08 April 2013

trial and retribution

A couple of years ago I watched Picture Perfect, an episode of 48 Hours recounting the tragic murder of Travis Alexander in Mesa, Arizona in June 2008. Travis was a popular young motivational speaker and legal insurance salesman. He had been shot in the face, stabbed twenty-nine times in the back the head and the heart, and his throat had been slashed from ear to ear. His body was found in his master suite shower stall by worried friends who, as early as their own 911 call, pointed the finger at Travis' former girlfriend, Jodi Arias.

Initially Arias denied being in Mesa at all but soon changed her story to match what police already knew. Naked photos of her, time and date stamped, put her in Travis' house. Nonetheless she next cooked up a preposterous account involving two masked intruders who had committed the sickening act but charitably allowed her to flee. Years later, and no doubt on legal advice, she changed her story again, finally admitting the killing but claiming self-defence.

True crime is a fascination of mine so when I noticed the Arias trial date was set and it was due to be streamed live, gavel to gavel, from the court house in Phoenix, I found a source and set a reminder. Since 2nd January I have watched proceedings online at AZCentral and joined in daily debate on the crime forum Websleuths.
I attend 'laptop court' as often as convenient and sit as armchair Judge, Jury and Executioner on this most extraordinary and emotive case. The State is arguing for premeditation and demanding the death penalty while the Defence claims self-defence by a victim of domestic violence. Premeditation has been amply demonstrated by the fake road trip story from California to Utah; cell phone switched off in Arizona; a selection of borrowed and purchased gas cans to avoid a credit card trail; dyed hair; flipped licence plates; hire car with missing mats; burglary at grandparents' home where a gun matching the murder weapon for calibre was 'stolen'. Motive was easy, jealous rage. Travis dated other girls after Jodi and had marriage aspirations. Jodi knew he had invited the new woman in his life on holiday to Cancun.

This sociopath has had more lovers than hot dinners and seems to have spent her life meandering from one teen-style drama to another while lining up her next meal ticket. She leached from Travis financially, emotionally and spiritually and stalked him relentlessly. Yet this was hardly a complete relationship. They met at a sales conference and were loosely together for just five months, living most of that time in separate States. Only after they 'broke up' did she move one thousand miles to Arizona and start living mere minutes from Travis. Interestingly Arias had a new 9mm Glock and a set of knives in her latest hire car at the time of her arrest four weeks after Travis' murder.

I'm furious that as usual a perpetrator is portrayed in court as a victim while the real victim is ignored, and in this case trashed. Arias took the stand and dragged Travis name through the mud, accusing her former lover of pedophilia, acts of violence and sexual aggression toward her, infidelity and loose morals in contravention of his Mormon faith. And all of this now he has no voice with which to speak.

The Defence Team have played cheap tricks such as calling a TV personality, unscheduled, out of the public gallery to testify about claimed autographing and photo sessions by the Prosecutor on the court steps. They take every opportunity to demand a mistrial, yet behave in court with utter disrespect. The chief speaks his objections while simultaneously picking his nose, his sidekick asks to approach the judge for a private tête-à-tête every few minutes, tottering to the bench on sky-high heels. Pfft!

The Judge is allowing a good deal of leeway as the last thing the State wants is to set grounds for appeal. However incessant sidebars, non-responsive witnesses, giggling between Arias' mother and aunt, apparent coaching of witnesses by head-shaking, Nancy Grace and other luminaries showing up to gawk, all these threaten to turn the trial into a circus. Already a juror has been dismissed for undisclosed reasons but speculation is that Arias didn't approve of her. The very next day this juror defiantly turned up in court amid scenes of astonishment to watch from the public gallery.

Arias considers herself an artist and has been passing sketches to her family who sell them on eBay to raise money for attending trial all the way from Yreka, California. A court observer puked one day causing the already short court day to be ended early, but not before the Defence's expert psychologist witness had wheeled his suitcase out through the fresh puddle of vomit in his hurry to leave!

