BOBO TRIAL - DEFENSE TACTICS
Updated: Aug 17, 2018
BOBO TRIAL – DEFENSE TACTICS
There are some issues that have been entered into evidence the defense can bring up questions about because they are not criminal acts in and of themselves but merely circumstantial evidence. In other words the prosecution has to explain why they are important and relevant. The state’s lawyers must fit the act into their theory of what happened and so far they have done a good job of doing this. Now the defense is going to provide an alternative theory about this evidence and try and convince the jury the acts or testimony are just fine to talk about, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with the case! I refer to this as the “So What? “defense tactic. I will give you some examples of what I am talking about that we may hear in the Bobo case.
Adams had mattresses leaned up against the house and he was seen cleaning them. So What? The defense may produce evidence saying this is a common practice in rural west Tennessee. I can just hear somebody testifying and saying, “Doesn’t everybody air out their mattresses in the spring and clean them? My grandmother said it makes the mattresses last longer.”
They say he had scratches on his arm and maybe his neck. So What? He mentioned hauling scrap and that kind of work could easily get a man scratched up!
Adams is a drug dealer and probably a drug addict. So What? Does that make him a kidnapper, rapist and murderer?
Somebody saw him vacuuming out his truck. So What? He may have been hunting or met somebody in the middle of nowhere to do a dope deal and got stuck. You know a man’s got to keep his truck clean!
Adams hid his truck out at Victor Dinsmore’s place. So What? Everybody knows he owed Bobby money on a dope deal and Bobby told Betty he was going to take Adam’s truck if Adam didn’t pay up. Oh yeah, there was that deal with the title pawn place, too. They were also looking for Adams’ truck because of what he owed them.
During an argument he told his former girlfriend he would do her like he did Holly Bobo if she didn’t shut up. So What? Don’t most men (and women!) sometimes get mad and say crazy things they don’t mean? Especially if they are strung out on drugs.
OK, you get the idea. Get ready to hear these types of things from the witness stand. This is totally legitimate and it may be the real answer. These attorneys are not going to introduce testimony they know is false. They are too professional for that. It is their job to present their client’s case and then the jury must put together everything they have heard and seen and decide what the truth is.
As long as it is kept within reason and doesn’t get too hateful, defense attorneys are pretty safe to try and discredit prosecution witnesses without alienating the jury.
Rebecca Earp gave some testimony that could be significant concerning the scratches on Zach Adams arm and neck. Of course, the defense will bring it back to the jury’s attention that she is a former girlfriend and may harbor ill will toward Adams. Also, all she can say is she saw some scratches, she doesn’t really know how he got them. There might be a witness who will come forward to testify that Zach Adams had those scratches several days prior to Holly’s disappearance. It would not be a great surprise if witnesses are produced who will say Rebecca told them she was going to “get” Zach because they broke up. Earlier the defense had Earp subpoenaed so they could call her as a defense witness. This happens sometimes, even though the witness may have already testified for the prosecution, because the defense can question someone differently if that person is called as a defense witness rather than a prosecution witness.
Expect the defense to call on their own experts to counter testimony given by prosecution experts. They may produce forensic scientists or ballistics experts to give their opinion as to whether the wound to the skull was actually a gunshot wound or not. A defense expert may also have a different opinion about the caliber of the bullet. A forensic cell phone expert may give a different version of the “pings” or talk about some other pings that might be interesting from other phones or at other times. Rebecca Earp said Zach called her that morning on Dylan’s phone and there might be some more information about that call. Experts might testify concerning the absence of any significant evidence on the gun. Question Document Examiners (handwriting experts) may address the handwriting on the note with Holly’s name and address written on it.
Of course, the defense will do everything they legally can to discredit Jason Autry. The prosecution did a good job by sharing his background with the jury at the beginning of his testimony. The people on that jury understand real life and they know what they are dealing with in this case. I doubt they were shocked and awed to find out the star witness is a career criminal and a drug addict. The state did a really good job of corroborating Autry’s testimony. Having said that, if the defense can make the jury believe that Autry absolutely and unquestionably lied about even one significant fact, his entire testimony then comes into question.
