By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Fairy tales may not come true, but they may become the subject of withering cross-examination. In one of many "strange but true" moments during the Phoenix trial of Jodi Arias in the 2008 killing of her boyfriend Travis Alexander, prosecutor Juan Martinez and defense expert Alyce LaViolette sparred for over twenty minutes last Friday on the details of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You see, LaViolette, a psychotherapist was testifying in support of the defense theory that Arias was in an abusive relationship with Alexander and acted in self-defense, and the expert had also presented a 2010 conference paper entitled "Is Snow White a Battered Woman?" The prosecutor chose to aggressively pick apart LaViolette's use of the tale in order to question the foundation of the expert's testimony on Arias' alleged abuse. "What this shows," Martinez suggested, "is that even if its a myth...all made up...you can still come up with the opinion that the person is a victim of domestic violence." In other words, if the expert's assessment is based on lies told by Jodi Arias, then the assessment is just as credible as the fairy tale.
That is a worthy goal for the prosecutor to pursue, even a brilliant one. But the question is whether it was lost on the jury. In the court of public opinion at least, a court we know can be more superficial and fragmented than the actual jury, the point seems to have been lost. The prosecutor's approach was called "bizarre," "surreal," and "incredibly unclear." Dr. Drew even broke into the live coverage in order to explain, "You are in fact listening to testimony about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Some might react to a situation like this by saying "See, this is the problem with analogies!" But really, this is the problem of being swallowed up by the analogy when you forget its representative purpose and let the larger point get lost. Analogies are powerful tools of communication, but they can also be a powerful distraction if you're not leading with your purpose. This post comments on an abbreviated transcript of the prosecutor's examination and shares some thoughts on keeping your objective always in mind and in view.