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Celebrity Lawyer Breaks Down Cases on True Crime Daily

[Source: True Crime Daily]

CELEBRITY LAWYER CHRISTOPHER C. MELCHER, WHO IS RANKED AS A BEST FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY IN CALIFORNIA, breaks down various criminal cases on True Crime Daily.

 

Joshua Ritter:
Hello and welcome to True Crime Daily’s, the sidebar taking you inside the courtrooms of high profile and notorious cases from across the country. I’m your host, Joshua Ritter. I’m a criminal defense lawyer based here in Los Angeles and previously an L.A. County prosecutor for nearly a decade. You can find me at joshuaritter.com. We are recording this on Friday, December 9th, 2022. In this week’s episode, we have breaking news in the prisoner exchange that released WNBA star Brittney Griner after months of detention in a Russian prison. Plus, the sentencing of Michael Avenatti after he pled guilty to defrauding clients of millions of dollars.

We’ll also break down the conviction of the Trump organization in a tax fraud scandal that could have far-reaching implications on their future business dealings. And finally, two cases involving former law enforcement officers as the prosecution rests in the murder trial for the death of a woman who was allegedly babysitting at the time of the shooting, as well as the conviction of a former border patrol agent turned serial killer. Today we are joined by Christopher C. Melcher, a top family law attorney and legal analyst with vast experience in complex litigation. Chris, welcome back.

Christopher Melcher:
Well, thanks for having me Josh. I appreciate being invited back and going through all these cases with you.

Joshua Ritter:
Absolutely. For the listeners who had not heard the first time you were on this episode, do you want to tell us a little bit about your background and your current practice?

Christopher Melcher:
Sure. I’ve been a lawyer 28 years in California. I started in criminal defense and then switched over to family law, doing divorce work at the trial and appellate level. I’m also a legal commentator, so this is just a kind of passion of mine is to go and follow these stories and explain them in easily understood terms so people that aren’t able to go to court and watch the testimony or read the docket can understand what’s going on in the case and help participate in our system of justice.

Discussing Brittney Griner

Joshua Ritter:
Fantastic. Well we have a lot to cover today, lots of news. Let’s just jump right into some of this. First of all, we have the news out of both Moscow and Washington, that WNBA star Brittney Griner is returning home after the negotiation of a prisoner swap between the US State Department and Russia. Griner had been detained in Moscow since February of 2022 after vape cartridges containing cannabis were found in her luggage. Griner pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to nine years. To secure Breyer’s release the US had agreed to release and return a Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout nicknamed the merchant of death, who is serving a 25 year federal prison sentence for conspiring to kill American citizens.

Previously negotiations to free Griner stalled earlier this year when the freedom of a former US Marine Paul Whelan was sought in conjunction with her release. Whelan who has been convicted on espionage charges in Russia, has been in Russia since 2018. The former Marine reportedly expressed gratitude for Griner’s release, but was critical of the lack of progress in securing his own freedom. Chris, a lot has been made over the – if you want to call it the equity of this exchange. What is your reaction? What people are talking about is you’ve got a WNBA star in exchange for a person being described as the merchant of death. What do we make of this here?

Christopher Melcher:
Well, this is difficult I think for a lot of us to understand in places in the US where vape cartridges are legal. You can just buy them retail.

And so to think that something that is legal in many places here could land someone nine years in prison in Russia, is very difficult to understand. I think though certainly every country has their own laws and ways of penalizing things. I don’t know what the law in Russia is on that and if that’s a normal sentence.

I think certainly if anyone traveling to a place like Russia is definitely forewarned to be very careful about complying with their laws. Now, in terms of your question on the equitableness of the exchange, I think this is really a hostage taking situation here that it looks like to me where Russia could have said, let her off with a warning and saying, hey, you can’t do this here, please don’t come back or don’t do this again. Fine.

