Trial attorney Gabriel Sepulveda Sanchez appears on Court TV with criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Eric Faddis to discuss the start of Arizona v. Michael Turney. This 20-year cold case resulted in a murder arrest three years ago and the trial has just begun.
Alissa Turney disappeared in May 2001 after telling a friend that her stepfather would pick her up from school early. She was never heard from again. In 2020, her stepfather Michael Turney was charged with second-degree murder and arrested.
The prosecution has already presented its opening statements. In their analysis, both Gabriel and Eric noticed how the prosecution’s delivery missed the mark on a number of points. To succeed, prosecutors must be prepared to evoke the intrigue and interests of the members of the jury, especially considering the case has been cold for over 20 years.
Setting Jury Expectations and Evoking Jury Interest
A successful prosecution doesn’t only involve putting forward a strong case for the jury to believe. An effective prosecutor must also prepare the jury for weaknesses in the case – because the defense is bound to bring them up. That way, the prosecution can anticipate potential defenses and disarm them before they start to introduce doubt.
As Gabriel mentions, as a prosecutor, you must use storytelling and passionate delivery to engage the jury. You must capture the jurors’ attention by presenting a compelling narrative that allows them to clearly visualize and comprehend the facts.
Defense Perspective: Insufficient Evidence
The hardest thing about a cold case is evidence. As we’ve talked about before, evidence is time-sensitive – the fresher or more recent the evidence, the more convincing it is.
Waiting even a day or a week after an incident could affect the accuracy or availability of evidence. Memories fade, even for witnesses who saw the events firsthand. Digital records or video records can get deleted or overwritten. The scene of the crime could change completely.
In this particular case, 20 years is a long time. The strength of the evidence against Michael Turney will be the biggest issue for the prosecution. If the prosecution’s opening statements are an indication of what’s to come, the case lacked persuasion, passion, and confidence. Based on the tone of the case as it started, Gabriel predicts that the verdict will be in favor of the defense.
To make matters worse for the prosecution, not all the evidence can be shown to the jury.
Limitations and Hearsay Issues
A problematic incident occurred during the trial. The prosecution claimed that they had a video recording where Michael Turney is asked if he ever molested Alyssa. Turney’s answer on the clip was “no” – however, the allegation itself is damaging enough. This is prejudicial information that could unfairly bias the jury against Turney. It is also hearsay.
In addition, the prosecution did not provide this clip to the defense before bringing it up. These types of surprises never go well at trial – the defense could ask for a mistrial as a result.
All of that still remains to be seen. Read more analysis about the case here.