Interview with Cold Case Homicide Detective J. Warner Wallace, Part 1
The nature of evidence, how cases are built using evidence, and attitudes that investigators have when trying to determine “what happened.”
In this episode, Abdu sits down with his friend and nationally recognized cold case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace to talk about the nature of evidence, how cases are built using evidence, and attitudes that investigators have when trying to determine “what happened.” Along the way, they apply the discussion to our individual searches for the truth about Jesus.
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Abdu Murray: All rise and welcome to another episode of The Defense Rests, I'm Abdu Murray, I'm your host, trial attorney, and Senior Vice President with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. The Defense Rests is a podcast where we take a look at the claims for and the objections against the Christian faith from a legal perspective—where we look at the rules of evidence, we look at the rules of trial procedure, we look at the way lawyers assess a case, whether to bring one, how to present it to a jury. And then, we also ask, how do juries think? What do juries do when they're presented with cases? How do judges make their rulings? And what are the instructions that a judge would give to a jury when a case is submitted? How they should be unbiased, how they can look at evidence, how does circumstantial evidence works? How does direct evidence works? All these kind of things are the procedures, methods, and the principles we want to apply when we're looking at claims for and objections against the Christian worldview.
Well, this particular episode I'm very excited to have my friend and apologist of the first rank, and a bit of a celebrity of course, as someone who's been featured on major mainstream network television, J. Warner Wallace. Many of you might know the name J. Warner Wallace, if you're at all following the apologetics world, you will know who Jim is. Jim is a Dateline featured cold case homicide detective. He's been a cold case homicide detective for a long time, and he's been featured on network television, like I said, Dateline. And in fact, I've had the pleasure of watching a few episodes that featured Jim on some extremely tough cases. Maybe he'll tell us a little bit about that, apply some of the principles he's used to solve decades old cases, to how we can look at decades, in fact, centuries old, evidence for the reliability of the Scriptures, for the historicity of the resurrection, and these kinds of things.
Jim is a popular national speaker who's spoken at many, many different places, including major apologetics conferences, as well. You can find him on YouTube, you can find him all over social media as well. His book, Cold-Case Christianity is a bestseller, and it lays out the principles of what it takes to gather evidence, make a case, and then submit that case to a prosecutor so that it can be presented to a jury. So, you're in for a treat. You’re in for a real treat. And by the way, I won't say all of his background, but Jim wasn't always a Christian. He was not raised in a Christian home, and it was the evidence that got him to put his faith in Christ. Not a feeling only, not sort of a mere emotional step, but it was the evidence that got him to consider and then ultimately, embrace the truth of Christianity. So, Jim, without further ado, welcome to The Defense Rests.
J. Warner Wallace: Well, thanks for having me. I think that just listening to you talk about what you're doing on this podcast, and isn't it great that there is this kind of laboratory for epistemology? Where we get a chance to test...Not only theory about what is truth and how do you make a case for truth, but most of the time, I don't think I've done a jury trial or we didn't take the time...Then maybe one or two early on in my career, where we didn't take the time to interview jurors afterwards to ask them, "Okay, so how do we do over here? How do we do over there? What was the most compelling thing for you? What did you like? What did you not like?" And asked them about every single witness we called up there to see what they thought of each witness.
And so, you get a chance in that kind of a setting. It's like it's a laboratory for truth claims and for making the case. And you and I are lucky that we've had that opportunity, because it does teach you not only about the nature of truth and how to make the case, but also, it shows you every place you messed up, which is good, because wisdom, as you know, comes out of our failures, not out of our victories. So, it's been an enlightening process as well.
Abdu Murray: Oh, absolutely, I can recall, and I want to get into your story a little bit too. But as I recall, doing mock juries, oftentimes, you have a big case, and you would present your case before a mock jury, and oftentimes, you would not tell the jurors necessarily that there's no consequence to this, it's not a fake trial, as it were. You'd present your case, and you'd present the other side as strongly as possible to find out all the weaknesses in your own case. And you'd have a pool of 30 or 40 jurors in different settings, and they would hear the evidence, and then they would deliberate, and you get to watch them deliberate.
And what was fascinating about that was, you had a range, a gamut of different people, you'd have really, really conscientious people, who really thought hard about, okay, what are the elements of the claim? How does the evidence actually apply to the elements of the claim? What is my duty based on the instructions I was given as a juror? And then they do that. But then there are people who are in the middle, people who...They care about the evidence and the way it was presented, but they have sort of...But I'm going to apply it from a knee-jerk reaction, I'm going to apply from my own background. And nothing's wrong with that, but they're not as sort of stringent in terms of their application of the evidence rules and the jury instruction they were given.
But then...And I'm sure you had the same thing, I'm going to tie this together to why I think this is important, I'd like you to comment on this. But then, there were times when you looked at the jurors, and they were deciding the case on things that had almost nothing to do with the evidence, and had everything to do with either a preconceived notion that they carried with them, that they managed to hide when you were doing the voir dire and asking them what their preconceived notions were. Or, it was something that struck them funny during the trial, and you're thinking, “Oh my goodness, that's what mattered?” Did you have similar situations like that?
