What Makes a ‘Good’ Cross Examination: A Closer Look at the Jodi Arias, Alex Murdaugh, and Amber Heard Cases

AP Photo/Matt York

It is day two of ‘Hot Crime Summer’ on The Megyn Kelly Show, and Jodi Arias is taking center stage. It’s been 15 years since Arias brutally stabbed, shot, and slit the throat of her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in June 2008.

The killing led to one of the most memorable murder trials and convictions of the early 2000s, and Megyn described the case as “R-rated” thanks to the scandalous details that emerged about Arias and Alexander’s relationship. Ultimately, Arias’ lies and manipulation were not enough to stop her from being convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On Tuesday’s program, criminal defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh joined Megyn to examine the cruel murder and what went on in the courtroom. They took particular issue with prosecutor Juan Martinez’s “horrible” cross-examination of Arias in a case that Eiglarsh said “could have been won by rookie prosecutors.”

What Makes a ‘Good’ Cross-Examination

A successful cross examination is heavily reliant on the preparation of the person asking the questions. “You carefully craft every single question that you’re going to ask knowing that it could go this way or that way,” Eiglarsh explained. “And then you’re ready with the follow up.” 

Although the witness is the one answering the questions, it is the cross-examiner who is supposed to craft the narrative. “[As the attorney], you stay in control the whole time – you’re the one who’s speaking, that witness is just there to say yes or no,” Megyn said. ”You are the one telling the jury the story. They are really listening to the prosecutor.”

As a result, each question is asked in such a way that poses no risk to the lawyer’s case but instead bolsters it. “With limited exceptions, I know no matter what they do or say, they’re hanging themselves,” Eiglarsh explained. “I know there is not a single answer that’s going to score points for them.” At the end of the day, a good cross examination will allow the jury to come to the conclusion the attorney decided he or she wanted them to come to before the questioning even began.

A Closer Look at the ‘Horrible’ Cross-Examination of Jodi Arias

The prosecution succeeded in the Arias trial in so far as she was convicted. They did not, however, put on any sort of masterclass for how to cross-examine a suspect. “The main reason why I accepted your invitation to be a guest on the show is because I get another crack at talking about his cross examination,” Eiglarsh told Megyn. “I thought [Juan Martinez’s] cross-examination was horrible… it was a D-minus on the scale.” His takeaway: “Don’t go by the outcome.” 

County prosecutor Juan Martinez, who has since been disbarred because of Arizona State Bar complaints against him, led the cross-examination of Arias. He had become known throughout the trial for his emotional approach, and his back-and-forth with Arias was no different. “Mr. Martinez, your ego is not your amigo,” Eiglarsh quipped. “You don’t get up there and make it about you; you don’t take days; you don’t try to grandstand like he did.”

The case was made more difficult than it needed to be due to Martinez’s performance. Everything that was needed to convince the jury Arias was guilty was there. Her taking the stand was supposed to be an easy opportunity for the prosecution to seal the case. Instead, it made the suspect appear sympathetic and gave the defense an opening.

At one point in the proceedings, Martinez asked Arias to demonstrate how she was purportedly attacked by Alexander. He insisted she could not talk but rather had to show the court the “linebacker pose” she claimed to have been attacked from. The exchange seemed pointless and hostile. “First of all, nobody likes a bully,” Eiglarsh said. “What Juan Martinez is doing is being so overly aggressive unnecessarily, that it has to turn certain jurors off.” Additionally, he was ceding control of the situation. “You’re asking the defendant now to give her version, again, giving her another opportunity to then display for the jurors why she’s not guilty,” he lamented. “I would never do that.”

But that wasn’t the only faux pas. There was another memorable moment in which Arias herself called out Martinez for his tone, likening it to the hostility she says she experienced from Alexander that led her to act in self defense and kill him. Eiglarsh blamed a lack of preparation for the misstep. “You look at him, he doesn’t have those questions prepared. He’s just winging it. That’s what a rookie lawyer does or someone who doesn’t do cross examination,” he explained. “It’s not to say there’s no room for spontaneity, but I plan my spontaneity. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but… it’s all planned out.” 

Comparing Arias Taking the Stand to Alex Murdaugh and Amber Heard

In many ways, Martinez’s cross-examination of Arias benefited the defense. “The public doesn’t understand because they don’t see great cross examinations when they’re watching these high-profile cases,” Eiglarsh noted. One exception, however, was how Johnny Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez handled the questioning of Amber Heard in the defamation lawsuit he brought against her.

Megyn had nothing but praise for Vasquez’s approach. “She did exactly what we’re discussing – it was textbook,” she said. As she explained, Vasquez posed questions in the style of “isn’t this true?”, “isn’t that true?”, “and then you did this, and then this,” “isn’t that true, Ms Heard?”, “your honor, please direct the witness to answer my question and not to go on like this.” The result? “She controlled the witness,” Megyn said. “She was solid.” 

Contrast that performance with Martinez and what we saw from prosecutor Creighton Waters during the Alex Murduagh murder trial to see just how poorly things can go for the prosecution. “It would have been over and done with had they done it properly, but they let him go on,” Megyn said. As a result, she believes the jury had a chance to “bond” with Murdaugh, which was an “unnecessary risk.” 

Ultimately, Martinez and Waters failed because they allowed the cross-examinations to get away from them. “There’s no need for that. There’s no reason to take a risk on a single question,” Eiglarsh concluded. “Good lawyers carefully craft everything we think about, everything we’re doing. These guys looked like they were winging it, and they were. That’s unacceptable.” 

You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Eiglarsh about the Jodi Arias trial by tuning in to episode 571 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.