FICTION AND TESTIMONY

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Jodi Arias is on trial for killing her on-and-off-again lover Travis Alexander. (Above, Alexander and Arias on a trip to Havasu Falls.)  Alexander was shot in the head, stabbed 27 times and had his throat cut so deeply that he was nearly decapitated.  The savagery of the killing is almost unimaginable.  Photos of the corpse are of course available on the Internet — below is one of the least horrifying of them.

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Arias has told three different stories about her involvement in Alexander’s death. She first said she knew nothing about it. When confronted with evidence that she was present in his home at the time of his killing she said he had been killed by two masked intruders who let her go. Now, during the trial, she says she killed Alexander in self-defense.

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Intuition would suggest that a killing so savage, by a person with no history of violent behavior, was a crime of momentary passion, but there is some evidence, all of it circumstantial, that Arias went to Alexander’s home planning to kill him.  On the basis of this evidence of premeditation, the prosecutor is asking for the death penalty and has not given the jury a lesser charge than first-degree murder to fall back on.  Arias’s life basically depends on her being able to convince the jury that the evidence of premeditation is doubtful.

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The previous lies cast doubt on her current story, of course, and so does her testimony itself. She has gaps of memory about certain things, but fills in excessive details about other things. It’s the excessive details that undermine her credibility, as they do in fiction writing.  In both areas, excessive detail suggests a storyteller who lacks faith in the main thrust of the tale — who is trying too hard to be authoritative.

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In real life, when describing things that actually happened, we tend not to elaborate on details irrelevant to the tale.  Good fiction writers tend to leave such details out as well.  Someone who lacks personal faith in a story he or she is telling tends to try and buttress it with “convincing” minutiae.

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Such minutiae, counter-intuitively perhaps, don’t convince.  They have the opposite effect.

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Jodi Arias should have read some Hemingway before taking the stand.

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