THE CASE OF THE DISSOLVED SUICIDE PACT

 

(At the offices of attorney Mary Pason)

 

BOB MCATEE: Ms. Pason, youíve got to help me. The police think that I killed Jim Jenson. But I didnít. Jim and I did have a suicide pact, but we called it off.

MARY PASON: Well, what did happen last night?

BOB MCATEE: I remember talking to Jim, then I blacked out. When I came to, Jim was dead. But I didnít kill him. We called it off. Besides, we didnít plan to shoot each other; we planned to poison ourselves.

LT. BRAGG (standing in the doorway): Very interesting, Iím sure our district attorney, Mr. Weiner, will be interested in your suicide pact. As if he needed any help, with your fingerprints all over the murder weapon.

MARY PASON: How long have you been here, Lieutenant?

LT. BRAGG: Long enough. But donít worry counselor. I have an arrest warrant for Mr. McAtee.

 

(The next week)

 

STELLA RHODES: You havenít slept for days. You look awful Mary. Get some sleep.

MARY PASON: If I sleep, my client may hang.

STELLA RHODES: What were you doing all night?

MARY PASON: Strange as it may seem, I was reviewing my college research design notes.

I know there are some things about this case that Iím missing. And reviewing

these notes helped me to put my finger on some of them.

RHODES: Such as?

PASON: You'll see, Stella. you'll see.

 

          Stella thought she saw a smile dart across her boss's face.

          In court, Mary was an alert and active participant. Gone was the

depression she'd shown in the first days of the trial.

          For Weiner, the morning was a nightmare, although it had started off

pleasantly enough.

 

WEINER: And you told the police that you saw Jim Jenson enter the defendantís

house at 9:15 a.m.

MR. FIG:  Yes.

WEINER: And you then told the police that you heard arguing.

MR. FIG:  Yes.

WEINER: Let the record reflect this witness's testimony that Jim Jenson argued

with the defendant and left the house at 10:00 a.m. and that the coronerís

report states that the victim died somewhere between 9:15 a.m. and l0:00 a.m.

JUDGE STURBRIDGE: Ms. Payson, you may cross-examine the witness.

PASON: Fig, isn't it true that you did not see the defendant leave the house at

10:00 a.m.?

MR. FIG:  Yes.

PASON: And you did not hear the defendant and the victim arguing?

MR. FIG:  Yes.

PASON: Would you explain to the court this apparent discrepancy in your

testimony?

MR. FIG:  I was just telling the officers what they wanted to hear. I wasnít trying to

hurt nobody.

 

          Mary Pason passed a strip of paper to Stella. On the paper were the words, "By changing the way you word questions, you can sniff out yea-sayers. "

          So, Mr. Fig's testimony was not the gold mine that Weiner had hoped.

          To make up for Fig's testimony, Weiner called Miss Spencer to the stand.

Miss Spencer was to testify that Bob McAtee had a motive for killing Jim Jenson.

 

WEINER: Please tell the court about Bob McAtee and Jim Jenson.

MISS SPENCER: Oh, Bob Mr. McAtee was very, very angry at Jim Jenson. Bob was mad enough to kill lim.

PASON: Your honor, I object. The witness's statement that Bob McAtee was mad at the deceased calls for a conclusion from the witness. How can the witness know what is inside the mind of the defendant? Miss Spencer is not an expert in measuring psychological constructs; therefore, I move that the witness's testimony be stricken from the record.

 

          The judge sustained Pasonís objections.

          Weiner then called several eyewitnesses.

          Unfortunately for Weiner, Pason had found places where they disagreed with one another. One had said the defendant was angry, another had said the defendant was embarrassed, yet another had said he was afraid. Mary pointed out that this lack of consistency hurt the case for the witnessesí validity. Specifically, Pason told Weiner that asking observers to make complicated judgments lowered inter-rater reliability which was a problem because reliability puts a ceiling on validity. Weiner wondered whether Pason was taunting him or just trying to confuse him.