J. Warner Wallace: I talk about this in a book called Forensic Faith where I say that...People ask me all the time, where do you win... All of our cases are in Los Angeles County, it's at a public courthouse, you are under scrutiny only because we're probably fifteen minutes down the road from NBC Universal. So, in a lot of my cases, Dateline is in the courtroom with us while we're doing this. And so, if you look at the different aspects of a jury trial, the opening statement, the evidence show over, all those weeks where you're showing the evidence and calling witnesses, and calling the experts, and you have the closing argument, and you have jury deliberation, well, none of those really are where we win cases. We win cases every single time at jury selection.
And so, we became experts at this, what is exactly what you're saying, if you've got somebody who doesn't think that they need to even pay attention to the jury instructions, there's a reason why judges give jury instructions to jurors. It's not just that we are going to give you evidence, but we're going to teach you what to do with it. Because if you don't know what to do with it, there's a good chance you're going to go sideways at some point in this jury deliberation, right? And so, for us, we always stage this because every one of our trials is on a calendar, and so they want to move quickly, they don't want to delay. So, we try to get to jury selection to this, calling the...We actually always use surveys for our juries, we'll create a survey that we think is going to help us just figure out who's who in the zoo. And we'll try to angle that toward a Wednesday to give the survey, and by the time we get half days in court, we'll usually grab a weekend in which to read the surveys.
And so, by the time they come back for the actual voir dire process on Monday, we already have a list of the people we want on the jury. And we know that a lot of those guys are going to get kicked by the defense team, but we also know who juror number 32 is, and we'll see him coming, and we know we want to eventually get to that guy if we don't want number 28, let's say, and each of us gets a certain number of exemptions. So, it's about jury selection. And by the way, both sides know this, it's not like we're the only ones doing this. If both sides do this, they both know, defense attorneys and prosecutors, that if you don't have the right jurors in place, you don't get the result you're looking for.
And that's helpful for us to know even as evangelists, because it turns out that jury selection...Most of us don't spend any time assessing who it is we're talking to, to ask the question, is this person...I have a range I talk about in the book, one to fours, I don't empanel any fours, okay?
Abdu Murray: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
J. Warner Wallace: Defense attorneys don't empanel any ones, ones are totally pro-prosecution, fours are totally defense, okay?
Abdu Murray: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
J. Warner Wallace: We're working for twos and threes, the people in the middle. They might be on one side or the other, but they are, for the most part, open-minded enough, passionate enough, they are moral enough to do the right thing, even though they may be inclined in one direction or the other. Twos and threes get on juries, ones and fours get excluded.
How many times you're talking to somebody about the Gospel, and you know it's a four, you know this is an anti-theist. You’re the nail, he's the hammer, and he's just waiting to hammer you, especially on social media? I mean, it's pretty obvious, so will I say something? Of course. But will I have high expectations when I'm talking to a four? No, I'm realistic. This is how fours behave and I would never put them on a jury. And if I'm going to spend time with people, they're going to be twos and threes, the people who are undecided, there're one or the other, but they're open-minded still, those who we want to talk to.
Abdu Murray: It's interesting because this ties in right to a Gospel challenge on how to present a case or engage with someone on the truth of the Gospel message. In Colossians 4:5-6, and this is a verse that I have basically lived my entire ministry by, whether it's doing evangelism or it's even just doing training of people to do evangelism. The Apostle Paul says in Colossians 4, to walk in wisdom toward outsiders. Now that wisdom isn't just to walk blindly towards them, it's to try to understand and read the terrain, read the situation, read the mindset of the person you're speaking to, especially if they're an outsider, not a Christian, someone who doesn't agree with what you have to say. And then he makes the statement where he says, “making the best use of the time.” Now, he's Mediterranean, he's my people, and we're not the most efficient people at conversation, that's just not who we are.
But what he's saying is, is speak to the issue the person actually cares about, present the evidence in a way that speaks to the particular bent that they might have. But you also, I think, at some point have to couple that with when Jesus says, "Cast not your pearls before swine." Now, we can't use it as a cop out not to engage in difficult conversations, what Jesus is basically saying is, at some point, if you're praying up the situation, you have enough wisdom and God-given wisdom, it will be revealed to you who exactly you're speaking to. Are you speaking to a four, or are you speaking to a one, or are you looking to somebody who can become a two or three? And then, he says, of course at the end, "Let your speech be gracious, always season with salt, so you may know how you ought to answer each person."
And that part of the person is something I've always said is so critical. The Apostle Paul could have said, "So you may know how you ought to answer each charge, or each claim, or each objection, or each worldview." He doesn't say that, what he says is “answer each person how you ought to answer everyone.” We answer people, and we present the case to people, bottom line is, we do have claims, elements, charges, we have to prove or defend against, but at some point, who are we proving or defending it to? It’s to people, we have to recognize who they are. And I think that's a critical aspect of it.