But to imprison her for a very long sentence, it was clear that they were doing so as a bargaining chip and that is a violation I think of her fundamental human rights And the problem with the exchange, it’s a great outcome for her and her family of course, but does this now incentivize further essentially hostage taking of US citizens abroad as leverage for that government to get a prisoner back of their own that we are presumably holding legally. It’s been going on for a long time, but that’s the takeaway that I have.

Joshua Ritter:
I agree with you. There was reporting at the time when negotiations had first begun and she was first arrested, that mistakes were, I don’t know if you want to call it mistakes were being made, but that the state department was wringing their hands over all of the celebrity attention that was given to her case, because you’ve got figures like LeBron James talking about her release. The Russians are noticing that and they may not have realized the person that they had in custody and had she been somebody that nobody cared about, perhaps you’re right, perhaps you would’ve gotten some sort of warning and released.

But when they realized, look at all the attention this is getting from the US media, we’re going to hold onto this person because this is a huge bargaining chip for us, that changed the dynamic and now they’ve got the release of this person was convicted for allegedly trying to take American lives. I agree with you. The Russians are obviously not honest brokers here. Do you think that they’re going to use this kind of tactic in the future of realizing that, hey, the US will be willing to negotiate in an unfair manner as long as it’s somebody that media-wise gives them a lot of trouble?

Christopher Melcher:
And this has been going on for years. We have Paul Whelan, who’s a former Marine being held by the Russians and the Biden administration tried to negotiate his release along with this and it was presented as, no, it’s a one for one, and Paul Whelan’s not part of that deal. They’re going to have to find somebody else to trade for Paul. There was another American, and I forget the gentleman’s name, but that was recently released in another exchange. This is something that happens and I think that obviously now with the war in Ukraine, I doubt that we’re going to see many Americans travel to Russia.

But the thing is, is that you could be out of the country maybe in another place that’s aligned with Russia and maybe getting taken there, and transferred to Russia, or being held in that other country, and Venezuela or something like that, and all of a sudden now caught up into this thing.

It’s definitely, it’s scary, but to be used as a bargaining chip and I got to imagine how traumatized she is after that experience. Fortunately, she came back, it seems like safely, but it’s got to be really traumatizing what she went through.

Joshua Ritter:
Absolutely. Well, we are obviously happy for her and her family and her loved ones, but I agree with you, it’s scary about the prospects moving forward and how Russia deals with the US in these negotiated exchanges.

Michael Avenatti’s Sentencing

Joshua Ritter:
Let’s move on to the US attorney’s office out of California here. Michael Avenatti, the disgrace lawyer who once represented Stormy Daniels, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison in order to pay over 10 million in restitution to former clients and the IRS. Avenatti pled guilty to four counts of wire fraud, and one count related to obstruction of the IRS in June of this year. Avenatti defrauded his clients of millions of dollars, including over $4 million for a client with severe disabilities.

Avenatti allegedly negotiated settlements on behalf of his clients, then misrepresented the terms of the settlements to his clients. Avenatti would then deposit the funds into an attorney trust account he controlled where he would further embezzle and misappropriate the funds according to the indictment. The attorney’s 14 year sentence will not begin until Avenatti has completed a five-year prison term he’s already currently serving in New York for two separate convictions. Chris jump right in. Avenatti has had an incredible fall from prestige or grace or popularity, whatever you want to call it. At one point he was rumored to possibly be a presidential candidate. What happened here? How did this guy fall to where he’s at today?

Christopher Melcher:
I guess it got to come down to ego and these stories like this, Avenatti and Girardi really, really upset me. As fellow lawyers, we have spent our career learning the law and getting licensed and building our reputations and it’s a tradition of service to our clients. To see a fellow lawyer rip off clients and especially ones that are in need.

These are people, like in Girardi’s case and here what you’re saying in Avenatti, these are people who were injured, money was obtained for their benefit, and then the lawyer is ripping them off and then lying about it and hiding the fact that he ripped them off. There isn’t a sentence long enough. I’m glad that action has been taken because a lot of these high flying lawyers have escaped accountability because of their prestige and the bar has not had a good record of going after them.

