Jodi Arias Trial: Dr. Robert Geffner, Defense Witness

By | May 4, 2013

Dr. Geffner was a likable but ineffective witness for the defense. He spilled his water twice while on the witness stand, and apologized for burping out loud. He also was a bit disingenuous, which is another way of saying he engaged in deception. I’ll go into that deception later in this article.

drgeffner

Jennifer Willmott spent hours going over the minutia of Dr. Geffner’s achievements. She literally spent hours building up this witness. It was apparently her intention to show the jury that Dr. Geffner, his opinions and testimony, would be above reproach. However, prosecutor Martinez, when it was his turn, quickly showed that Dr. Geffner’s testimony in previous trials was not above reproach. In fact it had been reproached and discredited in several cases.

One judge, in a case in which Dr. Geffner had testified previously, said that Dr. Geffner was no more than a hired gun.

In another dramatic moment in the courtroom, prosecutor Martinez stated that a previous judge in yet a different case, had said that Dr. Geffner’s testimony was “completely without merit.” This is a nice way of saying that Dr. Geffner’s testimony was worthless. When asked by prosecutor Martinez if it were true that the judge had said his testimony was completely without merit, Dr. Geffner did not give in immediately. He responded that the judge had said that only part of his testimony was of no merit.

Juan Martinez was not satisfied with that answer and immediately brought a copy of the judge’s opinion up to the witness stand to refresh Dr. Geffner’s memory. Dr. Geffner read it, handed it back, prosecutor Martinez re-asks the question and Dr. Geffner now replies that the judge did say it was without merit.

The original question was if the judge had said that Dr. Geffner’s testimony was “completely” without merit. So when Dr. Geffner answers the last question by saying that the judge said it was without merit, he left out the “completely.” After a bit of bickering, prosecutor Martinez returned the court document to Dr. Geffner, pointed out the section that he wanted Dr. Geffner to reread and re-asked the question.

Dr. Geffner, now agrees, that indeed the judge did say that his testimony was “completely without merit.” The prosecutor then pointed out several other instances where previous judges, in written opinions, had reprimanded Dr. Geffner.

Now let’s return, to the disingenuous aspect of Dr. Geffner’s testimony. Dr. Geffner is a clinical psychologist. His doctorate is not in neuropsychology. Later in his career, he did receive some training in neuropsychology. He refers to himself as a clinical psychologist, a research psychologist, an expert in domestic violence, and a neuropsychologist.

There is a major difference between a neuropsychologist and a neurologist. A neurologist studies, treats and often operates on the brain. He or she is a medical doctor. He or she can and does prescribe medications.

The neuropsychologist studies the brain as much as is necessary to understand the psychological functioning of the brain. You can probably remember from the testimony of Dr. Samuels, it’s all about what part of the brain does what. If you want to know what part of the brain is important to enable a quarterback to throw a pass to a spot on the field where a wide receiver will be in a second or two (spatial relations), you can ask a neuropsychologist, they study those things.

If you want to know the impact that a high velocity bullet would have upon a living human brain, you ask a neurologist or a medical examiner, both of whom are medical doctors.

This is where the disingenuous part of Dr. Geffner’s testimony comes into play. He testified, that Travis, or for that matter anyone else who was shot in the frontal lobe, would not be incapacitated. Now don’t forget, the medical examiner had already testified that Travis would have been incapacitated within a second or two of having been shot– if he had been alive.

It all comes down to how “incapacitated” is defined. How would you define it? Probably the same way most people would but most certainly not the way the Dr. Geffner defined it.

It was almost ludicrous to hear Dr. Geffner talk about the effect of being shot in the head. He honestly made it sound as if, if you were shot in the head, if you wanted to, you could finish the movie you were watching on TV, and eat a quick sandwich before driving yourself to the hospital. After all that is exactly what the defense team needed. They needed the jury to believe that after Jodi shot Travis in the head, he could shout profanities at her, wrestle with her and thus make it necessary for her to stab him 29 times and also necessary for her to slit his throat from ear to ear.