Can I shift for just a moment, because I wanted everybody to get a background on you a little bit more than just you're detective and you're a Christian? I wanted you to weave in a little bit more of the story about how, as a detective who was not a Christian before, who... If I'm not mistaken, Jim, you were a four, right?
Abdu Murray: You transitioned into being a little more open-minded about it. Can you give us some flavor for that?
J. Warner Wallace: Well, yeah, my whole family was for the most...Well, not my whole family, I mean, some of them are now more benign, but the guy who I respected the most and looked to, my dad is...I think he is now maybe...He's maybe more of a three than he was. He's atheist so it has just taken some time and lots of conversations with him. And I became a Christian at 35. So, I was somebody who...And I was just discouraged in many ways. First of all, I was raised in that Star Trek first generation era, in which we thought that eventually science would...We were on the moon, I thought we'd probably be at Mars in five years. We had high expectations for what science could do. And I think a lot of us did in that generation.
I remember sitting and watching the Lunar Landing and watching them walk on the surface of the moon, and just thinking, “man, anyone who thinks that science is not going to answer your most important questions is probably an idiot.” And I just grew up that way and went to university, I have an undergraduate degree in graphic arts. And I will tell you that that's a pretty liberal setting. And then, I got a master's degree at UCLA, which is a pretty liberal school, didn't meet any Christians during that time. I became an architect, and then after that, I became a cop. Now, I did meet some people in law enforcement who were Christians, not a lot that were outwardly outspoken Christians, but there were a few. But they were these experiential types, and that's just not me.
And when you ask them, "Well, why do you think this is true?" Or you push back a little bit, you offer an objection, they really were not able to answer those objections. And the other people we met, and I say this all the time, and I don't mean anything derogatory about it, but it's so true, my son has been in the job now for eight years. So, my dad's name is Jim Wallace, he was there for 28 years. My name is Jim Wallace, I was there for 25. My son is named Jim Wallace, he's been there eight or nine. And so, we've been at that same agency doing the same job for 60 years. And as I look at this, I think to myself, well, am I the only one? But no, my son's experiencing it, too. We meet a lot of people that do a lot of terrible things that we take to jail, who on the way back to jail will tell us that they are Christians.
Abdu Murray: Wow.
J. Warner Wallace: My son just took a guy to jail for over 100 commercial burglaries, and as he's him driving back, the guy told him, yeah, he's been leading Bible studies, as he's doing commercial burglaries. So, it's like, you meet those kind of people enough as a non-believer who's pretty sarcastic about believers to begin with, and suddenly he is like, "I'm over it. These people are all idiots, and I don't want anything to do with them." And that was my position for a lot of years. But my wife was more open-minded about this, she's the one who wanted to, "Well, should we raise our kids in the faith?" And I was like, "No, but if you want to, I mean, I'm happy to go if you want to go." I've never really talked a lot about my testimony because I think it's not important. I don't think anyone's testimony is important, to be honest. What's important is, is it true? That's all I really want to hear.
I've got a family that were raised Mormon, my dad's a pretty committed atheist, but my stepmother is Mormon, and I bet half brothers and sisters all raised LDS. And they've all got strong testimonies, this does not make Mormonism true.
Abdu Murray: Right.
J. Warner Wallace: And most of us would say, "Yeah, so what?" What is the first thing we do as Christians is we offer our testimony. I'm writing another book, and I am speaking a little bit more about that journey in the next book. But again, it doesn't really matter, to me, it's about, well, what did you learn about the evidence, that was so important to me? But that's how I ended up looking at it. My wife wanted to go to church, and so I stepped foot in the church, and the pastor was a guy who just described Jesus as super smart. And that was interesting to me, I thought, why does he think he's so smart? I went out and bought a Pew Bible, and just started reading through the Gospels. And then, there was the texture of the Gospels, the fact that they didn't agree, that provoked me to take them seriously.
Because, as you know, my whole job is the constant interviewing of witnesses, that's what I do for a living. I make cases that are entirely circumstantial, and I'm talking about witnesses who didn't see the crime, but they have some piece of the puzzle. So, those occasions that I am involved in witnesses, I'm stuck trying to assess their reliability. I don't ever have cases where I've got a witness who actually saw the thing, because I'm working cold cases, those are just unsolved cases. It's not the expert witnesses, and you got to talk to all these people. So, I work a lot of fresh cases, fresh homicides in my career, and in those situations, now that you do have direct evidence, you do have eyewitnesses, and they are going to be talking about what they saw.
Abdu Murray: Can we pause for a moment? I've already talked about it, but I'd like to hear from the detective side of it, what is the difference between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence, and how it impacts an investigation?
J. Warner Wallace: Sure. Now, there's jury instructions for this that decide, but I think sometimes they could be a little bit...If I'm honest, I think sometimes they could be a little bit confusing when I describe them to people, so I'm not going to do that. But direct evidence quite simply is eyewitness testimony. If someone can say, "Yeah, I saw X and I can testify, and I can be examined and cross examined because I am the source of this information. I saw something happen." Eyewitness testimony falls in that category of direct evidence. Everything else is indirect evidence, fingerprints, indirect, DNA, indirect, forensic like gunshot residue, indirect. I mean, anything else other than eyewitness statements is indirect evidence, which is also called circumstantial evidence.
