Wanda Draper: How did I become an expert witness in murder trials?

by | Aug 20, 2019 | Featured Article | 2 comments

While teaching human development to doctors in the Oklahoma University College of Medicine, I received a call from an investigator in a capital murder case. He asked if I would come to court and testify about the impact on two siblings—ages four and six years old—who watched their father shoot and kill their mother. He said they were desperate to have an expert. I never expected such a request.  I’d never even seen a murder trial—other than on TV—and never had any training about testifying in murder cases. He told me they needed me “this week.”  I said I’d call him back the next day with my answer—knowing I would have to say no.

On second thought, I decided to talk about the request with a psychologist colleague down the hall.  He told me not to touch it.  Then, I spoke with a sociologist in the office next to me.  He said they would impeach me on the stand because I had never testified before in such a case. Finally, I talked with my supervisor, a child psychiatrist and director of the unit.  He said it would be professional suicide—stay away from it. 

The next day, I called the investigator and told him I would do it. Before the week was out, I found myself in court on the witness stand. Of course, I went in with fear and trembling, but my inside voice said “you can do it!” After testifying for at least two hours, I left the courtroom not knowing the outcome—but I assumed that was the end of my “testifying career.”  In a couple of weeks, I received a phone call from an attorney asking me to work on another case. That was over thirty years ago.  I am still testifying as an expert, having worked on over one hundred capital murder cases in several states. In each case, there are two core questions: “What is justice?”  and “Are killers born or created?” The Witness: Unfolding the Anatomy of the Killer explores these two questions and more.


  1. Charito

    What is justice?” such an impactful question

    • Aria Lewis

      True, in our society now, I think justice can be defined and redefined depending on who needs it.


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