Now with Avenatti, it just like, why? Your question is why would he do this? The guy was very well known, very successful, and I’m sure made plenty of money and he could have done so honestly. Why did he need to steal? I think it’s just the sickness that of greed and narcissism probably where he just has to be the center of attention. It’s not about the client anymore, it’s about him, and he probably got himself into this lifestyle that he convinced that he was entitled to and he stole to support it. It’s absolutely disgusting and I’m glad that they did a consecutive sentence with the New York one and not concurrent. So it’s five then you start the 14 years.

Joshua Ritter:
Long time to be in prison and think about what he did. You referenced Girardi talking about Tom Girardi here in Los Angeles, was a very prominent personal injury attorney. If you know more about his case, please expand on that for us.

But basically, the allegations are the same sort of thing and so listeners understand what we’re talking about is if you represent someone and they get a large verdict or they get a large settlement, all of that money, which would include the attorney’s fees and the fees that are going to go to the client would be deposited in attorney’s trust account. We’re not talking about a small share that they’re going to take, they are going to take somewhere around 40% of that for attorney’s fees. Instead of just taking their share and giving the rest to the client who’s got the injuries and life care, and everything else they have to deal with, they took all of it and just used it as their personal piggy bank. My question is, one, if you know more about Girardi and his dealings and how that’s going to affect people practicing here in California, but just how do these people think they’re going to get away with this?

Christopher Melcher:
Well, so Girardi was, when I came up in 1994, he did a program, was superior court walkthrough, and the superior court had judges and well-known lawyers give presentations and Girardi was one of the presenters. So as me as a baby lawyer hear this guy’s talking about doing these huge personal injury, mass tort things. He was the lawyer that was featured in Erin Brockovich the movie, and with his contamination in an area in California. So this guy had all the accolades, he had all the success that you could want as a lawyer, and he had made, I’m sure, at least $100 million in attorney’s fees, honestly. But it wasn’t enough –

Joshua Ritter:
Incredible.

Christopher Melcher:
-and what happened was is that he was getting these settlements, very large settlements, we’re talking many, many, many millions of dollars, and he would hold it and then when the client would say, well, hey, we settled the case, I need the money. He would say, well, there was a delay where some kind of dispute with a vendor or the insurance company didn’t pay all the money or lie about the terms and saying like, hey, it’s going to be paid as installments, so here’s your little check, when it wasn’t, it was supposed to be in a lump sum. Others were complaining, clients were complaining, co-counsel were complaining, and the state bar of California did nothing. Now that we find out later on is that he had very close and inappropriate relationships with state bar leadership.

He had one with the FBI official here in Los Angeles and other leaders who he was very generous with and they protected him. Now all that’s come out and it’s a huge black eye. Of course, all these plaintiffs that he represented are the real victims.

Now California has changed it’s law on trust accounts. When a lawyer obtains a settlement like that, they have to report it quickly and then they have to distribute it within 40 days, and it’s a presumed violation, ethical violation if they don’t distribute the money within 40 days. Now crooks will be crooks, people will lie and create false records and stuff like that, but the least they’re trying to put attention on it. But again… we already have a bad name as lawyers and here these people are not helping us.

Joshua Ritter:
No, and the repercussions from this are still being felt because there’s been changes in the state bar here in California and how they handle this and the transparency of a different complaints and disciplinary proceedings. We will continue to watch this and as both two practicing attorneys in California continue to experience the changes it has for us in our practice.

Trump Organization Tax Fraud Convictions

Joshua Ritter:
Let’s move now to Manhattan, New York where another notorious figure is making the news again. Two Trump organizations, subsidiaries, have been convicted on 17 counts including tax fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy. The Trump corporation was convicted of nine counts while the Trump Payroll corporation was convicted of the other seven counts.