Now, I'm going to read you quickly just the kinds of...This is the jury instruction from CALCRIM, this is California Jury Instruction 223 on direct and circumstantial evidence. It says that, "Facts may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence or by a combination of both. Direct evidence can prove a fact by itself. For example, if a witness testifies he saw it raining outside before he came into the courthouse, that testimony is direct evidence that it was raining. Circumstantial evidence..." That's also called indirect evidence, "Also may be called indirect evidence," he says, "And circumstantial evidence does not directly prove the fact to be decided, but is evidence of another fact or group of facts from which you may logically and reasonably conclude the truth of the fact in question. For example, if a witness testifies that he saw someone come inside wearing a raincoat cover with drops of water, that testimony is circumstantial evidence because it may support a conclusion that it was raining outside but this guy is not coming inside and saying it's raining."
Abdu Murray: Right.
J. Warner Wallace: "Both direct and circumstantial evidence..." This is the important part, "Are acceptable types of evidence to prove or disprove the elements of a charge, including intent and mental state and acts necessary to a conviction, and neither is necessarily more reliable than the other, neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other. You must decide whether a fact, an issue has been proved based on all the evidence." So, this is why this is so important for you and me because we don't have witnesses we can cross examine, I think we have witness accounts in the Gospels. But unlike in a courtroom, I cannot cross examine...I don't think that actually applies in this case. But the point is, I cannot cross examine them. We're basically going to assemble a large body of indirect evidence, but that doesn't mean it's lame, that doesn't mean it's weak. That just means...And by the way, my cases are almost entirely circumstantial because of the nature of cold cases.
Abdu Murray: Right.
J. Warner Wallace: And I've never lost a case, and people find these very powerful.
Abdu Murray: Well, that's the thing that's interesting, and I said this in my episode as well, is that oftentimes...So, what I'll do oftentimes, Jim, is that I'll play a clip from something like either an atheist objection or a Muslim objection or someone from the non-Christian perspective, and then respond to the objection. But sometimes, I'll play something from popular media that puts the legal profession or the whole legal system in a light that is sort of popularized. So, my cousin Vinnie is a good example where the defense attorney, the public defender, his entire opening statement is...As he stammers through it because he's nervous, he says, "We intend to prove that the prosecution's case is entirely circumstantial." As if this is like a big point, and this a good idea. And people say, "Oh." And you'll see the cop shows where everyone says, "Well, you can't prove that counselor, it's entirely circumstantial."
Well, most cases are...If not entirely, they are probably 80 to 90% circumstantial. So, if you applied that standard to almost every single case ever brought before a jury or before a judge in a bench trial, you would never be able to prove anything. So, you have to understand that circumstantial evidence does not mean flimsy, it does not mean speculative, it does not mean entirely based on...You can't meet the burden of proof, it doesn't mean that at all. It just means that there's circumstances surrounding each piece of evidence that interlock together. And sometimes, the fact of the matter is, circumstantial evidence can be better than direct evidence in one sense, because the circumstances can show the credibility of a witness better than just direct evidence. Because he could be lying, but if you have circumstances that surrounded, you can actually shore up a case. And I'm sure you've done that. You had to have done it because of the nature of your cases.
J. Warner Wallace: I love circumstantial evidence, because circumstantial evidence is not lying to you.
Abdu Murray: Right.
J. Warner Wallace: Now, you might misinterpret it, you might misinfer from the collection of circumstantial pieces, but there's no evil motive or self-serving motive on the part of circumstantial evidence, because it's not a person who's trying to...Witnesses do sometimes. Are sometimes motivated by some self-serving drive that causes them to say something that's not true. And then, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out if that's even true.
Abdu Murray: Right.
J. Warner Wallace: But circumstantial evidence is actually motive free. So, it comes to you and it sits there, and you get to infer from it, and it doesn't bring any bias with it. So, in some ways, you're right, that is better. Let me just say something, though, about the dirty little secrets of the criminal justice trial process that people don't think about. They're out there for you to see, but no one actually thinks about them. The first one is that, the percentage of cases nationwide...I've just been searching for data on this, and I cannot find anything I really trust. But it's a very high percentage of cases, nationally, criminal cases, that are 100% circumstantial, I mean, entirely, circumstantial.
And the reason why is because if I've got a case that is dominated by direct evidence, that dude's probably taking a plea deal. That dude is probably not going to trial. That's a guy who's trying to figure out how to...He knows he's been cornered by five witnesses, and so now...But if it's a circumstantial case, you're more likely to test your chances, right? Because you feel like you don't have a witness on me, so I'm just going to see what I can do with this. So, that's the first thing. And number two, is another thing that people don't realize, I mean, they do, but they don't think about it, we're seeing this a little bit now, is that district attorneys are elected officials, and they run every four years, and they run on the basis of their success rate. And what they want to be able to say is I've won 94 or 96% of my cases, I've won 94 to 96...I mean, really?