          Finally, out of desperation, Weiner presented the physical evidence which revealed no sign of a struggle and no sign of the victim being poisoned, and thus suggested that a friend had killed Jim Jenson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

          Pason shot a big hole in that testimony by having Weinerís experts admit that there could have been a struggle and there could have been poisoning, but that their tests might not have picked it up. At the end of the expertsí testimony, Pason said, ďInsensitive measures can cause you to fail to reject the null hypothesis.Ē Upon seeing many puzzled looks on the jurorsí faces, Pason added, ďIf you look with your eyes closed and donít see anything, you canít say that thereís nothing there.Ē

          And if that were not enough, Pason discredited the expert testimony by presenting photographs that contradicted some of the expert witnessís testimony. Pason pointed out that the D.A. should use instruments and recording devices to avoid human error.

          Finally, Weiner called his key witness, Mr. Erdberg, Jimís stepfather.

 

STEPFATHER:  Bob McAtee and Jim Jenson had a suicide pact.

WEINER: I would like the court to note that the witness has made these statements during a lie detector test, which he passed.

PASON: Objection, your honor. As Mr. Weiner knows, the results of a lie detector test are not valid. Lie detectors do not establish whether someone is lying. Instead, they measure changes in physiology. A person could be lying and their heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, pulse, or perspiration might not reflect any change for a wide range of reasons--taking tranquilizers, being a pathological liar, etc. And your honor, a main reason lie detector tests are inadmissible as evidence is their vulnerability to observer bias on the part of the administrator.

 

Not only had the judge sustained Ms. Pasonís objections, but Pason, by insinuating that the witness could be a drug addict or psychopath, had totally discredited the witnessís testimony.

At the end of the day, both Weiner and Pason were in foul moods: Weiner because he had been humiliated repeatedly; Pason because she'd

failed to do anything to establish her client's innocence. Pason hoped that investigator Saul Drake had some good news for her.

 

SAUL DRAKE: Jenson's mother, Mrs. Erdberg, claimed that her son was not suicidal.

PASON: That's what you'd expect her to say. That's the socially desirable response so it may be biased. Did what about Jimís actual behavior?

SAUL DRAKE: There were signs that he may have been suicidal. He gave a friend his watch, saying "l won't need it anymore." And, Mary, he didn't buy another watch.

PASON: Well, that doesnít help our caseóbut I donít think that indirect evidence will be very convincing. Besides, I

think I know who the murderer is.

 

The next day found Mary Pason in an exceptionally good mood. She greeted Stella Rhodes by saying, "l'm ready to go on the attack."

In court, Mary recalled the witness who had passed the polygraph test, Tim Jenson's stepfather. Pason's questions were brutal.

 

PASON:  Is it true that you will inherit more than one million dollars because of your stepsonís death?

STEPFATHER:  Yes, but that doesn't make me a murderer.

PASON:  Isnít it true that you had access to the murder weapon?

STEPFATHER:  No.

PASON:  Isnít it true that you overheard Bob and Jim on the phone and found out that they had called off their suicide pact?

STEPFATHER:  No.

PASON:  I submit that that you followed Bob to your stepson's house, having planned to fill the room with nitrous oxide and kill them both. However, Jim began to wake up and you knew that the gas wouldn't work, so you took Bobís gun and used it to shoot Jim.

STEPFATHER:  No, besides they found no evidence of gas poisoning.

PASON:  They used an insensitive test. Have you ever heard of the Crozier test of gas poisoning? That test will clearly show that Jim was exposed to nitrous oxide. Furthermore, I can call these two gentlemen who saw you purchase the gas. Need I call them?

STEPFATHER (screaming): They were two rich, spoiled brats who never worked a day in their lives. They would've ended it all, but even that was too much work for them, so I did it for them. Besides, Jim's money should have been mine!

 

(After the verdict)

WEINER: Mary, Lt. Bragg tells me that the Crozier test checks for liver disease -- not gas poisoning.

PASON:  It does? Forgive me, I knew it had something to do with death, I guess I didnít check its discriminant validity.

WEINER: Sounds more like a bluff to me. And about those two stooges you used, they didn't see the stepfather buy any gas.

PASON:  Well, you can't always get the truth by just relying on self-report. 


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