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September 27, 2014

Arizona poised to take second (costly) run at death sentence for Jodi Arias

As reported in this AP article, headlined "Life or Death? Arias Set for Sentencing Retrial," prosecutors in Arizona are about to take another run at convincing a jury that murderer Jodi Arias should be condemned to die for her crime.  Here are the basics:

Jodi Arias' guilt has been determined. The only thing that remains is whether she dies for killing her ex-boyfriend. More than six years after his death, and more than a year after being convicted of murder, a second penalty phase to determine her punishment gets underway Monday with jury selection.

Arias acknowledged that she killed Travis Alexander in 2008 at his suburban Phoenix home but claimed it was self-defense.  He suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, had his throat slit and was shot in the head. Prosecutors argued it was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage when Alexander wanted to end their affair.

The 34-year-old former waitress was found guilty last year, but jurors couldn't agree on a sentence.  While Arias' murder conviction stands, prosecutors are putting on the second penalty phase with a new jury in another effort to secure the death penalty.

If the new jury fails to reach a unanimous decision, the judge will then sentence Arias to spend the rest of her life behind bars or to be eligible for release after 25 years. At least 300 prospective jurors will be called in the effort to seat an impartial panel, not an easy task in the case that has attracted so much attention....

One key difference in the second penalty phase is that there will be no live television coverage.  Judge Sherry Stephens ruled that video cameras can record the proceedings, but nothing can be broadcast until after the verdict.  Arias' five-month trial began in January 2013 and was broadcast live, providing endless cable TV and tabloid fodder, including a recorded phone sex call between Arias and the victim, nude photos, bloody crime-scene pictures and a defendant who described her life story in intimate detail over 18 days on the witness stand.

Arias' attorneys claimed the televised spectacle led to threats against one of her lawyers and defense witnesses who opted not to testify.  Citing Arias' right to a fair trial, Stephens is erring on the side of caution this time around.

The retrial is expected to last until mid-December.

In this prior post, it was reported way back in January that "Jodi Arias' legal bills have topped $2 million."   If this new penalty trial really extends a coupld of months, I suspect the tab for Arizona taxpayers will surely be nearly another million, and the imposition of a death sentence would also ensure many years of expensive appeals.  Especially given the relatively low odds that Arias will actually ever be executed, I cannot help but wonder if all these Arizona taxpayer millions might have been better spent on a more productive cause.

Some prior posts on the Arias case:

September 27, 2014 at 12:33 PM | Permalink


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Is a murder from a jealous rage really the sort of thing that even death penalty supporters think worthy of the death penalty? I get the sense of overkill, so to speak, given how she killed him. But, even there, as comparable to some heinous cases I can think of (some sort of torture death scenario etc.), really?

Looking at the facts of most of the cases where a late minute appeal is rejected by the USSC, they tend to be crimes where you really understand why the death penalty was applied. The reasons not to apply usually involve things like mitigation or concern with mental defect or some other thing. This is one of the cases where applying the death penalty itself seems pretty misguided.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 27, 2014 3:21:14 PM

Joe, I agree. The death penalty is supposed to be for "the worst of the worst."

"Prosecutors argued it was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage when Alexander wanted to end their affair." Hardly the worst of the worst.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Sep 27, 2014 4:38:20 PM

I suggest the death penalty for the judges and prosecutors generating these pretextual fees. Is there any question that she killed her boyfriend? End of discussion. She should have ben executed $millions of dollars ago.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 27, 2014 9:15:41 PM

My understanding is that the sole aggravating factor sought by the State is the killing was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel. Does anyone know if that is correct?

If so, it seems to me that in the post-Apprendi/Ring/Blakely/Alleyene/Southern Union world, the use of the EHAC aggravator doesn't pass constitutional vagueness muster and therefore cannot serve as an element of the offense of Capital Murder, or Aggravated First Degree Murder, whichever you want to call the crime that exposes someone to death.

Connally is the chestnut case that defines when an element of crime is vague to the point of violating due process. It prohibits ags which cause intelligent and reasonable men and women to guess at its meaning.