Prosecutors in the case allege that Trump organization executives reduced their reported salaries in order to avoid paying required taxes on compensation that included free apartments, luxury vehicles, and even private school tuition for family members. Executive Allen Weisselberg testified that while his actions were motivated by personal greed, he admitted that the tax evasion also benefited the company. Donald Trump, who recently announced his 2024 presidential bid is not a defendant in the case. However, prosecutors alleged that Trump, quote, “knew exactly what was going on” in their closing arguments. Sentencing is set for mid-January with a possible penalty of 1.61 million in fines. Chris, explain to us what this is about. It’s tax evasion, right? What’s the theory of the prosecution here?

Christopher Melcher:
Sure. This goes to fringe benefits or perquisites of employee.

So what happened was is that these employees, and we’re talking high level executives of the Trump organization, were entitled to a salary, and normally that would be paid to them and they’d get a W2 and they’d have to pay taxes on it. Which of course are very expensive to pay taxes when you make that much money. So the employees, certainly these employees had an interest in reducing their taxable income and by having the Trump organization through payroll pay for certain personal expenses of the employees and treating those as business expenses of the company not as payroll.

So for example, and I’m just making this up. Say somebody was supposed to make $1.5 million in salary that year, they would say, hey, we’ll pay you a million through payroll and that’s all you’ll pay taxes on. The other half a million dollars we will basically backdoor to you, we’ll give you this apartment or will give you the use of these vehicles or trips or whatever it is, and so they’re getting the same amount of money, but they’re not paying the taxes on that extra half a million dollars.

Now that’s certainly benefited the executives and also benefited the company or the organization in two ways.

One is, is that if you’re paying somebody 1.5 million on the books above board, they’re going to pay the taxes on that money. If you can give them half a million dollars in non-taxable income, well that’s just like making $2 million. Basically they got leverage. The organization got more bang for their buck and the other way the organization benefited is they didn’t have to pay payroll taxes on these so-called business expenses because they were not classifying that on the books as wages.

The half a million dollars in use of vehicles or apartments and travel and stuff like that were just put on the books of a company as operating expenses, not as wages and therefore they didn’t have to pay what’s called these payroll tax and other fringe benefits and stuff that you have to do. The company benefited, the employees benefited, the government found out about this and charged the Trump organization, the two, Trump Corp and Trump Payroll Corp, not Trump personally. Trump has been mentioned as having known about and maybe even approved some of these schemes but was not a defendant in that action.

Joshua Ritter:
Very interesting. I was going to put you on the spot, but I’m not, I decided. But I will say that with this conviction, a pending $250 million civil lawsuit for financial fraud, the raid on Mar-a-Lago, all of this is certainly going to play a role, the landscape of his coming 2024 presidential bid. So we’ll continue to watch this.

Law Enforcement Officers on Trial

Aaron Dean, Former Police Officer

Joshua Ritter:
Now let’s just turn to two cases involving former law enforcement officers. First out of Fort Worth, Texas, the murder trial of Aaron Dean will take a four day break after the prosecution promptly rested their case after presenting just three days of testimony. Dean is a former Fort Worth police officer who’s been charged in the fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019.

Dean and another officer responded to a non-emergency call regarding a door left open at a residence when they encountered Jefferson. Allegedly neither officer announced the presence and body cam footage appears to show the officer shining a flashlight into a dark room before Dean yelled, put your hands up, before firing a single shot into the room, which killed Jefferson. Jefferson was in possession of a firearm. However, Dean’s fellow officers testified that she could not see the weapon and Dean never announced the gun prior to discharging the shot that killed Jefferson. This is one of those cases, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem.

When you hear the facts and you understand they didn’t announce their presence, he never spoke about a gun. He’s firing inside of somewhere where he can’t see all that clearly. But talk to us about how difficult these are to prosecute because you’re dealing with a very fluid situation, you’re making split second decisions. What do you make of all of this, Chris?

