This is a complex topic. The prosecution strongly argued in closing that Jodi used three gas cans to avoid using her credit card to buy gas in Arizona, creating a record of her trip there.
Before going into details, a much simpler plan would be simply to use cash rather than a credit card. However, the prosecution claimed that Jodi decided instead on using gas cans as a means of concealing her visit to Mesa.
It is undisputed that Jodi asked her ex-boyfriend Darryl Brewer if she could borrow his two five gallon gas cans. In addition, Jodi kept a receipt showing that on June 3, 2008 she purchased a third five gallon gas can from Wal-Mart, Salinas. The prosecution apparently found this suspicious, as three gas cans seems excessive. However, Jodi testified mid-trial that in fact she changed her mind, returned the gas can to the same store, and obtained a cash refund.
The prosecution contacted Wal-Mart, and employee Amanda Webb made a search of the records at the store where she worked, which had the same store number shown on the receipt. She testified that she could not find any record that a gas can was returned that day. This was certainly persuasive evidence that Jodi had lied about returning the gas can, allowing the jury to infer guilt.
However, it turns out that Webb did not attempt to check if the records she had were complete, and moreover the store Jodi shopped at relocated in 2010. In the penalty retrial Webb admitted on cross-examination that she did not know if the records transferred intact:
State Witness #5 – Amanda Webb – Wal-Mart Employee
- Witness was called to testify that Arias purchased a gas can from a Wal-Mart in Salinas, California before the murder
- Arias has previously testified she returned the gas can the same day she purchased it, but the witness told the jury they have no record of any return of a gas can
- Defense pointed out the store has moved since then and got the witness to admit they don’t know for sure that every record was transferred over to the new location
- Reacting to that information, defense attorney Kirk Nurmi slammed his file down on the podium. When Martinez began redirect, he slammed his file on the podium twice before questioning the witness
That Jodi really did return the can is not surprising, considering this : why would Jodi tell a stupid lie that could be disproved by Wal-Mart records? She had five years in jail to decide how to testify – why not say instead she didn’t use the 3rd gas can? It’s incomprehensible and inconsistent.
It’s also implausible that Jodi would have kept the receipt for a gas can that was part of a secret murder mission. She was clearly aware of the significance of receipts as she (falsely) claimed to her mother that she had receipts that proved she never went to Mesa.
When the gas receipts and mileage are examined in detail, there is another problem with the prosecution theory : the cans Darryl lent to Jodi would need to have been partially filled when he gave them to Jodi. This is not plausible either. See Gas to Mesquite.
For all the reasons above, the evidence shows that Jodi’s testimony was the truth, and the jury were misled.
Next: Other Prosecution Claims