However, that’s not what the medical examiner said. The M.E. said repeatedly, that Travis would be incapacitated, laying on the floor, in a state where he would be incapable of defending himself, incapable of getting up, incapable of walking.

This is where Dr. Geffner’s deception comes into play. Dr. Geffner is defining “incapacitated” in a different way, and he stated his definition in his testimony. He said that he was defining incapacitated as an inability to move your arms or legs. He also said that this inability would only occur if the motor centers of the brain, located in the rear of the brain, were destroyed.

If the motor centers are not destroyed, then one is not incapacitated. Thus he would not call someone in a deep coma, incapacitated. Now, someone in a deep coma cannot feed themselves, cannot threaten a nurse, cannot get up, cannot walk, cannot control their arms but Dr. Geffner would still not referred to them as incapacitated; after all, the motor centers of their brain are not destroyed.

He stated this very clearly in his testimony. He said, “this is how I am defining incapacitated.”

It is ludicrous to you, I, and the jury, to accept the definition of Dr. Geffner. He made it sound as if being shot in the front of the head was… really not too big a deal.

If you buy his testimony and you hear two gunshots in the backyard where your children are playing, look out the open window and see two bullet holes, one in each forehead of each child, you’d probably holler to the children “you two play nice now before somebody gets hurt.”

In a more perfect world, where humans like cats have nine lives, perhaps Dr. Geffner would have been willing to demonstrate to the jury the lack of incapacitation caused by a 25 caliber bullet, fired at close range. Demonstrations are allowed and frequently do occur in trials.

I am not suggesting that Dr. Geffner should shoot himself in the head with a 25 caliber bullet, because I know better. I would never want Dr. Geffner to demonstrate his theory by shooting himself  because I think Dr. Geffner is wrong and I wouldn’t want him to be “dead” wrong. I don’t want him to demonstrate his theory and I don’t think he would do so, because I think I am right. Being shot in the head, is a big deal. It is most certainly “incapacitating” and very possibly deadly and at the very least crippling.

However, in the fictional courtroom of fantasy, if  Dr. Geffner, in an attempt to prove that he is a man of strong conviction, dramatically pulls a 25 caliber pistol from his pocket, points it at his head and then pulls the trigger, I would sincerely hope that Dr. Geffner is right and I am wrong,

I would want no harm to come to this likeable man, even in the fictitious world of fantasy. But if the above fantasy were to occur, I would expect that to be the end of Dr. Geffner’s testimony for the day and perhaps forever.

Dr. Geffner in his attempt to please the defense team, did more harm to Jodi  and no possible good for Jodi. To quote a previous judge “his testimony was completely without merit.”

8 thoughts on “Jodi Arias Trial: Dr. Robert Geffner, Defense Witness

  1. Gordon Mahoney

    Geffner also testified that to not complete the summary scales on one of the tests Dr DeMarte gave Jodi Arias was a HUGE mistake implying that to fail to complete the summary scales was rank mistake indicative of poor training and little or no experience and was generally extremely unprofessional because the instructions clearly stated not only how to do it but emphasized the importance of completing them. Turns out the prosecutions rebuttal witness looked into that and went so far as to call the tests author and determined that the instruction did not cover the summary scales and in fact just the opposite is true. The summaries algorithms are very complex and should NEVER BE DONE when hand scoring. Dr DeMarte hand scored this test and believe she stated she always handscores this particular test. I say that goes past being disingenuous and was a BIG FAT LIE.

  2. Ria

    Poor Dr. Geffner, spilling his water and passing gas. I think Wilmott was trying to kill 2 birds with 1 stone and it was a bad idea. If Travis had been shot in the head first, it seems so unbelievable he’d be able to fight back to the extent that Jodi would feel her life was still in danger. But her entire story is hogwash anyway.

    Hearing all this testimony has been an eye opening experience for me, I didn’t realize there was so much wriggle room regarding what that type of an injury would do to a person.

  3. Anon

    For those interest, here is a link to the child custody case where the court called Dr. Geffner a hired gun. The appeals opinion also states that he improperly testified about the effect of brain damage on emotional functioning despite not having a medical degree.