Christopher Melcher:
Sure. I’ve had a law enforcement background, so I looked at the body cam footage. This call comes out at 2:30 in the morning and so there’s two units dispatched. There’s this male officer who’s the one defendant now in this criminal case and then a female officer who showed up and they do not announce themselves. They’re there, they’re walking very quietly and the yards-

Joshua Ritter:
I’m sorry to interrupt you, please remember your train of thought here, but talk to us about that bit about not announcing themselves and why that’s important.

Christopher Melcher:
That to me, now what the officer articulated and he said, ‘I didn’t announce myself because this looked like a burglary had happened or maybe was happening.’ We know police will do a silent approach typically if they think it’s a burglary in progress, they’re going to turn the lights off and they’re going to come in quietly because they want to understand what they’re getting into now. So he’s saying, look, based on the condition of the property, when he looked inside, things were thrown around and it looked like maybe there was a burglary, maybe it was ransacked. Okay, fine. But then he was saying, I didn’t want to announce myself because I wanted to catch them. Well, to me, the only reason why you wouldn’t announce yourself is for your own officer’s safety because you only have two units there. It’s 2:30 in the morning, it’s dark, and so maybe you want other units to come up before the bad guy or bad guys know that you’re there.

That would’ve been the reason not to announce yourself. He’s saying like, well I wanted to catch them. So right there, I really don’t like that because it’s dangerous. There is a call here of an open door and potentially a prowler there and you might reasonably expect the homeowner to arm herself like she did. This is a lady babysitting her relative, there’s no scandal going on here or no criminal activity going on here and you would reasonably expect as an officer that she’s going to potentially arm herself and be scared if somebody’s walking around her yard looking in the window at 2:30 in the morning. He has put himself into a position where deadly force could be used against him and also now where there could be a misunderstanding about who he is.

She can’t see who he is from inside the room when he is in the exterior, and there’s a window there, and he sees the gun, which he has, and it’s her home, and she has a right to have the gun there. Then he fires through the window. It’s a bad shooting.

The prosecution maybe didn’t have to put on a lot of evidence. It kind of makes sense. They went after the second degree murder, which would be this reckless state of mind concept that I kind of think it’s more of a manslaughter thing. I don’t know what the jury’s going to come back on because it seems like it’s out of policy. It seems like it’s bad policing. Did he think ‘I want to kill her?’ No, I don’t think he wanted to do that to her, but it was very bad policing.

Joshua Ritter:
You make some points that I wanted to go back to, an excellent way of explaining all of that. Thank you. But this really comes down to, because like you pointed out, in a murder case, we need to have some sort of mens rea, right? Some sort of mental state. Here there’s zero evidence. I don’t think anybody’s ever going to argue that he intended to take somebody’s life when he went out there that day. It’s obvious that he’s responding to a call and in some part following protocol and other parts deviating from it. Now what they need to prove, the prosecution I mean, is what you pointed out, is his deviation from protocol, is his reaction to this scene so far outside of the bounds of reasonableness that it is not only negligent but grossly negligent or showing an indifference to safety and life to the extent that it rises to the level we would need for the requisite mental state for second degree murder.

You talk about manslaughter, which would mean a lesser degree of that mental state. Can you flesh that out for us a little bit?

Christopher Melcher:
Sure. We could look at the Rust shooting with Alec Baldwin involved where you have lawful activity, making a movie with what’s supposed to be a prop gun resulting in death. When that happens, you can be charged with manslaughter if you’re engaging in a lawful activity, that’s likely to involve death if you’re not reasonably careful or use due caution or circumspection, they would say. Here, the officer’s engaging in lawful activity and responding to a call for service for an open door, potential prowler at this residence. He’s entitled to have a gun, he’s entitled to have it out. He’s entitled to defend himself, entitled to look around. But we know that that kind of situation can result in deadly force.

He has a gun out, or somebody could shoot at him, and he might have to shoot back. He has to use due caution or circumspection when he’s engaging in that and the failure to do that would be manslaughter, which is a lesser degree crime than second degree murder. Where you say, ‘he’s acting with a reckless indifference for life and it’s almost like I don’t care attitude while he’s pointing his gun.’ I think this was sloppiness on his part which would more fit manslaughter in my mind than a second degree murder charge.

