggested the latter, but the truth is that Jodi is a survivor of sexual, emotional and physical abuse. There is no example in the history of crime of a sane woman premeditating murder by a week for a motive as weak as jealousy, this idea is in fact ridiculous. Jodi Arias is not the first “femme fatale” in history. This is a wrongful conviction – an abused woman who was not believed when she finally told the truth. Jodi was convicted on a wave of prejudice after she lied to detectives and on TV to protect her and her abuser’s reputation, while intending to commit suicide.
Introduction – undisputed facts
Jodi Arias travelled from Yreka, California to Mesa, Arizona, stayed one night and admits killing her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander on June 4th 2008. She then travelled back to Yreka via Salt Lake City, where she met Ryan Burns, a new boyfriend who she had met on the internet. When interviewed by the police, she first denied ever having visited Mesa, then claimed that two intruders had killed Travis. Travis suffered a single gun shot wound to the head, and numerous knife wounds. There was extensive blood evidence at the scene, and also photographs recovered from Travis’ camera. Jodi was convicted of 1st degree murder in May 2013. The jury could not agree on the death penalty, resulting in a retrial of that phase scheduled after many delays for September 2014.
The prosecution case
The prosecution case was that Jodi stole a gun from her grandparent’s home where she was living, staged as a burglary, and attempted to conceal her visit to Mesa by using gas cans to avoid having to buy gas while in Arizona. The prosecution argued that Jodi attacked Travis in the shower with a knife, and subsequently shot Travis after he was dead. The prosecution also argued an alternative of Felony murder, in which Jodi did not bring the gun, but instead stole a gun which belonged to Travis.
The defense case
The defense case was that Jodi acted in self-defence, after an argument that escalated. Jodi testified that she first accidentally shot Travis as he rushed at her in a rage, following which she was so terrified that she has little recollection of what occurred. She explained that a knife had earlier been used to cut rope for a sex game. She also explained that she lied due to fear and shame, and had planned to commit suicide, to avoid trial.
Jodi was visiting friends on the way to see her new potential boyfriend in Utah. Jodi did not realise that visiting an abusive, possessive, conflicted ex-boyfriend can be very dangerous indeed. She blamed herself for what happened, as many abused women do.
There is one simple fact that shows the State’s “premeditation by a week” theory is wrong. Jodi called Ryan Burns between 8pm and 9pm on June 3rd, and told him to expect her around 12am to 1pm on June 4th. This is completely inexplicable if she was intending at that moment to go to Mesa to murder Travis. It would be impossible to carry out the murder and not be many hours late to see Burns. Making an appointment you cannot keep for the time when you are planning a murder is just nonsensical. If Jodi was planning murder, she would have told Burns to expect her on June 5th, not June 4th.
There were several issues that were disputed at trial :
- Whether the gunshot was first or last.
- Whether Jodi used two or three gas cans on her trip to Mesa.
- Whether Jodi was a victim of domestic violence.
In addition the prosecution presented other circumstantial evidence of pre-meditation, to support the theory that Jodi planned to conceal her trip to Mesa. For example, when hiring a car for the trip, Jodi stated that she was not travelling to another State, and preferred a white car to a red car.
A wrongful conviction?
The fundamental doubt about the case arises from the lack of a credible motive, the lack of any previous criminal record or evidence of insanity and numerous internal contradictions in the logic of the prosecution case. I will start my analysis by looking at the evidence for and against extensive premeditation, starting with motive, and then consider the evidence at the scene.
It is of course not necessary for the State to prove a motive, however women rarely commit heinous murder, so it is reasonable to be sceptical about a woman planning murder for a whole week for no clear reason, especially considering that Jodi had no criminal record. The trial examined two possible explanations for Jodi having decided to murder Travis : firstly that she was stalking him, and secondly that she was jealous that Travis was taking another woman on a trip to Cancun.