DAs across the country are generally able to say that. And the reason why they're able to say they have such a high conviction rate is because they don't file everything we bring them. As a matter of fact, they file very little of what I bring them. Most of DAs if they don't think the 12 idiots will find this guy guilty, they will not file the case. Now, I know that sounds terrible, but that has been my experience for years, was my dad's experience before me, is that this needs to be slam dunk because DAs do not want a bunch of these. So, at the end of four years when they do their database, and they realize, yeah, in South Bay where this guy is filing cases down there for me, they've lost 60% of these, and now, I got to carry that through an election process. No, I'm not doing that.
So, they are very strict. There are trial deputies in every office, and there are filing deputies in every office. Filing deputies usually are people who have experience as a trial deputy, but now they're at some point in their career where they're willing to sit behind a desk and just listen to cops come in and say, "Here's my case." And they are, for the most part, known to us to be cranky, demanding, and usually say no. So, that's the reality of it. So, here's the problem I have with it, is that that means by the time you get into a trial situation, for the most part, these are the kinds of cases where there's a huge body of evidence that was so convincing to the filing deputy that he was willing to file it in the first place. And really, their final point is so tight, Abdu, that there's no excuse to lose that in trial.
The filing deputy when he filed it, he's like, "Hey, this is a winner." And so, if the trial attorney who gets assigned the case loses it, he has really kind of put the filing deputy in a place that... "Thanks. I filed this case, I was sure we could win it, and you lost it. How could you lose this case? It's so easy." So, that's the kind of dynamic you're working with as a detective trying to get cases filed.
Abdu Murray: Well, it's so interesting that the dynamic is so different in one sense from civil cases, and I was a business attorney, so a lot of my cases were... Well, business attorney is a bit of a loose term, I mean, we had fraud cases and we defended against personal injury stuff, if our clients had it. But we had the...There was a give and a take. So, when you have a criminal system like this, one of the reasons why I would imagine the filing detective, or the filing officer, or the prosecutor themselves, the district attorney, would make an assessment as to, I'm only going to bring a sure winner, is because the burden of proof is high. It's definitely higher than a civil case where you have two...We have three different kind of burdens of proof, but the two burdens of proof that you're really dealing with are essentially preponderance of the evidence, or with all the great weight of the evidence, or clear and convincing.
So, what ends up happening though, is that I'm sitting in my office and a client walks in, or gives me a call and says, "Hey, I want to sue X, Y and Z," or "I'm being sued by X, Y, and Z." Now, I can't decide whether to take that case or not, this is my client. Now, I can decide by saying, "Hey, this is a loser, you're going to lose."
Most civil cases are not like that, though. They're not the kind of thing where it's clearly obvious you're wrong, once in a while, that's the case, but usually, what happens is, is that everyone has an arguable or a colorable claim or a defense. And so, you have to take it, and you have to basically make the assessment as to the evidence, and over the course of the case in discovery before it goes to trial. And in civil cases, you're not entitled to a speedy trial, you're entitled to a trial at some point, and it could be years.
And it happens in criminal cases too, relatively rarely, but it does happen, of course, where things are delayed for years, for various reasons. But in civil cases, depending how big it is, you could have years before you go to trial. Now, the reason I bring this up is because there does come a time when you're looking at the evidence...And I don't want to give the audience the impression of, is that, the only case you should ever make to a jury...In this case, the jury would be someone who's not a Christian, is the case you know you can win. Because what you're trying to do is meet a burden of proof. And in some instances, it is preponderance of the evidence, or it's clear and convincing. Other times it's beyond all reasonable doubt.
But in our conversations about God, for example, you don't need to meet the beyond all doubt standard, in fact, that would never be meetable. You can never actually cross that hurdle, because everyone can have some modicum of doubt in some way, even on a ridiculous level, like, do I even exist? Kind of a thing. But you do have different levels of burdens of proof. So, what I want to give the audience the impression of is that...Obviously, in your line of work, the stakes are very high and the burden of proof is very high, because the stakes are so high. In my line of work, it was more like, well, money would exchange, and people could get over it, not always, but for the most part.
But when someone's freedom is at stake, their constitutional right to live in a free society, the burden of proof is naturally very high, which means that a good scrupulous detective and a good scrupulous prosecutor will only prosecute those claims that they know they can win...And I know there's a cynicism there, of course, with elections and all that. But if you're taking the scrupulous level, you want to say, "Can I meet this constitutionally correct burden of proof?" But I don't want to give the audience the impression that you can only bring cases that you know you're going to win, because that wouldn't be, I think, a reasonable presentation of the way the evidence for Christianity actually works. So, you have to gather it in a certain way and understand what the burdens level are. So, anyway-
J. Warner Wallace: Yeah.
Abdu Murray: Go ahead.
