Richard speights

Writing to Innocence

In our technically advanced modern-science-has-all-the-answers world, we know the earth orbits the sun and not the other way round. This was not always the case. For thousands of years people believed the sun orbited the earth until Galileo proved them wrong.

Interestingly, Muslim astronomers scribbled down some mathematics and figured out Copernicus’s sun-centered model of the solar system a couple hundred years before that astronomer’s birth. Nonetheless, the 14th century world was not quite ready to accept unverifiable facts discovered through the abstract process of mathematics. So, until the 1600s, the world universally believed the sun orbited the earth, represented by the earth-centered Ptolemaic model (geocentric model), invented in 150 AD by Claudius Ptolemy of Rome.

(The 3rd century BC Aristarchus of Samos proposed a sun-centered system (Heliocentrism). In addition, Babylonians and Mayan astronomers appear to have had ideas along this same line as well. )

The earth-centered system is the model people readily accept according to their own personal observations. The sun rises in the east. The sun travels across the sky. The sun sets in the west. The moon, stars, and planets follow suite. That these heavenly bodies all orbit the earth seem as obvious as the day is long.

Stop sometime and pay attention to the sky. Watch the sun’s rising or setting and ask, “Can I see any evidence the sun is the stationary object and the earth the body in motion?” Do the same watching the moon and the stars. As far as you can tell through visual observation and your own sense of motion, the sun, moon, stars, and planets all appear to move as the earth appears to stand perfectly still.

The Catholic Church adopted the Ptolemaic earth-center model for two reasons: It matched accepted precepts and observations, and it fit Catholic teaching of the pope as Christ’s Vicar (Christ’s representative on earth). It just wouldn’t do for the man sitting on God’s earthly throne to be anywhere but the center of the universe. It’s the latter that caused a major problem when Galileo discovered proof apposing the earth-centered model. The Catholics resolved the argument with Galileo via the Inquisition, forcing him to recant.

Objective verses Observant

For thousands of years, astronomers were far more observant than objective. The apparent retrograde motion of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, and Venus and Mercury’s alternately appearances in the evening and morning skies, have been a constant, insurmountable problem for the earth-center model, wherein these wayward planets’ odd behaviors simply should not exist.

For all those years, the big picture overwhelmed many astronomers into overlooking the problematic detail. Yes, the sun, moon, planets, and stars all appear to orbit the earth, but the inconvenient detail of retrograde motion denies the earth-centered model with an absolute and resounding “no”. If all those ancient astronomers had not conveniently overlooked the detail, they would have come to an accurate understanding of the solar system long before the 16th century.

It is human nature to accept the obvious at face value, because for most things the obvious reflects truth. But there are times, like with the solar system, when we must resist automatically accepting the obvious when the details reveal the obvious has distorted truth into a lie.

There are too many wannabe Sherlock Holmes or Mr. Monks running around, glancing at the surface evidence and pronouncing truth in the spur of the moment. On television, Mr. Monk is a lovable character. In real life, he makes for a terrible detective.

Dead Body in the Shower

When the cops find a dead body in a shower, its throat severed, the death is not always necessarily due to homicide. People have on occasion committed suicide by cutting their own throats. However, if the death were a suicide, the cutting implement should be near the body. If the cutting implement were not at the scene, its absence tends to contribute to the notion of homicide over suicide; although it could have been removed postmortem by an unknown individual. Likewise, a knife lying beside the body does not mean the deceased had severed his own throat.

In that Travis Alexander suffered a number of wounds, including a bullet wound to the head, in addition to evidence of a violent struggle, suicide is highly unlikely. Still, the absence of a knife does not automatically prove he did not cut his own throat after a bloody battle.

As humans, we are not omniscient. It is truly impossible to know every detail of any particular event, so we must use common sense in evaluating evidence. Therefore, although it is possible for a man to cut his own throat after a fight with an assailant, the evidence in Alexander death leans so heavily to homicide as to absolutely exclude suicide.