There was some hearsay evidence of stalking – Travis had suggested to his friends that Jodi was stalking him. However, while making this claim, in fact he was in constant communication with Jodi, and never showed real fear. It was simply a way for Travis to explain her presence, without admitting that he had a secret lover – not something that can be admitted in Mormon society. It is not disputed that Travis slept with Jodi after she arrived very early in the morning of June 4th. In addition they took photographs of each other, and on any view were in an intimate relationship in which neither were frightened of the other. Domestic violence expert Alyce LaViolette testified that a stalking relationship is characterised by extreme fear, so stalking is not a credible explanation of events. See this video from around 54 minutes in, where Alyce LaViolette explains that Travis was having a conversation with Jodi on the same day he says she was stalking him:
The idea that Jodi was so jealous that Travis was taking another woman on a business trip to Cancun, that she decided to murder him, is ridiculous. It would be unprecedented for a woman to have sufficient jealousy to embark on murder and to sustain that jealous rage for a whole week. In addition, Jodi was moving on from her relationship with Travis, and expressed no expectation that she would be going to Cancun in a recorded telephone call in early May:
Travis: The beginning of June through like the beginning of July it’s going to be a busy time in Mr. Alexander’s life.
Jodi: Yeah, me too. For me, I might make a trip at the end of the month to Utah. You’re what, going to Cancun and you’re coming here. Then I guess you’ll go up to what, see your friends in Washington or something?
Travis: I’m not going to do all that. You’re the top of the list.
Jodi had known for many months that Travis was seeing other women. She wrote that she was devastated at the time, but by January 24, 2008 she was philosophical about Travis, and quite detached. She wrote in her journal:
The problem with Travis is that he`s so used to girls falling all over themselves for him, and she” — Mimi — “doesn`t do that. He needs that. I really think he does.
By June 2008, Jodi was courting a new potential boyfriend in Salt Lake City, Ryan Burns, and was prepared to drive thousands of miles to see him. When an abused woman is leaving a relationship, this is very often the trigger for serious violence.
“Abusers are often deadliest when victims are trying to leave their control,” Kim Gandy, President and CEO of National Network to End Domestic Violence.
Domestic violence ( or intimate partner terrorism, perhaps a more accurate term ) is very common, but at the same time hard to comprehend for those who have not experienced it first hand. It could perhaps be said to be a form of madness or insanity, and there are several paradoxical behaviours that need to be well understood to comprehend the defence case.
- Why would a woman who has been subject to violent physical abuse voluntarily travel hundreds of miles to visit her abuser?
- Why would a man violently attack a woman simply because she dropped his camera?
- Why would a woman feel guilty and suicidal if she was defending herself after being attacked?
These are tricky questions, but there is extensive evidence and literature that shows that abused women and abusive men do in fact behave in this way. I hope to expand more on this subject in time. There was testimony at trial from domestic violence expert Alyce LaViolette on this subject. LaViolette also testified that Jodi was abused, based on an evaluation of extensive documentary evidence and interviewing Jodi. See here for some of the documented evidence of abuse ( to be covered in more detail in a future article ). Of particular note is an entry in Jodi’s journal about 6 months before Travis died, where she describes a typical cycle of domestic violence – heated arguments followed by sweetness and making up:
Well, today was interesting to say the least. Highs and lows. Travis was obscenely mean to me, but then he was extremely sweet and apologetic.
Circumstantial evidence of premeditation
The State’s case-in-chief was circumstantial. A gun was stolen from Jodi’s grandparent’s home where she was living in Yreka. However the ammunition stolen did not match the bullet recovered at the scene, and the State argued an alternative in which Jodi did not bring the gun, but instead stole an old gun that Jodi testified Travis kept on a shelf, implying that the gun theft was simply an unrelated coincidental event.
As noted above, the call to Ryan Burns on June 3rd demonstrates there was no significant premeditation, but let’s have a look at the claim.
