The Boston Criminal Lawyer Blog Discusses Cross-Examination, Insanity And New England Murder

On Friday, we began talking about the testimony of New Hampshire murder suspect Christopher Gribble (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) on direct examination. I told you that I would discuss his cross examination today. As I also told you, I am not expert on New Hampshire law. I must say, however, that this Boston murder defense attorney would not be too optimistic about this particular client going home this side of life.

As you will recall, or check Friday’s blog (ok, it got posted Saturday), the Defendant has admitted to killing a Mount Vernon woman and trying to kill her young daughter. However, his defense is that he was legally insane at the time and so cannot be held responsible.

It is not unusual for proverbial sparks to fly during cross-examination. In fact, it is usually what the cross-examiner is hoping for. The dirty little truth, and something about which I have reminded you from time to time, is that perception is what generally effects the jury most…not simply the evidence itself. Therefore, if the cross-examiner can get the witness angry and seemingly annoying or unfair, then it is good for the cross-examiner. Often, this is more important than the words actually spoken by the witness.

Of course, in this case, I don’t see either as being too helpful for the Defendant.

At one point, for example, the prosecutor noted that the Defendant had written to a friend to tell him that he hoped to be freed in five or six years .He also figured that he would then spend his time thereafter partying. Here, assuming the Defendant agreed, or the prosecutor had the writing in question to show the jury, the image planted in the jurors’ minds is that of the Defendant, after having committed these terrible bloody acts partying with his buddies after serving a minimum of time. To make it worse, it makes the Defendant seem cocky about the punishment. Finally, it reflects someone sane who weighed the options, as he saw them, and decided the murders were well worth the risk.

At another point, the prosecutor asked about the Defendant’s earlier testimony that he had no conscious thought during the time in which he and his cohort broke into the bedroom and attacked the mother and daughter. The Defendant’s response was, “It’s hard not to be doing something purposeful like that when you are sticking a knife in them… I didn’t hear God’s voice telling me to go kill them. … I am not trying to make excuses.”

What appears in my mind is a continuation of the statement. Something like, “Making excuses is my lawyer’s job. Mine is to make it as difficult as possible for him by giving you smug answers and acting like a punk.”

But, that’s just me. Check out these other little examples which were played out before the jury and see what kind of pictures come to your mind:

The prosecutor reminded the Defendant that he had already testified that he might kill again when he gets out. The Defendant’s response was, “It’s always possible”.

The Defendant testified that even if he is found insane by the jury, he fully expects to spend the rest of his life in the custody of the state of New Hampshire. “Do you really believe they are ever going to let me out again?”, he asked. “I don’t”.

When the prosecutor suggested that the Defendant was a “dangerous guy”, the Defendant answered, “I could be considered dangerous, yes,”

The prosecutor then asked him if he had been talking tough in jail while awaiting trial, the Defendant said, “I smile because all the people in there have no idea who they are messing with”

Attorney Sam’s Take On Insanity And Cross-Examination

I do not know the Defendant’s attorney and I certainly do not know what advice the attorney gave him about testimony demeanor. I can tell you that I tell all my clients heading into trial that everything they say or do in the courtroom during the trial is an argument to the jury. It is important that they not act in certain ways before the jury so as not to influence them in a bad way.

This Defendant does not seem to have gotten that message.

In a case such as this, the jury has heard horrific testimony about the brutal murder of a mother and attempted murder of a young child. Further, the jurors have just heard, straight from the Defendant’s mouth, a gruesome description of the crimes. For the Defendant to come off as a know-it-all smug sort who is, at best, unlikeable, not only does not help his try for the insanity plea, it more sets the stage to make the jury want to string him up on the spot!

“But, wait a minute, Sam. Couldn’t that be part of the plan? Couldn’t he be acting in a way that is so clearly against his own interest that it, in itself, shows he is insane?”

Maybe. But that is a bit too deep to usually work. This is not a mind game of a deep psychological level. It is a reaction of perception, and those perceptions are much closer to the surface. The jury is going to have to want (no pun intended) to cut the kid a break. This is unlikely based on this testimony. Further, the test is not even whether he is crazy while he testifies. It is whether he was legally insane when the acts were committed.

His attitude on the stand is pretty consistent with what one would expect it to be during the murder and assault.

In this oarticular instance, consistency is not a good thing.

If you would like to discuss a criminal matter with me, please feel free to call me to arrange a free initial consultation at 617-492-3000.

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