    The opinion cites other cases where courts found he reached conclusions and testified based on hearsay or unverified information he received solely from one side.

    http://www.tba2.org/tba_files/TCA/2010/orourkec_111210.pdf

  4. Chris Larson

    If the defense thought so highly of Dr. Geffner, why did they not use him to evaluate Jodi Arias in the first place? Personally I think he made himself look like a fool. Willmott made claims against Dr. DeMartes’ methods and Geffner fell into a rabbit hole. Why didn’t the defense have further testing done on Arias when
    Dr. Samuels (another ass) notated Personality Disorder NOS on his report? They didn’t want the answer.
    The defense expert witnesses, in my opinion have damaged their reputations. Hired guns.

  5. 4 EYES

    Yes, Dr. Randle, “It is ludicrous to you, I, and the jury, to accept the definition of Dr. Geffner. ” We should accept the wisdom of the judges…and just line him up with the rest of the DT experts… in the parade of Jodiodrama. I’d watch a little debate between Dr. DeMarte and Dr. Geffner, wouldn’t you, Dr. Randle…[Doc] 4 EYES

  6. Lisa K

    I was deeply disturbed by Dr Geffner’s testimony regarding neuropsychology. The idea that one can only become incompacitated if the motor cortex is damaged is preposterous. My first year intro psych students have just spent these past 2 weeks studying neuropsych; they know better than that. Thankfully, this jury appears to be bright and attentive.

    If I were a juror, I would want to know why the defense would put DocFog and ALV on the stand if Dr Geffner was as qualified as distinguished as the defense wanted him to appear.

  7. Don Osborne

    Dr Geffner completed the trifecta of disasters produced by the defense as ‘experts’. His one saving grace, as you have suggested, was that at least he was likeable and did not attempt to ‘take-on’ the prosecutor.
    What possessed the defense – other than sheer desperation – to produce another ‘expert’ after the disasters that were Samuels and La Violette? Such an expert attempting to undo the damage done by these two, particularly La Violette, of necessity had to be either very game or very foolish, and Dr Geffner fell into the latter category. His efforts with the water container were quite comical, as was the burp which gave some ‘relief’ to his otherwise ineffective testimony.
    In many regards, Dr Geffner was reminiscent of ‘Jafsie’ in the Lindberg kidnapping case.
    The desperation exhibited by the defense in the latter stages of the trial, was clearly demonstrated by the nonsensical and rambling questioning from Ms Willmott. In fact, her efforts with the pathologist and Dr Geffner had to be heard to be believed, eliciting the somewhat distasteful juror question of the pathologist: “Would you agree that 100% of the people you have seen with frontal lobe trauma are deceased at the time of your examination? – and the response: “I hope so.”
    The defense in this case, obviously orchestrated by the accused, bordered on the farcical – further accentuated by the masterful performance of the prosecutor in destroying every facet of it. In particular, his condemnation of La Violette was thoroughly deserved.
    It would be truly adventuresome counsel to ever again employ the services of any of these three ‘experts’.

  8. Lizzie

    Of course, it is POSSIBLE to have a projectile go through the head and still be functional. All undergraduate psychology students learn about P. Gage who survived after having a railroad spike run through his head, a case Geffner mentioned. But Geffner’s testimony was ridiculous in this trial. The issue isn’t those rare other cases where people failed to die from a gunshot to the head. The issue is what was done to Travis’s brain. While decomposition prevented a full determination of specific damages, any relevant determination that could be made in this case would have to be made by looking at Travis’s actual brain, not made by quoting material from an Intro Psyc textbook. Along with his lies, I also thought it was telling that Geffner said he currently edits 5 or 6 “peer-reviewed” journals in addition to his other work. In my experience, if one is editing a reputable journal, there isn’t time to edit multiple other journals at the same time. Finally, the “for-profit” professional school he is associated with doesn’t have the best reputation in psychology and its students aren’t very happy (check out collegetimes review site) especially after paying $40,000 a year to go there (price of a doctorate $200,000+)

Leave a Reply