Novelist and Filmmaker assesses the impact of story telling on famous murder trials

Olshaker uses his background in crime writing to analyze failed murder cases (photo by Gopi Raghu).
Olshaker uses his background in crime writing to analyze failed murder cases (photo by Gopi Raghu).

The Department of Criminology, Law and Society hosted a night exposing failed murder cases and what caused them to fail with famed novelist and filmmaker Mark Olshaker .

On October 30th, Olshaker focused on three highly publicized murder cases- the West Memphis Three, Meredith Kercher (the Amanda Knox case), and JonBenet Ramsey.  

With his background in crime writing, Olshaker made the argument that storytelling and court cases go hand in hand as they share many similarities. As Olshaker points out, a detective is like an author because they must piece together any evidence they can find to create a convincing story that the jury will believe.

While evidence is important in making a case during a trial, a compelling story can be just as convincing. In the cases of the West Memphis Three and Amanda Knox, the prosecution in both trials listed satanic rituals as possible motives for murder. Both cases also involved heavy and stressful interrogations that led to false confessions.“False confessions are easy, true confessions are difficult,” Olshaker said.

With the JonBenet Ramsey murder, the police was convinced that JonBenet’s parents were responsible for her death. As Olshaker discussed, the numerous theories regarding her murder did not follow the evidence that was found at the scene of the crime. The media ultimately went with the idea that JonBenet’s parents were at fault, despite other evidence pointing to potential other suspects.

While JonBenet’s case remains unsolved, both the guilty verdict of the West Memphis Three and Amanda Knox were overturned. Such cases are not uncommon, and Olshaker pointed out that many similar cases exist.

At the end of the presentation, the audience was allowed to ask questions regarding the presentation. Olshaker emphasized during this session the need to hold people accountable and the importance of evidence in court cases.

The presentation was a great way for students to see crimes and the judicial system in a new light. Despite what the evidence may say, Olshaker puts it best by saying that “some stories are just better than others.”

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