In her recent trial, Jodie Arias gave us a vivid demonstration of some typical features of personality disorder, especially pathological lying. Interestingly, her jurors were not fooled by the fact that she is an attractive, charming young woman.
As awareness about the nature and prevalence of psychopathy — the most serious form of character disturbance — has grown in recent years, so too has public acceptance of the fact that this disturbing personality pathology is not limited to males. And while some biases still exist when it comes to making judgments about females with psychopathic or sociopathic characteristics, it appears the jury in the Jodie Arias trial had little difficulty overcoming any such biases when they deliberated her fate in her first degree murder trial, and subsequently rendered their guilty verdict.
As I expressed in an earlier article on this subject (see “When Evil Wears a Feminine Face”), I initially had reservations about any jury’s ability to pass unbiased, fair judgment on a pleasant-looking young woman, even though she had shot, repeatedly stabbed, and slit the throat of her sometime boyfriend in one of the most gruesome murders in recent history. But two things occurred during her trial that, in my opinion, helped seal Ms Arias’ fate. First, the defense violated the cardinal rule of criminal defense science (i.e. “Never let your guilty client take the stand”). Arias’ grandiosity and overconfidence in her ability to charm and sway (she brazenly asserted to a television interviewer: “Mark my words, no jury will convict me”) caused her attorney to set aside that time-honored tradition. Jodie spent many days on the stand, giving her own — often preposterous — versions of events, and subjecting herself to cross-examination. Second, as a result of presenting herself directly before the jury and testifying for days, Arias did something she simply couldn’t help doing, given the depth and pervasiveness of her character disturbance: she revealed her disturbing, but nonetheless genuine nature, including her intractable unwillingness to tell the truth. Thus, she removed any incredulity in the jurors’ minds about how even an attractive, well-spoken, and seemingly gentle and charming woman can at heart be the most unnerving and dangerous of creatures.
Arias might have stood a chance of exoneration if she had simply not lied so egregiously. But, as I note in my book Character Disturbance, and have pointed out in some prior posts (see, for example, “Lying: The Ultimate Manipulation Tactic”, “Psychosis and Psychopathy: Two Very Different Conditions”, and “Understanding the Predatory Aggressive Personality”), lying — more specifically, pathological lying (i.e. lying for the sake of lying, and lying even when it would serve a better, more practical purpose to tell the truth) — is simply second nature to psychopaths. And the jury was thoughtful enough to ask follow-up questions about every single suspected lie and preposterous claim Arias made. They gave her a chance to say something that might at least resemble a reasonable and truthful response to those questions, especially when it would serve no obvious purpose to lie. But Arias simply couldn’t help herself, and the jurors appeared visibly revolted by her seemingly steadfast determination to offer only the most preposterous explanations for her actions. She demonstrated firsthand for the jury that it’s not just that persons like her lie, but rather, the manner in which they lie (i.e. with a characteristic glibness, straight face, lack of compunction, and ease that reflects an almost total absence of normal human sensitivity, sensibility, and/or conscience), that defines the kind of serious character pathology they possess. In the end, Arias gave the jury a first-class education in and live demonstration of psychopathy. If there were any jurors who came into the trial skeptical about the existence of psychopathy, or that women can be psychopaths, their skepticism was likely erased by Arias herself during the course of her testimony.
The Arias trial has now entered the sentencing phase, and Jodie knows she faces a possible death sentence. In yet another simply-can’t-help-but-reveal-herself moment, Arias proclaimed that she would actually prefer to die, and as soon as possible, as opposed to endure the boredom of “being in one place” and confined for the many years she expects to otherwise live (a pathological craving for excitement and an equally pathological abhorrence of the mundane and boring are also features of Arias’ character disturbance). But there’s nevertheless likely to be a robust debate among the jurors about whether to impose the death penalty on Arias. Some might feel it a greater punishment to let her experience the loss of the things she overvalued in life by remaining imprisoned. Others might feel she deserves to pay the ultimate price. Arias herself has threatened several times to take the entire matter out of the jurors’ hands by taking her own life at a time and place of her own choosing (in just one more incomprehensible act of pathological defiance of those who would have power over her). She might indeed face the prospect of making that decision, because it’s extremely uncommon for juries to impose the death penalty on women, and because people generally have a special kind of internal revulsion in response to the notion of executing a woman. The notorious Texas murderer Carla Fay Tucker, who not only hacked her victim to death with a pickaxe, but also reported experiencing an orgasm as a result of the ‘rush’ she felt while committing the assault, knew this well and helped spawn a worldwide movement to abolish the death penalty. Her highly-touted religious ‘conversion’ and convincing interpersonal manner (it’s characteristic of many psychopaths to have ‘conversion’ experiences in prison, to be ‘model’ prisoners, and to make strong alliances with those in positions of influence who have come to see them as changed persons), were seen by many as evidence of her worthiness to be salvaged. Her chaplain and a host of other advocates began to argue forcefully that the capacity of even the worst criminals to change affirms the innately inhumane character of the death penalty. So it will be most interesting to see how the penalty phase of the Arias trial progresses.
At this critical phase of her sentencing, Arias is in a real bind. If she tries the tactic of displaying accountability and remorse, she completely negates her ‘justifiable self-defense’ claim (which the jury never bought into in the first place) and shows herself even more clearly to be the unflinching liar they always believed. And if she continues with her same old story, her lack of remorse will condemn her. To gain any sympathy among the jurors, her defense attorney would probably be wise to do all the advocating for Jodie and to make sure that Arias herself remains in the background and quiet. If Arias talks, she simply won’t be able to cease her game of endless impression-management. She — or more specifically, her character — will be her own worst enemy. The less of her that’s squarely in the jury’s face, the more likely the jurors will be inclined to spare her life.
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