Joshua Ritter:
I agree with you. One last point on this. In a lot of these cases, the crucial witnesses are the partner officers, because a lot of this deals with, or almost all of it deals with the perceived situation by the officer. Is he behaving reasonable given the circumstances of what he perceived and understood? It’s not about the fact that she wasn’t a burglar or the fact that she was just babysitting someone or the fact that she had a right to have a gun, but what did he perceive and would a reasonable person in his shoes have perceived it the same way that he did and reacted the same way? Well, you have a partner officer who was on scene at the same time, who testified, and I think it was very impactful testimony to talk about, hey, when we arrived he didn’t announce that we were officers, he didn’t talk about a gun. All I heard him say was hands up and then a shot went off.

Do you think that is what really carries the day here, at least for the prosecution, the idea that we have someone who we can almost place in his shoes to talk about how, yes, these are difficult situations, you are making split second decisions, but the decisions he made were wrong enough to be criminal.

Christopher Melcher:
Josh, I think that testimony of the female officer who was there on scene was very impactful and it could cut both ways. Yes, she was there, she featured on the body cam footage, neither of them announced each other. They’re both basically checking out what’s going on and she says, I don’t have a view of that window. I didn’t see any gun. All I hear is what you just said.

But after the fact when the shooting happened, she went into the house and she saw the young child was there and she became tearful. She asked for a break during her testimony because she was relating something that was very impactful. I think that that showed, hey, these are caring people or at least that officer, that female officer is like, this is a real person here trying to help her community.

She was devastated by what she saw. That humanized the department, it humanizes maybe her partner who she’s essentially testifying against. Whether there’ll be some carryover effect to that to saying maybe the shooting officer is not such a bad guy after all, he’s just a bad policeman. I don’t know how that plays out. The other thing is that there was what they call a professional interviewer, somebody hired by the police to come in there and talk to this child at the night of the incident and basically get him to admit, or I don’t know if I should say get to, but to interview him, and it’s like, ‘did you see your aunt hold the gun, point the gun out the window?’ ‘Yes, I did.’

That’s videotaped and I don’t know, I didn’t feel right about it. I understand you got to get the evidence, you got to do the interview. But this is a very young child who’s been through a very traumatic incident. Sure you have a professional interviewer, but I don’t know man, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

I think if I were in the jury, I just wouldn’t really be happy that the department, in an incident like that where he just saw his relative killed, having a professional interviewer get favorable evidence for the police officer, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

Joshua Ritter:
I agree. And to some extent the department is kind of on trial here as well, at least in the juror’s minds because they’re wanting, they’re going to want to know, was he trained properly? Is this just not a fault so much that he carries completely on his back, but does the department have some responsibility here too? I agree with you about that. The partner officer, I think carried a lot of weight for the prosecution and probably why they rested so early. But I think there was some stuff that cut both ways and one of the things I noticed was when she was talking about their training, and that was important for them to talk about how extensive their training was, she talked about how much they deal with lifesaving care. Her testimony almost made it sound like they’re going into battle and I thought, if I’m the defense, I’m going to really highlight that for people to understand just how dangerous these situations are in the mindset of the responding officer. Perhaps in actuality the situation wasn’t all that dangerous, but in the mindset of the responding officer, any situation could turn deadly. It’s a tragedy any way you look at it, but we will continue to follow this case.

Juan David Ortiz, former border patrol agent

Joshua Ritter:
Moving to our final case out of San Antonio, Texas, after only five hours of deliberation, a San Antonio jury has convicted former border patrol agent Juan David Ortiz of capital murder. Ortiz was then automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole. Ortiz allegedly confessed to the 2018 murders of four sex workers in an interview with investigators telling authorities that he was, quote, trying to clean up the streets.

