Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Memory expert testifies about how crime witnesses remember the details

The Pima County Superior Court jury hearing testimony in the double-murder trial for Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola heard expert testimony, Tuesday, morning from a Los Angeles-based memory expert.

Gaxiola, 43, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the May 30, 2009 deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9. Additional charges include: the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Marie Gonzalez; one count of burglary in the first-degree; one count of aggravated assault, serious physical injury; one count of aggravated assault, deadly weapon/dangerous instrument; one count of armed robbery; and one count of aggravated armed robbery.

Both Forde and co-defendant Jason Eugene Bush have been tried and convicted on the same charges. Forde received two death sentences plus 65 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections and Bush received two death sentences and 78 years in prison.

Mitchell Eisen
Mitchell Eisen, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is a professor of psychology and director of the Forensic Psychology Graduate Program at California State University, Los Angeles.

An hour into his testimony regarding memory and the studies he has conducted defense attorney Steven D. West started to use the home invasion at the Flores home as an example. “Assume a person is a witness to a horrific home invasion where…” West started to ask.

After the prosecution’s objection was discussed at the bench with Judge John S. Leonardo West changed his hypothetical example. Eisen testified that memories are the best when they are fresh. “Right after an experience sometime people may not give all of the information for a variety of reasons, but you would expect that to be their best indication of what they remember,” he said. “If they are interviewed multiple times you would expect that they would be relatively consistent about the major aspects of it.”

Eisen was asked if changes in testimony regarding a remembered experience should be view warily. “Then all of a sudden there’s big change and they are adding the involvement of someone they really knew well they you would wonder where does that change come from,” he said. “If that is a significant part of the experience why didn’t they recall it right away?”

On cross-examination, Eisen was asked about questions that are answered during a called to 9-1-1 such as the one heard earlier in the trial involving the surviving victim Gina Gonzalez. “If you are simultaneously reporting it you are reporting what you are seeing,” he said. “If you remember anything the big ones are the easiest. Can you remember a little detail later on you forgot to mention earlier? It happens all of the time.”

Eisen was asked about two different versions of the same event. “You wouldn’t expect major content to change. If two memory reports are at odds they both cannot be true,” he testified.

Eisen said there is a difference between being wrong and just omitting details. “Minor omissions and minor additions are common and expected,” he said.

The jury asked a couple of questions that got to heart of the issue. The jury asked if recognizing someone as part of a memory is dependent upon the role of the context in which a person is recognized. “Recognizing a face is a subset of all memory research,” he said. “In regards to context, it depends how well you know them.”

The jury also asked about the role of trauma and post-traumatic stress in being able to remember of details in an event. “Is it possible that people could have functional amnesia for a traumatic event and then have it come back to them? Absolutely, but who is to say what the accuracy of that is,” he said.

The trial is recessed until Tuesday, June 28, at 10:30 a.m. due to a mandatory judicial conference the remainder of this week.