The Gas Cans
In closing arguments, Juan Martinez referred to gas cans no less than 26 times. It was undisputed that Jodi borrowed two five gallon gas cans from a friend en-route to Mesa, and also that she purchased another gas can ( in fact a Kerosene can ) from Wal-Mart in Salinas. However Jodi testified that she did not use this can on her trip to Mesa, instead she returned it to the same store, obtaining a cash refund. During rebuttal, the prosecution called a Wal-Mart employee, Amanda Webb, who testified that she could not find any record of this can being returned to Wal-Mart on June 3rd. However, there are reasons for suspecting that Webb was mistaken. In 2010, Wal-Mart relocated from N. Davies to N. Main. Webb was unaware of this, and it seems possible that some return records were transferred to head office, or for some reason were not available to Webb. Webb was not sure how many registers there were, suggesting she did not have a good way of enumerating them.
Juan Martinez: How many cash registers were there back on June 3, 2008 at Wal-Mart?
Amanda Webb: There was, I believe, 25 on the front end, then there’s a few outlying registers, like sporting goods and electronics, so I would say 27/28 maybe 30.
In addition, there are receipts for the gas that Jodi purchased at Pasadena, which show purchases of 9.59, 8.301 and 2.77 gallons. These purchases are not consistent with filling three five gallon cans unless one of the cans Jodi borrowed was already about half full. A careful analysis of the previous leg of her journey from King City to Pasadena shows that Jodi had space for at least 9 gallons in her gas tank based on mileage per gallon later in her road trip at similar speeds. The 9.59 gallons would fill two 5 gallon gas cans. Jodi testified that the 2.77 gallons would be a “top up”, and if she did not fill the tank completely on the previous leg, there could easily be space for 11 gallons in total. This is plausible considering Jodi delayed filling the gas cans until she reached Pasadena, where the gas was significantly cheaper on the day than at King City.
It’s my view that such confused and inherently unreliable evidence, introduced in the middle of a trial, cannot and should not be the basis for any criminal conviction, let alone a conviction in a capital case.
Other circumstantial evidence was ambiguous, with innocent explanations readily apparent, and I will not deal with it here.
[ Update : see Jodi Arias – the gas cans revisited, 26 October, 2014 – Webb conceded in court that she doesn’t know if the computer records moved intact when the store moved ]
There was an abundance of physical evidence recovered from the scene: a bullet, a cartridge casing, extensive blood evidence and photographs recovered from a camera found in a washing machine.
The main area of dispute was whether the gun shot would have immediately incapacitated Travis, implying that Jodi’s account that he was first shot and then moved around could not be true. There was extensive evidence on this on the last day of trial, which will be the subject of a future article. At the conclusion of Medical Examiner Dr Horn’s testimony, he stated that the bullet must have passed through Travis’ brain, and therefore the statement in his autopsy report that the Dura Mater was intact must have been a typographical error:
He apparently did not consider that the bullet could have deflected, instead of passing through the fracture in the skull observed on the X-ray. This would seem to be the correct interpretation of the autopsy evidence.
The changing prosecution case
One sign that a prosecution is wrongful is when the State changes their case. Lead detective Flores claimed at trial that he had originally “misunderstood” Dr Horn:
Nurmi: You were asked if it was Dr Horn’s opinion that this rendered the victim unconscious or did he still remain conscious. Pretty specific question, right?
Nurmi: And you answered “He said it would possibly have rendered the victim unconscious but definitely could have been conscious”, correct?
Nurmi: You were also asked, but in the circumstances, based on all the other injuries, it was his opinion that it did not render him unconscious, correct?
Nurmi: And you say that you “misunderstood” Dr Horn? That is your testimony here today?
Flores is ruled non-responsive by the judge (403).
Nurmi repeats the question.
Nurmi: You put this “misunderstanding” first in your police report, right?
Nurmi: And second time, under oath, and giving sworn testimony, you perpetrated the same “misunderstanding”, correct?
Nurmi: And then again you did it while being interviewed on national television, is that correct?
Flores: Yes, that is what I believed.
This “misunderstanding” is not credible. Flores lied at trial to cover up that Dr Horn’s opinion had changed, there was no misunderstanding. It seems that prosecutor Juan Martinez, in a desire to find evidence that Jodi’s testimony was untrue, manipulated Dr Horn into stating that Travis would have been immediately incapacitated by the gunshot.