J. Warner Wallace: We need to be clear, too, about what we mean by...People will always say, "Well, what do you mean by reasonable doubt? That's a high standard. What percentage do I need to be at of certainty?" That's not how it works, right? It's not a number game. It's not like you're going to do Bayesian theory or a theorem, or you have an entire calculable equation. You plug in all these variables, and you get something...That's just not the way it works. We ask jurors to use their common sense.
I'll give you an example of what the jury instruction is here in California, for reasonable doubt, I'll just read it to you. "A defendant in a criminal case is presumed to be innocent. This presumption..." Again, this is what the judge reads the jury as they're talking about the issue of reasonable doubt. "This presumption requires that people prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Whenever I tell you that people must prove something, I mean, they must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, unless I specifically tell you otherwise. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you with an abiding conviction that the charge is true."
This is the important line I think, "The evidence need not eliminate all possible doubt, because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt." I'll continue, "In deciding whether the people have proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, you must impartially compare and consider all the evidence that was received throughout the entire trial. Unless the evidence proves the defendant or defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he, she, or they are entitled to an acquittal, and you must find him, her or them not guilty." So, the difference here is clear in that second paragraph, I read you, that it's the evidence need not eliminate all possible doubt because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. How we would say it in our closing argument is we would say, do not get in that jury room and be sitting around going, "What if?" No, there's no what-if questions. Because that means you're imagining something beyond the scope of the evidence that was presented to you.
Abdu Murray: Right.
J. Warner Wallace: If you're saying, "Hey..." So, reasonable doubts are grounded in evidence you can talk about, you can point to. Possible and imaginary doubts are you saying, "Well, yeah, but what if there was a burglar who happened to be in that neighborhood and he broke in, and he's the one who did it?" Well, do you have any evidence of a burglary? Do you have any evidence of a string of burglaries? Do you have any evidence that anything was broken into, or there's any evidence of a forced entry of a burglary? Do you have any evidence anything was taken in a burglary? You have none of that. So, this is clearly a doubt that you have that isn't even possible, or an imaginary category, because you have no evidence to actually bring it into the reasonable category.
So, what we try to tell jurors is that we want to make sure they distinguish between possible doubts, that's a much higher standard, we could never meet that. That means that I cannot answer all of your questions. I have never answered every question for a jury in any criminal trial. And there's always open questions, sometimes the open questions are quite large. They are sometimes in the area of why did he do it? What's the motive? A lot of times we don't know. How exactly did he do it? Sometimes we don't know. I cannot know why he did it, or how he did it, yet still demonstrate that he did it. Now that's important for us as we talk to our friends about God. Because what it means is, that these process questions like, well, why would God, or how does God, are different than, that God exists.
I may not know why God did it this way, or how God created the world, we all debate about Genesis 1, exactly, what does that mean? Well, that's a how question. We have more than enough evidence, though, to demonstrate that God is the source of everything in the universe. But how exactly did he step through that process? That's a question you can ask it when you get to heaven. Because the reality of it is, I tell this all the time to people, our team is five detectives and a sergeant. The six of us, we all have a theory about how this guy did it, until he confesses. Now, sometimes, they'll confess afterwards. As a matter of fact, if they want an offer, a jury, a plea, we will tell them, "Yeah, we'll offer you life in prison instead of..." Sometimes we have cases that are executable, they actually are death penalty cases. And so, we'll say, "Okay, we'll take back the death penalty requirement, and you can just do life in jail. No possibility of parole, life without the possibility of parole, as an LWOP..." We call that in California.
And we'll say, "Hey, we'll offer you that. But to get it, you're going to have to tell us exactly how you did this." Because what we're trying to do is figure out which of the six of us had figured out how he did it, because none of us would know for sure. Again, the suspect will eventually have to tell you how he did it, to be sure. Same is true with God, I've got open questions about how God did certain things. But until God tells me how he did it, I won't know. But I still have more than enough evidence, more than enough reason to believe that he did it. I just don't know how he did.
Abdu Murray: So, this is an important thing because more often than not, most of the questions I get at open forums when I'm on a college campus, or I'm somewhere where there is a mix of Christians and non-Christians within the audience, a big percentage of the questions end up being phrased in the form of, why would God...Why would God create people that he knows are going to reject him? Why would God create a world where there's so much of this suffering that exists? And all these things. Now, the question is important because as somebody who wants to present the case in a way that doesn't just defend the Christian faith, but also commends the Christian faith, you want to be able to see, this is a question of the heart. Yes, it is an intellectual question, because there can be some issues like, well, it's not philosophically possible, where if God exists in form X, all loving, all powerful, then the circumstances we see cannot possibly be true. Maybe he's got to be not X or not even existed.
That's one thing, but the reality is yes, you're exactly right. Is that most of the time...And I've said this many times from the platform, is, whenever you presented me with the question of, “why would God?,” followed by some question, that requires an immense amount of speculation, because one, in one sense, it's irrelevant to whether or not God exists given the evidence we already have, like the historical evidence, some of the forensic and circumstantial evidence we have, the design inference for the universe, the historical evidence for the resurrection, the reliability of the Bible, some of these things that can be laid out. And we are entitled to explore whether it's through theological training or philosophical discovery, given God exists, why would he do the things He did in the way He did them? We can have open questions, even, in one sense, disturbing questions.