The defense may also bring up the possibility that Autry was the killer and cooked up the story to get his immunity deal. By his own testimony he puts himself all around the crime, but he didn’t really “do” anything except ride in the truck and come up with ideas. His alibi is that he was at the wildlife refuge waiting to get in touch with Zach to buy some dope. The problem the defense has with this tactic is it puts their client awful close to admitting guilt. If Jason Autry committed this crime, from all the evidence presented, Zach Adams just about had to be there too. Cell phone records and the encounter with Dinsmore puts the two together a lot that day.
Dope dealers and thugs tend to want to brag about what they have done. Whether what they say they have done is true or not is usually questionable. It would not be surprising if the defense produces witnesses who will testify Jason Autry said things about the case that differ from his courtroom testimony.
Another issue they may bring up is the possibility that someone else, besides those who have been mentioned in the trial, committed the murder. This was a huge investigation and there were many suspects and persons of interest developed. Investigators may have to explain how all those other suspects were eliminated.
Questions have already been asked about an affidavit TBI agents prepared to obtain a search warrant for financial records. In that document it was alleged the family had given investigators false information. Autry’s testimony brings methamphetamine into the picture when he said Adams said “they” went over there (the Bobo house) to teach Clint how to make meth. The same testimony describes Zach, Dylan and Shayne all going to the house that morning. Clint says only one person was there. Of course the other two could have been out of sight. If the prosecution has a good case, the defense may bring up things that will “muddy the water”. They want to distract the jury and get the jurors to think about everything else but the real evidence.
There is always the possibility there may be questions about some of the victims’ activities. If defense use this tactic, they must be cautious not offend or alienate jurors.
The defense has notified the court they will call an alibi witness. It remains to be seen what kind of testimony that person may provide. The state knows who the alibi witness is and investigators probably have at least an idea of what the witness may say.
A big question is, will Zach or Dylan testify? Dylan does not have to defend himself in this case and his attorneys probably would advise him not to testify. Traditionally defense attorneys do want to put their clients on the witness stand in a case of this nature. If the defendant gets on the witness stand it may open the door for the prosecution to ask about their prior criminal history and other things that the defense would rather the jury didn’t hear. The defendant may make a bad impression on the jury by getting angry and exhibiting a violent demeanor or getting caught lying. Of course, if they can’t shake the prosecution’s case and discredit Autry’s testimony, defense attorneys may feel they have no choice to put Adams on the stand to deny the allegations. The judge will instruct the jury that the defendant is not required to testify and the jury is not to hold it against him if he does not testify. It may still be hard for some jurors to accept the fact that a person who is not guilty would not stand up and deny the accusations. Defense attorneys must weigh all these factors in making their decision as to whether or not to put Zach Adams on the witness stand.
One thing that may come into play is the possibility of surprises. Sometimes a witness will testify to something that is totally unexpected. The witness could be making something up or they could have had heard something that jogged their memory since the last time they were questioned. In some instances the right follow up questions were not asked to elicit a complete answer from the witness. I was giving a deposition in a death penalty case and the defense attorneys asked if the killer had told me that he had hurt any other women. I answered, “Yes. He did.” They didn’t ask me what he said, so I didn’t tell them. The same lawyers asked me the same question weeks later in federal appeals court and I responded, “Yes. He told me he had hurt many other women and he hurt them bad and he didn’t give a dam how bad he hurt them and then he threw out of his car.” This expanded answer caught the defense by surprise and they were very upset. I had done nothing wrong. I answered both questions truthfully. I have seen things like this happen many times. One job an investigator is responsible for is to try and make sure the attorneys don’t get surprised in court, but it happens.
Jim Leach served as Special Agent in Charge for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. His book, “You Can Tell ME, a simple guide to effective interviewing” can be found at Amazon.com.