However, homicide is not always murder, and the exercise of common sense is not an excuse to overlook details indicating a defendant acted in self-preservation. Likewise, knife wounds alone are not proof of murder. However, their gut-wrenchingly horrible nature is gruesome enough to motivate investigators to ignore evidence of innocence.

Notwithstanding, every human being has the right to use all necessary force to save his or her life with an available weapon, even if that weapon is a knife. We cannot allow the horror of knife wounds to subvert objectivity. We must put aside our emotions and evenhandedly evaluate evidence. Arias is not guilty because we want her to be guilty due to our revulsion to the bloody wounds. She is guilty only if she is guilty.

The big picture evidence in the Arias/Alexander case is overwhelming. Alexander was five days dead of an apparent homicide, a bullet wound to his head, and his body covered with numerous knife wounds. The killer had fled, which alone adds tremendous weight to suspicion of murder. Equally bad to fleeing, Arias lied to the police.

Although fleeing and lying make one appear guilty, this appearance is subjective and not proof of guilt. They fall under circumstantial evidence, just as buying gas cans, dying one’s hair, and renting a white instead of red car are subjective, circumstantial evidences.

Inculpatory circumstantial evidence is useful only until exculpatory evidence surfaces. Then all the circumstantial evidence in the world becomes instantly unviable. This is such a strange dynamic. The courts allow the use of circumstantial evidence to convict a defendant, yet many defendants have had their convictions overturned due to the discovery of exculpatory hard evidence, such as DNA tests absolving men convicted of rape.

It would seem the fragility of circumstantial evidence should preclude its use in the first place. Like building a house of cards, it stands only until knocked down by the first gentle breeze. There is no telling how many innocent men and women languish in prison due to its use. But what does an overzealous prosecutor care about such things as the crowd chants, “Juan Martinez for governor”?

When the Heavens Lie

The world evaluating the mass of circumstantial evidence against Arias is like the ancient world evaluating the movement of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. All this overwhelming circumstantial evidence suggests in the strongest possible terms Arias guilty of murder, premeditated murder even.

But like the retrograde motion of Mars, one piece of exculpatory evidence proving Alexander had attacked Arias invalidates all the inculpatory circumstantial evidence entirely. The whole case comes down to who attacked whom. If Arias attacked Alexander, then she is guilty. If Alexander attacked Arias, then she is not guilty of murder but acted in self-defense.

Despite all Juan Martinez’s evidences of guilt, there is hard evidence proving Alexander attacked Arias. Notwithstanding, instead of an objective view of the situation, all parties involved in the investigation sympathized with the decedent, starting in the beginning with the investigator, Detective Flores.

The Investigation Report – Presumption

Detective Flores’s first inclination was probably to suspect murder. This is a natural reaction. However, simply discovering a dead body in a shower with a severed throat is not absolute proof the man had been murdered. The proof is in the totality of the evidence, and the details often have a nasty habit of revealing a different story.

Friends discovered Travis Alexander’s body on June 9th, 2008. Detective Flores was called to the scene near midnight and began his investigation. He completed a written report on June 28, 2008, about two weeks later.

I’ve studied his report and find it well written, detailed, and conscientious. Cops, much like lawyers, tend to be poor wordsmiths; but Flores’s use of language was clear, precise, and understandable. The report was well written. 

However, there is a problem in his report typical of police officers due to human nature and institutionalized lack of objectivity. He referred to the decedent in his report by his given name, Travis, an over-familiarity steering the detective and the reader down prejudice’s path.

For if Flores had suspected Alexander had attacked another, he would have not used such familiar terms. It is bad form to show such sympathy for the dead guy in one’s report, because he just might be the perpetrator.

The First Retrograde Motion Disproving Murder

Detective Flores noted the wounds on Alexander’s hands as defensive. This appears to be rather automatic, something akin to Law and Order, wherein Lennie Briscoe leans over a corpse and says, “Looks like some sort of knife attack.” Then glancing at the hands he says, “defensive wounds on the hands.”