John the Baptist was fully convinced Jesus was the Christ, but then, in the moment of time, when there was all this happening, he was in jail for doing the right thing, he still sent people to Jesus and says, "Are you really the one who is to come or should we wait for another?" And then, Jesus gives him the evidence in response. He doesn't say, "Get away from me you filthy doubter who has questions." He didn't do that, he gave him evidence in response, "Go back and tell John what you've seen and heard." And these kind of things. So, why I bring this up, and why it's important, and why I think I want to dovetail what you just said, is that, we ought to explore the why-would-God questions but realize, you're asking a finite human being to crawl inside the infinite mind, and try to pull out a definitive answer as to why the infinite mind would do something that our very finite minds are not capable of understanding.
What we are capable of understanding, with a degree of certainty that meets reasonable doubt, or a preponderance of the evidence or clear and convincing is, did God move in history? And did God do things commensurate with the character? He tells us, He actually has? So, what I want to do is, I want to close on something and then I want to come back to, how do we know certain things? How do we know God did certain things, or that the eyewitness accounts are credible? So, if you stick around for the next episode, Jim, I would love to get you to talk about a little bit more about assessing eyewitness testimony, or whether certain statements are based on eyewitness testimony, and that kind of thing from the biblical perspective, because it's important for us to get back to what you just said. How can we tell that God did something, or that God exists, that can shore us up in those moments where we're not sure why God would do something, we can have comfort that God still exists and that he has done something to give us hope?
So, we can trust at what God will do, or why God has done something based on what God has already done. But as I close, I want to get your comment on something, because you raised something up when I asked about your story and how you became a believer. And I know that you're very famous for saying, "I didn't become a Christian, essentially, because it feels good, but because it's true, or not based on wishful thinking." I want to go back to a phrase I've heard often people say, and I'm going to get in a little bit of trouble for saying this. People are going to get upset because there's a sort of trope that a lot of Christians will use relative to testimony.
And I don't mean eyewitness testimony of a fact, I mean their personal testimony of how they became a Christian. It's this phrase, "You can't argue with a changed life." Now, my response to that typically is, sure you can. And I'm sure your response is the same, because we're sort of cut from the same cynical cloth as it were. Can you comment on this the whole idea of, you can't argue with a change to life.
J. Warner Wallace: Let's look at it this way. Last time somebody in your neighborhood moved in, a new person moved in your neighborhood, were you the first person to knock on their door with a gift basket, or it was the Mormon? Probably the Mormon. No one's lives are changed more for the better toward a more obvious open holiness than the Mormons I've seen, who become Mormons and are certainly part of a community that outperforms us at every turn. I mean, they will do more for the lie than we will do for the truth, that's an old saying, that's very, very true even today. So, in the end, the question is, “are you serious?” I know lots of people whose lives were changed by all kinds of things. I know people whose lives were changed by Oprah Winfrey, by Jordan Peterson, I mean, talk to Dave Rubin. I mean, there's a guy whose life was changed by a road trip with Jordan Peterson, forever changed. He's even considered some of the things that Jordan Peterson talks about for the first time in his life after having that time with him.
I mean, there are people who have changed lives based on any number of experiences, your experiences do not matter, sorry, get over it. Here's what I want. What I want is, I want a biblical use of the word “testimony.” You go through the book of Acts, that's where you'll find that word used and demonstrated repeatedly, when the apostles are testifying to Jesus. Show me where they're testifying to how their life was changed? No, actually, they're testifying to the resurrection, they were eyewitnesses. That's why there was a criteria for their selection, was that they were eyewitnesses. When Judas is no longer part of the group, and they're in, Acts 1, on the upper room selecting his replacement, the criteria was quite clear. They could have easily said, "Hey, whose life here has been changed? Okay, tell me how it has changed? Okay, good, you're in." No, no, no, it was, "Who here has seen Jesus from the baptism to the resurrection? I need an eyewitness to testify." That word is used very much.
Now you might say, "What about Paul in front of Agrippa?" He's talking about his experience to the road to...Do you know anything about Paul really, even now? He's got a thorn in his side, what was it? We don't know. Was he married? He appears at some point, like maybe he was married, he's a widower, or I don't know. Do you know anything about his personal life, honestly? He's getting his rear end kicked all over the planet, because he talks about that in many of his letters. But just think that testimony is how God has changed...I do not say that testimony about God, how God has changed your life is worthless, I'm not saying that. I'm not saying it's an either-or, it's a both-and.
If you're going to give me your...By the way, because I have a Mormon family who have been on missions trips, have been two years serving in missions. I will tell you, that the strategy always is with Mormon missionaries, at your door. That if at some point, you start to push back, they're going to default to their personal testimony because they believe that their personal testimony is transformation, has the power of God. Is just to speak it as the power of God to transform hearts. So at some point, if you push back, they cannot defend their worldview evidentially, so they're going to defend it with their personal testimony. Most of us as Christians know that that's probably not going to persuade us at the door. Maybe it will, I don't know. But why would you think that your personal testimony will persuade somebody else?
