Although I have won five first-degree murder trials and favorably resolved many more; I have a client who was convicted of first-degree murder last year in Yavapai County, Arizona.
She is currently awaiting a decision from the Arizona Supreme Court on a Petition for Review that I filed on her behalf because the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed her conviction despite the paucity of evidence to convict her. In fact, she wasn’t even charged until about ten years after the murder.
Upon returning home one morning she had discovered her husband in the kitchen, knife in the back and two rocks beside his head that had apparently been used by the perpetrator to strike him in the head. There was no physical evidence to tie my client to the murder.
I may write additional remarks on another occasion about the case, so I don’t want to go too far afield.
After police had investigated and interviewed her on the day of the murder, she ended up going to a neighbor’s home where the other neighbors had gathered to visit and talk about this astonishing incident. The gathering itself was not unusual because the neighborhood consisted of upper-middle class retirees.
When my client entered the home she was obviously not herself, likely in shock from the realization that her husband had been murdered.
In any event, witnesses testified that when she came in and sat down, she had calmly announced to the group the victim had been killed by an intruder. She then “graphically” described the murder, explaining that the victim had been hit in the head with rocks and stabbed in the back. She also mentioned that a kitchen towel had been folded and placed next to the victim’s head.
Several of the neighbors noted that my client seemed surprisingly unemotional that evening, and one described her appearance as “chilling” and “evil.”
When the one witness testified that she looked “evil,” I immediately objected to:
- Relevance (his opinion was not relevant);
- Foundation (because he can’t know what evil is);
- Improper opinion;
- Substantially more prejudicial to my client’s right to a fair trial than probative of any of the elements of the charge (or of anything for that matter)
I asked the court to strike his testimony from the record. You can’t appear “evil.” This type of testimony does not belong in a courtroom. In a church? Maybe. A coffee house? OK. Television? Sure. But a real courtroom trial, no!
Guess what? Not only were all of my objections on the matter overruled, but the Court of Appeals used the very same language to affirm the conviction! How can you possibly say with credibility, in a murder trial that someone looked “evil?”
This shows you what you are faced with when you fight for justice in the State of Arizona. We never give up, though.
Bruce Blumberg is certified as a Specialist in Criminal Law by the State Bar of Arizona, who has been practicing law for more than 35 years.