It’s as if someone somewhere in Flores’s past training said, “All wounds to the hands are defensive.” However, wounds on a decedent’s hands are not always defensive. Sometimes they are offensive, that is, they are occasionally wounds an attacker receives during his attack on another.

For instance, my training is to cut the hand of an attacker who grabs my clothes in his attempt to trap me. This will leave incisive wounds that match those discovered on Alexander’s hands.

Know this: the only reason for a one person to grab the clothing of another in a fight is to trap and control. A person in a defensive position, trying to get away from a knife, will not cling to his or her attacker. For the defender, attempting to gain distance from the knife, to grab and hold the clothing of an attacker is counterintuitive to the extreme.

By noting the wounds on Alexander’s hands as defensive without further study and or examination fraudulently labels these wounds and unfairly presumes guilt.

The Second Retrograde Motion Disproving Murder

In addition to the wounds on his hands, there is a tight cluster of nine uniformly placed knife wounds on Alexander’s back. First, they wounds are skin-deep, demonstrating Arias did not exert a great deal of force creating them. This lack of force alone discounts the notion of a murderous rage.

All the wounds on Alexander’s body, except for three—the cut to the left hand, the stab to the vena cava, and the severed throat—were skin-deep only. Some were only scratches. The shallow depth of these wounds is atypical of a murderous rage but most typical of an untrained woman defending herself with a knife for the first time in her life.

Second, the uniformity shows a lack of movement. Fights are fluid affairs, so this cluster of uniform knife wounds occurs when the one holding the knife has become trapped.

It can also happen when the one attacking traps his opponent—however, when the one attacking traps the one being attacked, the wounds produced are deeper and more effective. It is counterintuitive to assume the attacker would trap his or her opponent and then inflict superficial, skin-deep cuts only. In addition, it is counterintuitive to believe Arias would have the strength to trap Alexander from behind and kept him still enough to inflict these wounds on his back.

The only way for Arias to have become trapped in such a way to leave nine shallow stab wounds on his back at that angle is for Alexander to have wrapped his arms around her waist, football style, and held her, possibly pinning her the hallway wall. This lines up Arias’s left hand up perfectly to stab at his back precisely where we discover the clustering of nine shallow knife wounds. All indicators are these were get-off-me strikes, hardly the deep, penetrating wounds of a murderous rage.

A study of other murders wherein a knife had been used shows the attackers never leave this kind of clustered wounds as seen on Alexander’s back. Consider the autopsy reports from the Manson murders of Tate and her friends. The murderers had control over their victims and left clustered wounds, but they were not nearly as tight or uniformed at those found on Alexander’s back.

Consider Sharon Tate’s autopsy report drawings near the bottom of the web page as an example. There are three stabs in her chest. These are clustered, but there are only three, which is typical of an attacker’s quick strike. The multiple stabs on her back or somewhat clustered but not nearly as tight as the cluster of wounds on Alexander’s back. Moreover, they are not uniformly laid out due to the victim’s struggling movements.

It looks to me as if the killer struck Tate four times from one angle, moved, and then struck her in about the same spot three or four more times. Or two people knelt beside her left side, striking her back at two different angles, four times each.


It’s not just that these specific wounds are on the outside of Alexander’s hands; they line up perfectly for Arias to have cut them with her left hand (she’s left handed). The nine wounds on the back are too uniform to have been produced as the prosecutor described, during the fluidity of the fight. The only way they could have been produced as they look is according to the way I described. 

These wounds prove Alexander attacked Arias. This is not speculation. Her attacking him cannot account for their location, direction, and uniformity.

The motion of the sun, moon, planets, and stars indicate everything orbits the earth. But the apparent retrograde of motion proves they do not. The small detail is right, and everything we otherwise observe is wrong. The prosecutor’s circumstantial evidence indicates Arias murdered Alexander with malice of forethought. The wounds on his hands and back prove this is not true.

The big picture is wrong, and the small details are right.
Richard Speights
May 12, 2015

When Observations Go Wrong

Apparent Retrograde of Motion


Richard Speights