Monday, March 18, 2013

The Jodi Arias expert

I have been following the televised trial of Jodi Arias for the Killing of Travis Alexander, as I mentioned here and here last month. The case is fascinating for her extensive televised testimony giving a wildly implausible defense of how and why she killed her boyfriend. It is also unusual because the jury has been allowed to ask questions, and that jury could ultimately give her the death penalty.

Arias had an expert psychologist testify:
Jodi Arias, the Arizona woman on trial for the brutal murder of her ex-boyfriend, was depressed and in denial after the gruesome slaying, a psychologist told a jury in Phoenix Thursday.

Defense expert Richard Samuels testified at Arias’ trial about her mental state before and after the June 2008 shooting, stabbing and slashing of Travis Alexander. Arias, 32, is charged with first-degree murder and faces the death penalty if convicted.

“She was not able to tell her family about what happened," Samuels said. "She was not able to tell anybody about what happened. And this is a classic symptom of an acute stress disorder.”
He testified that he used a computer scoring of the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory to help make his diagnosis. He admitted that the test could be faked, but that such methods are not well known. The test is supposed to detect naive attempts to fake it.

All of this has very little to do with her guilt or innocence. Of course she was depressed and in denial after the killing. That is what I would expect after murder. And of course murder is stressful.

Arizona tax money is bankrolling this expert. It will be interesting to see how the court treats this quackery.

I was also given the MCMI-III for my child custody court case, among other tests. They said that I had no psychological disorders. Sometimes I think that I might have been better off if I had faked a disorder, and then gotten treated for it.

Samuels also gave Arias the Posttraumatic Stress Diagnostic Scale (PDS®) test. It has 49 multiple choice questions, and it takes 15 minutes. Samuels said that he scored it by hand, and it basically consists of adding up how many questions gave a positive response, when the question asked for a symptom of PTSD. He admitted that the test could be faked, but only if she knew the symptoms of PTSD. He claimed that these tests check for honesty, and Arias had scores indicating an honest response.

I am still trying to figure out the point to Samuels' testimony. His main argument so far is that Arias has met the DSM-IV criteria for PTSD after the killing. This was based largely on reading the DSM-IV manual to the court, and relying on Arias's own account of that she did. He also said that she probably had an acute stress disorder in the couple of weeks after the killing, but he had not examined her then and could not make a diagnosis.

But the issue before the court is whether Arias killed in self-defense, or as premeditated murder. She could have gotten PTSD either way.

Supposedly Samuels is going to move on to expressing an opinion that psychological evidence can tell us whether it was an instrumental or reactive killing. That sounds like psycho gobbledygook for whether she is guilty or innocent. If we could really determine guilt or innocence by some psychologist administering a multiple-choice computer-scored test, then we would not need jury trials. There is no scientific method for making such a determination, and I hope that any expert gets appropriately grilled about the scientific underpinning of his testimony.

There will probably also be expert testifying to a battered woman defense. That is all dubious also, and I will post about it if it happens. There is no evidence that Arias was battered at all, except her own self-serving stories that were told long after the killing.

1 comment:

FreeSpeechMom said...

This is a great article. The MCMI-III is touted as a sophisticated instrument, but it's got a very high error rate. I had to take it twice during my custody evaluation. The first time, I was (naturally) trying to appear confident, but indicated Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (It's gender-biased, on that note, as it's been shown to overpathologize women.) Since it showed psychopathology, I had to take it again. The second time, my narcissism scale was very low and it showed some OCD traits that weren't present the first time. I find it remarkable that the MCMI-III, which is also used to screen for Borderline Personality Disorder, didn't pick up on Jodi Arias's OBVIOUS psychopathology ... But the tests administered by the prosecutors' psychologist showed BPD loud and clear. The MCMI-III is crap! Enough of this stupid test. Look me up and find my blog for more info.