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Elliott Smith’s Case Reviewed By A Criminal Defense Attorney

criminal defense attorney

Elliott Smith (photo by Corbis)


I had the chance to talk with a criminal defense attorney who has been interested in my research. He is a big Elliott Smith fan as he told me and nicely accepted to review the material I have gathered around the case. Some official documents (police report, autopsy, lawsuits…) are available on Justice for Elliott Smith as well as plenty of conversations with friends and experts. If anyone can have an opinion about the circumstances surrounding Elliott’s death, I deeply value the opinion of experts for obvious reasons. I had never interacted with this criminal defense attorney before, so what he told me was his own analysis of the situation:

‘I reviewed most everything on your site. First, let me tell you that I think you’ve done a very thorough job and your reporting on all of the elements is very well done. I’m going to try to get through my comments today. All of my comments come from the perspective as a criminal defense attorney and what I’ve learned over the years judging people. But I have no first-hand knowledge of any of this. Anything I say must also be cloaked in the fact that I am a massive fan of Elliott’s music.

From the perspective of a criminal defense attorney, if Elliott was murdered by Jennifer Chiba, there is no way there would be a prosecution or conviction without some sort of confession. Absent that, I just can’t see that being the end result. There could be “breaks” in the case based on evidence (the “suicide note” comes to mind) or the timeline (the neighbors potentially testimony comes to mind) but the fact is that so much time has passed and recollections from a 17-year-old case are going to be spotty at best. Any criminal defense attorney worth his/her weight would just have too much to work with to create a reasonable doubt, assuming that she did it. The police/prosecutors know this. The police also know that they kind of bungled the investigation from the start, so yeah, absent a confession, I just can’t see any progress on that end.

Now I have no medical training, so take this for what it’s worth, but I have interacted with many people over the course of my career. Ms. Chiba seems to me to be a pretty serious narcissist and quite possibly a sociopath. I believe many narcissists are sociopaths. This does not mean she killed Elliott, but to me, it means that most everything she did/does regarding Elliott must be seen through her eyes and her self-interest. Again, I don’t know her but based on what’s available, I know the type of person she probably is. I would suspect that she cared very little for Elliott ever and that he was simply another attempt by her to satisfy herself through his fame and importance. Again, I must reiterate that I’ve never met her, don’t know her, and that my comments are made based on suspicions of her based on what’s reported. But my experience with many narcissists is that they are generally charming in person and very manipulative. I suspect Ms. Chiba is very intelligent, very charming, and extremely manipulative in person. She generally gets what she wants in relationships because of this. I bring this up because, whether or not she killed Elliott, she clearly manipulated the timeline and the evidence suggests that she manipulated the evidence. This could be the result of her thinking “holy shit what just happened” and automatically going into self-preservation mode recognizing that she was going to be a suspect even if he did commit suicide. Regardless of what happened, I can say it’s my belief that in the immediate aftermath, Elliott’s condition and potential survival was not on her mind. Her own well-being and self-preservation were.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the musician friends that were interviewed or attempted to be interviewed know more than they’ve said but that what they know is simply what Chiba has told them. And I don’t doubt that Chiba had relationships with and the ability to manipulate them. She has likely confided in Peringer and probably Barlow in some aspect and they are on board with whatever she has said. Given Elliott’s past and a history of burning bridges with many of his friends, I suspect it was easy for her to create a narrative that they would believe. They wouldn’t know the whole truth, only she would, but they may know more than other people and they may have gotten similar stories from her. These stories would likely have minor details missing or different that may cast more doubt on her story but I don’t think Peringer and Barlow have compared notes in any way.

As an aside, from a fan’s perspective, Barlow’s interaction with you really pissed me off. From everything I’ve read or seen, he and Elliott were good friends, there’s even clips of Elliott playing songs at Lou’s birthday. Perhaps Lou thought you weren’t legitimate, but I didn’t care for his interaction. He wasn’t Elliott but he is an established person of great merit, at least to music fanatics like me, and Sebadoh is a great band/act to many.
Anyway, I have a completely amateur opinion on what happened that I can give to you if you want but I feel like I’ve been rambling for a while and am entering the zone of crazy fan who’s really pissed off that Elliott is gone.’

I agree on the fact that only a confession could close the case, homicide detective J King already told me that, and I also know that the police will never take the risk to prosecute anyone based on what we have now: essentially suspicious behavior and circumstantial evidence. That said, I met Chiba a few times, I even asked her for an interview, and I saw her entering my phone number on her cell phone. Needless to say, I never got a call from her.
‘I don’t think Chiba will talk to you under any circumstance,’ told me the attorney. Of course, she has everything to lose and nothing to gain from an interview asking tough questions about the details of what happened on October 21st, 2003.

But our conversation ended on a very appreciative and supportive note:

‘Please keep me posted on any new developments. I think what you’re doing is extremely necessary.’

Even though this case might always remain a lost cause, it is worth fighting for it, as it is the case for all lost causes.

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