I want to point out that the Prosecution rested its case after a mere ten days yet the Defence is still going strong ten weeks later, calling witnesses and leading them through endless rehashes of the same laughable nonsense. I'm sure the less you have to say of note, the longer you take to say it. The State's funding of her Defence is now close to a million and a half dollars. What an upside down world.

We've heard torrid tales of sexual encounters, seen ultra close-up photos of genitalia, listened to elicit recordings of phone-sex chats orchestrated by Arias and seen harrowing crime scene and autopsy pictures. Online but not allowed into evidence, there is footage of Arias performing a headstand and other weird antics alone in the police interview room on the day of her arrest; interviews in which she admits kicking a dog; interviews with her parents who believed her to be bi-polar and have no real relationship with her.

I have invested a fair amount in this trial emotionally and have grown to 'know' all the players: the Judge and her court staff, the razor-sharp Prosecutor, the Defence and his assistant, the Mitigation Expert, and the long string of witnesses. Arias' supporters sit together, her mother and twin aunt attending daily while her sister, brother and father have appeared only a couple of times. There are 'Friends' made in jail (as she has been banged up awaiting trial for five years) and even a crazed-looking madman who (inaccurately, we hear) claims to be a new boyfriend on the outside. A mitigation specialist with a permanent grin and an ultra low-cut blouse hovers near Arias, whispering and cooing in her ear from time to time. They exchange secrets like furtive lovers.

Throughout, the family and friends of Travis Alexander have sat stoically listening to innuendo and lies. They have heard nebulous claims of domestic violence, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and murder-day-amnesia. His three sisters, a brother and a brother-in-law are impeccably dressed, keep perfect decorum every day and take written notes. There is no interaction between opposing supporters. Posters on the Websleuths forum who live in Phoenix have been attending the trial and posting their thoughts and observations direct from the court room, thereby giving Internet observers unprecedented insight into proceedings, including juror descriptions and asides not seen by the TV cameras.

The terrier-like/god-like/photographic-memory-endowed Prosecutor is now cross-examining the final witness for the Defence, a domestic violence expert (and lesbian, man-hating feminist with 1960s credentials) whose testimony he is systematically dismantling and exposing as fabrication. During her week on the stand her new book has been slammed with almost five hundred one star reviews on Amazon. The power of free speech is wonderful!
The trial is approaching its final phase when the State will call rebuttal witnesses. There is only one charge on the docket, First Degree Murder. There are no lesser charges so I will be disappointed if the jury agrees with self-defence. Travis was shot, stabbed in the back over twenty times and virtually decapitated. Retribution should be appropriate.


Russell Duffy said...

The problem with having a democracy, or at least the illusion of one, is that for it to work you have to have balance, codes, rules and precedents. America, after the Great Britain, has one of the best legal systems in the world. Unfortunately, that being so this attempted miscarriage of justice is open to those self same rules which allows the swift of mind, with overdue amounts of cynical legal loophole excavating, to stand in the way of what is obviously murder.

Michelle said...

Wow, this is a really great summary of events thus far. You've described the "characters" well and were able to convey just how outrageous much of this is, without making the article too much of a personal commentary. But there are touches of humor in there for sure! It really is a huge disappointment that so much money can be wasted on someone who is so obviously guilty.

robertmadigan said...

I must admit this was a tough read. Having experienced a disproportionate amount of violence in my own life, I usually avoid these sensational examples of the United States system of (in)justice. I thought you treated the situation with far more humanity and dignity than the talking heads do on television.

“I'm furious that as usual a perpetrator is portrayed in court as a victim while the real victim is ignored, and in this case trashed.” This was a wonderful line, I find that the coverage of these tragedies (and the farcical courts) often ignore this reality.

I think you have given a very balanced and factual commentary here. You have done a nice job of giving life to the facts and to the “characters” involved. It would be nice to see the media take a cue from the observers of these types of trials and inject a level of humanity into their coverage.

Great work,

gel said...

I agree about your journalistic skills. Excellent. I also enjoy true crime and even certain books and tv shows. I'm also an artist...so hubby better not get me angry!Notice how I blame him "get me" lol. There's no lol about this case though.