Logical contradictions in the prosecution case
Besides doubts about motive and the reliability of Amanda Webb’s testimony, there are numerous logical contradictions in the prosecution case. For example, if this was a premeditated murder, why did Jodi allow herself to be photographed at the scene? Instead of using gas cans, Jodi could simply have bought gas with cash. And the 3rd gas can was not secret : she kept the receipt. Indeed her trip was far from secret : she left a trail of evidence, including credit card details. She even used her phone while in Arizona, which is not consistent with a plan to conceal her movements. She called Travis twice just before driving to Mesa from Pasadena. Why did she not attack Travis when she arrived in Mesa, or when he was asleep? And stealing a gun, but then attacking a much stronger opponent with a knife is strange, to say the least.
Why would Jodi lie about returning a gas can to Wal-Mart? She had five years to consider her testimony, why tell a lie that might be contradicted by computer records? Jodi could have instead said she accidentally left the gas can on the garage forecourt for example, and in any case why lie about the number of gas cans used – using three rather than two gas cans is not proof of premeditated murder in any case. Or she could have said she did not use the 3rd can at Pasadena, there is in fact no evidence that she did, although there was evidence she used more than 2 gas cans at Salt Lake City.
Jodi testified for 18 days in great detail. She cannot be said to be a good liar, since her lies to the police when interviewed were not credible. It’s very hard to lie and not make a mistake under intensive cross-examination, and Jodi’s testimony is well backed by documents and other physical evidence.
The prosecution theory has Travis standing at the sink, not reacting at all to Jodi stabbing him many times in the back (there was a group of nine shallow knife wounds on Travis’ back). The prosecution theory also fails to account for a pool of blood near the entrance to the toilet, which is well explained by Travis bleeding immediately after he was shot, as per Jodi’s testimony. Another issue is that Travis apparently bled from his nose, mouth and ear, and this cannot be due to a stab wound to the chest causing a nicked lung.
Due to the many problems with Juan’s theory at the scene, many people have proposed alternative theories. However these theories generally do not fit the evidence well. For example there is no trail of blood from the shower, the blood evidence suggests Travis first bled near the entrance to the toilet. In addition it is hard to account for “accidental” photographs other than by Jodi’s testimony that she “juggled” the camera, unless the camera had a “secret” strap. But a “secret” strap introduces more logical contradictions.
The defence case is extraordinary
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth? – Sherlock Holmes
In any self-defence case where the accused person testifies, a trial can turn into a battle to find some tiny inconsistency. That was certainly the case here, with every aspect of Jodi’s story coming under the microscope. One hard to comprehend aspect is Jodi’s claim to be unable to remember what happened.Dr Richard Samuels, a psychologist, testified that extreme fear and stress leads to amnesia, that is loss of memory. See 42 minutes into this video:
The amnesia and Jodi blaming herself and believing she had done something very wrong is key to understanding why Jodi did not call the police. Of course not calling the police, and the lying made Jodi look very guilty, but sometimes truth is very strange and hard to comprehend. Domestic violence and stress-induced amnesia are the only logical explanation for the facts.
Self-defence – really?
Finally, many people have suggested that since Jodi did get possession of the knife and undoubtedly used it to kill Travis, this somehow indicates premeditation rather than self-defence. However, given that Travis had already attacked Jodi three times, she cannot be blamed for firstly grabbing it ( to prevent him getting it), and then using it in circumstances that are unclear. It appears that Travis was not to be placated, and a fatal fight broke out some time after Travis was accidentally shot. It could well be that a fatal “deadlock” occurred, with Jodi frightened that Travis would get the knife and kill her, while Travis was fighting to disarm Jodi, out of fear that she would kill him. I suggest that both decided that “attack is the best means of defence”, resulting in tragedy.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Jodi was wrongly convicted. Many support sites exist, including a facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FreeJodi where more details can be found.