In my view, in Justice Scalia's terminology in Brown, EHAC can serve as a "selection factor" but not an "eligibility factor"


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Sep 28, 2014 12:27:18 AM

Especially Cruel and Heinous is standard in quite a few states that have managed to keep them and survive having cert granted. I tend to agree in principle, though.

Is Arizona unique in having a retrial for a hung jury in sentencing? I thought most defaulted to death in these scenarios.

Posted by: Erik M | Sep 28, 2014 2:02:51 PM

6 years? What? Why wasn't she sentenced to death the first time...30 stab wounds and a shot to the head? What is going on, Arizona...

Posted by: Sandie Richards | Sep 28, 2014 5:03:28 PM

Erik, have the cert petitions be based on vagueness as a sentencing factor or vagueness as an element of a greater offense? Thanks, bruce

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Sep 28, 2014 6:38:33 PM

Erik, another question is how many states have especially heinous and cruel as an eligibility factor or, as in Louisiana, a selection factor?> see Lowenfield.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Sep 28, 2014 6:40:32 PM

also, the default sentence in North Carolina is life without parole.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Sep 28, 2014 6:42:32 PM

Bruce Cunningham. Can you rephrase your above argument in more understandable language? There are a bunch of distinctions without difference, hiding the coddling of a vicious murderer favored by the feminist and their male running dogs because the victim is male.

Obfuscation is to generate lawyer fees. Lawyer language is theft.I would ban any lawyer, and the judges who made these points in an appellate decision, including impeaching the rent seekers on the Supreme Court. As far as I can see, there is no difference in rent seeking between conservative and liberal justices, with conservatives being a bit worse.

Take the licensing power away from lawyers, exclude them from any Board. Then clean house of all rent seekers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 28, 2014 10:19:52 PM

bruce cunningham, I'll use Virginia as an example:

Capital Murder (punishable by LWOP or death) has a lot of clearly defined elements (multiple murder, murder for hire, etc.). However, to be eligible for death, the jury must find one of two aggravating factors. The two are "likely to be a future danger to the community" and "especially cruel or heinous." They only need to find one. The Virginia Supreme Court has found neither to be Constitutionally vague.

Posted by: Erik M | Sep 29, 2014 8:35:01 AM

"Perhaps one day this Court will develop procedural rules or verbal formulas that actually will provide consistency, fairness, and reliability in a capital sentencing scheme. I am not optimistic that such a day will come."


Or, courts can just say certain "verbal formulas" are acceptable, even if they are quite arguably not.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 29, 2014 9:21:01 AM

Erik, that is puzzling. If a person cannot receive death unless the jury finds the existence of heinous and cruel or future dangerousness aggravators, then Capital Murder is not capital murder because the worst that can happen to someone convicted only of captial murder is life.

If I am missing something, let me know.


PS. Supremacy Claus, you have put your finger on the problem. There is no "understandable" way of explaining capital litigation. There is an inherent tension between the requirement of individual sentencing and equal treatment.

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Sep 29, 2014 5:20:33 PM

Bruce. I do not understand how we got to first degree murder. The Mormon goody two shoes is a hypocrite and sex freak. He breaks up and insults her, being correct that she is worthless outside of sexual exploitation, difficult, and annoying. She can't stop stabbing, slashing (with defensive wounds on his arms) and shooting him. She does try to cover the crime up, to escape, and gives multiple contradictory stories to the authorities. However, heat of passion, rather than self defense should have been presented. And the charge should have been less than first degree, perhaps even down to manslaughter on a plea deal.

What do you think of the defense in this case? Did they want their names in the paper and allowed her to go to trial without adequate representation? Did they do that on purpose to preserve an appellate point? Stupid or overly slick, gambling with the life of the client?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 1, 2014 6:47:16 AM

Joe. "Verbal formulas." That sounds like mandatory guidelines, if handed down by the Supreme Court. I support mandatory guidelines as an advocate of incapacitation. I see the death penalty as the most effective incapacitation. As an abolitionist, you have to answer for the dozens if not hundreds of extra-judicial execution of innocent people by people with LWOP, a grant of absolute immunity by the lawyer to their good clients, the murderers, a open, permanent license to kill with less accountability than that of James Bond.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 1, 2014 6:55:42 AM

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