Remember, the guy who had the most personal testimony related to Jesus was his cousin, who leapt in the womb when they first met, his cousin who baptized him, his cousin who gave most of his disciples to Jesus, "There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," and all of a sudden, half of John's disciples are, "See you, I'm going with him." And the cousin who saw the Spirit of God descend in the form of a dove, that's the dude who had his doubts, who sent his disciples. And in the end, Jesus could have said any number of things, remember when we're looking at forensic statement analysis, I'm more interested in what you could have said but chose not to than I even am in what you said. So, Jesus there could have said a number of things, but he didn't say any of those. He could have said, "My cousin is asking this? The one who did all those things, who saw all that stuff? Really? You tell him to suck it up. You tell him to have a little more faith. You tell him to be praying about this." No, none of that.
Instead, he did exactly what you said, miracles in front of the disciples, go back and tell John what you just said. That is a committed evidentialist who understands the value of eyewitnesses, not to how their lives were changed. He's not saying, "Hey, go back and tell John how I changed all of your lives." No, He's saying, "Go back and tell John the miraculous acts you saw." Well, which one? The one, the biggest one is the resurrection. So yeah, I think in the end, that stuff matters. And I would just say, it's not about whether Jim Wallace or Abdu Murray think that your testimony needs to be a certain way. Just take a biblical approach to the word “testimony,” given the examples that are set in the book of Acts, and you'll probably find yourself talking a little bit less about your transformation. But that does mean you're going to have to know something about making case for the resurrection.
Abdu Murray: That's right. And so, let me close off the episode with this, and I'm looking forward to spending a little more time with you. And you used the phrase “forensic statement analysis,” I'm going to give a teaser now, ladies and gentlemen, come back for the next episode, we're going to unpack that little phrase that Jim just used about forensic statement analysis. It's a mouthful of a phrase, but when you understand the concept, you'll see just how valuable it actually is. Let me tie off the episode as I bring this to a close. And Thanks, Jim, for spending the time with us on this one, I'm looking forward to the next one. Let me close it off at this. My testimony oftentimes, is used as a way to get Muslims to consider the claims of the Gospel, time and time again, that's happened. And it's not invalid, because my testimony much like many people's whether it's Jim's, or it's Nabeel Qureshi's, or other people, they came...David Wood is another example of somebody who came very hostile to the Christian faith but ended up giving his life to Christ.
What that testimony does, there's two aspects to a testimony that help get you to, does it really matter that someone's life has changed? It's not that the life-change means it's true, but it might get you to think, maybe it's true given why and how they were willing to embrace a life change, or embrace a message that could lead to a life change. The change itself isn't the important thing. What I would say to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury is this, is that if you were to look at my testimony, if there's any value to it whatsoever, it's that any price I was willing to pay to become a Christian was based on the fact that I knew there was a price, I knew there was going to be consequences, and I was not about to pay those prices and that consequence unless I was sure it was true. And if it wasn't true, it would not be worth it.
Now, does that prove my conclusion true? No, it absolutely does not prove my conclusion true. What it does is simply give you...Or if you're not a Christian, by the way, it might give you pause to say, "If this guy was willing to stake so much on this claim he did not believe, maybe I should start to investigate it." So, the power of a testimony based on the uphill climb is not that it proves anything true, it simply might inspire you to say, "Well, if that guy or if that gal thought, maybe it's worth paying a price, then maybe I should look into it." Now, that doesn't prove anything true, it might not even inspire you, but that's the power that it has.
The other part of it is this, and Jim alluded to this earlier on in the episode is that, there are people who wear the moniker of Christian, or who might wear the paraphernalia, or have the tattoos, or whatever it might be, or have the bumper sticker, and live a life completely duplicitous or opposite of the faith they profess. And that testimony becomes in the mind of many, a potential juror who is the trier of fact in the case. They might be biased against their eyewitness testimony or their presentation of the case, because they're like, "You're a hypocrite in some way." That is why a transformed life doesn't have relevance to whether something is true, but it does have relevance to whether you're going to present your case in the first place.
So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my guest has been Jim Wallace, bestselling author, cold case homicide detective, Dateline featured guest on several episodes, some of the more popular ones. And he has, as a cold case homicide detective, presented us with a method for understanding how evidence actually works.
So, join us next time to talk more about specific methods in which we can actually assess and gather evidence. I want to ask him a couple of more questions on the motivations behind...When you look at a possible suspect, what are you actually trying to do? What is the motivation behind persons of interest, suspects, how we apply that to the Christian faith, and the claims for and against, and of course, that magical phrase you used earlier...It's not a magical phrase, but it's an important phrase, forensic statement analysis. So, Jim, it's been great to have you on this episode, looking forward to the next one. And, friends, until next time, the defense rests.
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