Prosecution Cross-Examines Defense Expert Witness in Murder Trial


 by Haroutun Bejanyan

The October 8 afternoon session in the trial of Susan Hoskins primarily consisted of the prosecution’s cross-examination of the defense’s expert witness, Dr. Linda Bernard. She is a retained psychologist who had interviewed Susan Hoskins in jail on the 2nd and 13th of April 2015, eight months after the incident had occurred on the evening of August 3, 2014.

The deputy district attorney questioned Dr. Bernard about the various assessments, reports and interviews she had conducted over the months following the incident, not only with Susan herself, but also with Susan’s co-workers, family and friends.

Dr. Bernard’s goal regarding Susan Hoskins’ case was to ultimately assess whether Susan’s circumstances were consistent with that of a victim of intimate partner battery. Based on interviews with Susan’s coworkers, friends and neighbors, Dr. Bernard conclusively deemed Susan to be indeed a battered woman.

The prosecution brought up the possibility that, since Dr. Bernard did not interview Susan until eight months after her arrest, Susan had sufficient time to think about what to say, and thus had an opportunity to make up a story. Dr. Bernard did not deny this possibility.

Directly drawing from Susan’s testimony on October 6, the prosecution asked Dr. Bernard whether Susan had ever specifically mentioned that, on the evening of the incident, Bryan was angry like she had never seen him before and his behavior was unusual compared to any of his past drunken states. Dr. Bernard replied that Susan had never mentioned it in her interviews.

In her testimony on October 6, Susan herself revealed that, during her interview with Detective Toll shortly after her arrest, she realized that Bryan was already dead when the ambulance rode off in the background without the siren sounding.

The prosecution referred to this very point when they declared that, even though Susan knew Bryan was dead, she still did not say that Bryan had abused her.

According to the prosecution, with her husband dead, Susan did not have any reason – such as fear of her husband retaliating or the legal repercussions he would face from authorities – not to confess her husband’s abuse of her. Yet again, no mention of abuse was made.

Dr. Bernard had written in her medical report that of the three forms of abuse – physical, sexual and psychological – suffered by Susan at the hands of her husband Bryan, the most severe in her case was the one with invisible scars, namely, psychological/coercive abuse.

Although Bryan did not like or want Susan to visit family or friends, or go to work, and he tried to limit her freedom to a certain degree, Dr. Bernard said there is no indication that he directly restricted her from engaging in those activities. The prosecution cited as an example that Susan had even been able to travel abroad to Italy and Japan by herself.

However, there was evidence in Dr. Bernard’s report that on countless occasions Bryan did use psychological coercion to exercise control over Susan by implying that he would commit suicide if she left him, stating, “If you leave me, there is nothing worth living for.”

Another reported means by which Bryan utilized this psychological coercion was through the act of cleaning his guns in a threatening manner while in the presence of Susan, which made her feel uncomfortable and intimidated. Susan had stated in her interview with Dr. Bernard that, since Bryan also worked in law enforcement at the time, it further heightened her sense of fear.

From the defense team, attorney Shannan Dugan stepped in for the re-direct examination of Dr. Bernard.

Making sure to reiterate once again for the jury, Dugan asked Dr. Bernard whether Susan’s situation, considering every bit of evidence in a holistic manner, was consistent with that of a battered woman. Dr. Bernard replied, “Yes,” just like she had to the prosecution.

According to Dugan, regardless of whether Susan was directly restricted or merely limited in her general activities by Bryan, the fact remained that the negative consequences Susan believed she would face from her husband impacted the frequency at which she would freely engage in those activities. This constituted evidence of her husband’s control over her life and his attempts at isolating her.

From accumulated research on numerous cases of domestic abuse conducted over the years, the consensus of experts in the field, as cited by Dr. Bernard, is that it is more likely for a battered woman to minimize her abuse rather than maximize it.

Finally, concerning Susan’s admitting to expressing desires to kill Bryan prior to August 3, Dr. Bernard explained that when battered women feel helpless in their situation, they can tend to conjure up imaginative scenarios in which the perceived death of their abuser temporarily relieves them of angst.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

Related posts

1 Comment

  1. Tia Will

    According to the prosecution, with her husband dead Susan did not have any reason, such as fear of her husband retaliating or the legal repercussions he would face from authorities, to not confess her husband’s abuse of her. Yet again, no mention of abuse was made.”

    In a system in which we are told that anything that we say “can and will be used against us” in a court of law, I would not make too much of a failure to disclose all even if one has made some statements prior to asking for legal council. I believe that in an encounter involving a death or any other serious outcome, silence is the wisest policy, not evidence of either guilt or innocence.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for