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Evaluating competing theories

The key where you have inconclusive circumstantial evidence, and competing theories of guilt and innocence, is to consider whether it all adds up and makes sense.

Is there a credible motive, for example?

Does it fit a common pattern of behaviour, such as domestic violence? What is the likely explanation?

And does all of the evidence fit, or are there puzzling problems that are unexplained.

The prosecution case

According to Juan Martinez

Dr Phil:

There were things that you knew, that you kinda kept closer to the vest.

For example, Jodi had borrowed two gas cans a month before the trip, to Mesa, Arizona.

So was she planning this that far in advance?

Juan Martinez:

She was, and with that information, I started to look at some of the receipts that were taken during an execution of a search warrant at her house, and I saw that there was a receipt for a 5 gallon gas can. So now I knew that I had three five gallon gas cans, fifteen gallons.

And I also knew that in an interview of the police with her mother with the police her mother said “well Jodi told me that she wasn’t anywhere in Mesa, and she had the receipts to prove it”.

So it’s clear she was planning to keep certain receipts, but she was also planning not to stop in Arizona for gas, because the fifteen gallons allowed her to go through the state of Arizona without stopping for gas, and there are no receipts to prove that she actually did it.

Even in opening statement, the defense attorney indicated that this was a trip that she hadn’t planned, this was a trip that resulted after she spoke to Mr Alexander, so it was a spur of the moment kind of thing. But the gas cans spoke otherwise.

Dr Phil:

So what is the untold story? Is it that this was not even an impulse thing that she did?

Is it this long premeditation, what is the untold story?

Juan Martinez:

That is the untold story, a lot of things that she did in advance. She rented a car to drive out to Mesa, she didn’t rent it in her home town which is very small. She rented it 90 miles away. When she rented the car she was initially given a red one. ‘I don’t want one of those, because that one stands out”. So she was given a white one. And when she showed up she was blonde-haired. That’s the person who helped her remembers that specifically. But when she killed him, and in the photographs that we see in the camera, she’s dark-haired. So in-between then she changed her hair color.
Another thing that she did is that when she parked the car outside of the house, she took both license plates off so that nobody would be able to identify the car. So she went to great lengths to make sure that no-one could tell she was there. And by-and-large she was successful except for that one mistake, she probably would have gotten away with it.

Wrongful Convictions around the World

Reasoning about probability

Trial by Media

There are many ways to approach the thorny issue of “reasonable doubt”.

Jury instructions may give guidance in this way:

“There are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty, and in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every doubt.”

Estimates suggest that about 5% of people convicted and sentenced to death are innocent, meaning juries are regularly making mistakes, thinking a case for guilt has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt when this is not the case.

The reasons for these errors are undoubtedly complex and varied, but here I want to concentrate on fallacious reasoning about probability. Sometimes people talk about “too many coincidences”, when I hear that claim I immediately suspect fallacious reasoning.

How should a jury deliberate? Well, it would be good to reduce that error rate from 5% to a more acceptable rate, let’s say 1 in…

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Trapped with Ms. Arias

Trial by Media

This blog is some observations about Kirk Nurmi’s performance as a lawyer for Jodi Arias, in light of some of the information he discloses about the pre-trial preparations in the first of three books about the case.

Although being a self-published book, presumably written without the aid of a professional editor, the first thing to say is I found the book to be very readable and engaging. Kirk explains his view of the law, the case and his feelings about Jodi Arias with great clarity. For anyone interested in the case, I would say this book is a “must-buy”.

I would also say this is a very honest book. It pulls no punches in making it very clear that Nurmi, before the trial began, did not like Jodi Arias and did not wish to represent her at trial.

There is a lot of fascinating information in the book, much of…

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