The prosecution also presented a fifth sex worker who allegedly escaped an attack from Ortiz alerting authorities who eventually arrested Ortiz. While this was a capital murder case, the death penalty was removed after families of the victims voted unanimously for prosecutors to seek life without parole. First question on this, Chris, are you surprised by how quickly the jury was able to render a verdict in this case?

Christopher Melcher:
Not really. When you got a confession, unless you’re able to show it’s a false confession, makes it very easy for a jury to convict. I think that it’s very difficult for the defense team to know when your client, the defendant, is saying that that’s a false confession. Do you put the client on the stand, or do you maintain your right to remain silent, and just try and poke holes in the confession through other means? Very, very difficult to do that without putting the client on the stand.

But if the person takes the stand and testifies as to, here’s what I said, here’s what I didn’t say, or I was influenced somehow or coerced into making this statement that it wasn’t true. You’ve really got to deliver the goods and that person has to be credible, otherwise they’re just sinking their ship.

Joshua Ritter:
I agree with you. I remember my time as a prosecutor that you could have forensic evidence in the form of fingerprints. You could have grainy videotape, you could have an eyewitness who IDed the defendant. But if you have the defendant’s own words, whether that be through an admission, an interrogation, or speaking about the crime during a jailhouse call that you have captured, that is really the linchpin in a case, because jurors, there’s something about that psychology that they love to hang their hat on the person on trial admitting their own involvement, and in a case like this, I think you highlighted it perfectly, if you’re defense is, well that was a false confession. That’s a really difficult argument to make.

Now we know that is true, that is a phenomenon that does take place. But in a case like this where you had confessions to four separate murders and he’s giving details that only the murderer might understand, it’s hard to say that that was forced out of them. I agree with you. One other thing that was interesting on this, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts because I’ve never experienced this, maybe you have something similar. But a juror reportedly fainted in this case after autopsy pictures of one of the victims were shown in court. The question is outside of talking about this case in particular, but just generally, a lot of times in these criminal cases, some very graphic images are shown in court. I wonder how much could be unduly influencing the jurors, especially if they’re having these types of reactions. What are your thoughts on that?

Christopher Melcher:
This is hard. I think when you’re a first responder, whether it’s police or fire or emergency room physician, you’re a judge, you’re a prosecutor, you’re a defense attorney, you become hardened to this because you’ve seen so much of it. Certainly, there’s images that you never get out of your head, but you become unemotional about it over time because you just have to see it so much. But here we call these jurors in off the street basically, and they don’t have those experiences. They haven’t seen stuff like that, and honestly, nobody should be seeing stuff like that. It’s terrible. They will try and cover that in voir dire or jury selection, and certainly saying, hey, ‘we have some very graphic images. This is generally what you may be seeing during this trial. Do you have a problem with that?’ and they’re going to have to say yes to probably get on that jury.

But there’s a big difference between what I just said and actually seeing the image. I think the prosecution, and really the judge has to be careful of striking that balance between how much of this image really do we need to prove this case? Why do we need to necessarily see in graphic detail what happened to these women? Could it be portrayed in a different way?

Sometimes we’ll see with an autopsy report and we can see where slash marks are made on an outline of a body. There are ways of describing the injuries that occurred and where they occurred without necessarily having to show every image. I do question and obviously they went too far with that particular juror.

Joshua Ritter:
It’s a delicate balance because certainly what you don’t want to do is get into the realm of the evidence being presented being far more prejudicial than it is probative, and now people are making or coming to conclusions based purely on emotion rather than what it actually proves. Chris, who is a partner at Walzer Melcher & Yoda which is ranked one of the best family law firms in California, thank you so much for coming on this week. Where can people find out more about you?

Christopher Melcher:
Sure. If you go to Twitter while it’s still here, @CA_Divorce is my handle.  If you want to know more information, you can just Google Christopher Melcher, M-E-L-C-H-E-R and look forward to connecting up with you on Twitter if you want to do that.

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