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March 5, 2015

Despite spending many millions, Arizona prosecutors again fail to convince a sentencing jury to send Jodi Arias to death row

I have been interested in the Jodi Arias case from Arizona since she was found guilty of murder two years ago, not principally because of all the media attention her case generated, but because of the extraordinary efforts Arizona prosecutors were prepared to make AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE to try to get Arias on to the state's death row.  Last year in this post, I guessed that Arizona prosecutors were spending more than $5,000,000 in taxpayer funds in their effort to have Jodi Arias sent and kept on death row rather than in another part of Arizona's prison system.  

As this new AP report from Arizona highlights, all those taxpayer costs created by the prosecutors in this one state capital case have now officially achieved nothing:

Convicted murderer Jodi Arias was spared the death penalty Thursday after jurors deadlocked on whether she should be executed or sent to prison for life for killing her lover in 2008.

It marked the second time a jury was unable to reach a decision on her punishment — a disappointment for prosecutors who argued for the death penalty during a nearly seven-year legal battle.  It means the judge will sentence Arias on April 13 to either life in prison or a life term with the possibility of release after 25 years.

Family members of victim Travis Alexander wept when the judge announced that jurors couldn't reach a decision after deliberating for about 26 hours over five days.  The family sobbed as they left the courtroom, with one covering her eyes as she walked out. Arias' mother, Sandra, received a hug from a friend moments after the verdict was read....

Arias' 2013 trial became a sensation with its tawdry revelations about her relationship with Alexander and that she shot him in the head and slit his throat so deeply that he was nearly decapitated.  It was broadcast live and TV audiences heard how Arias had stabbed and slashed Alexander nearly 30 times then left his body in his shower at his suburban Phoenix home, where friends found him about five days later.

The jury convicted her of first-degree murder but deadlocked on punishment, prompting the sentencing retrial that began in October.  Prosecutors say they don't regret trying again to send Arias to death row.  Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who decided to seek the death penalty a second time, told reporters that "regret is a place in the past I can't afford to live in."

Arias initially courted the spotlight after her arrest, granting interviews to "48 Hours" and "Inside Edition."  She testified for 18 days at her first trial, describing her abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, relationship with Alexander and her contention that he was physically abusive.  She did more media interviews after the jury convicted her of murder.

Spectators lined up in the middle of the night to get a coveted seat in the courtroom for the first trial. However, attention was dampened during the penalty retrial after the judge ruled cameras could record the proceedings but nothing could be broadcast until after the verdict.

The proceedings revealed few new details about the crime and dragged on months longer than expected amid a series of expert witnesses and a surprising late October decision by Judge Sherry Stephens to remove reporters and spectators from the courtroom so Arias could testify in private. A higher court halted the testimony on its second day after complaints from news organizations. At the end of the retrial, Arias passed up a chance to address the jury. She said she wanted to make such comments but refused to do so unless the courtroom was cleared. She cited potential personal safety threats in declining to speak in the open courtroom.

I am not at all surprised to hear the Arizona prosecutors now "say they don't regret trying again to send Arias to death row."  After all, these prosecutors got the opportunity to work for two more years on a high-profile and exciting case and they likely will not suffer any professional consequences for wasting an extraordinary amount of taxpayer resources now twice failing to convince a jury that Jodi Arias ought to die for her crimes.

Especially because, as I said before in prior posts, it was extremely unlikely Arias would ever be executed even if she had been sentenced to death, this case is now for me exhibit #1 in the extraordinary misallocation of resources that the death penalty can often engender because prosecutors generally get all the political benefits and suffer none of the true economic costs of capital punishment systems.  The folks who should really regret how this case has been handed are crime victims and others in need of social services and programming in Arizona.  As I noted in a prior post, the Arizona Crime Victims Programs — which is under the authority of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission and "provides support to all agencies that assist and compensate the victims of crime" — has an annual budget of around $5,000,000.  I feel pretty confident a lot more good throughout Arizona could have been done if state tax resources were allocated to doubling the funds for crime victim programming rather than enabling prosecutors to keep seeking a death verdict for Jodi Arias (which itself was never likely to get carried out).

Some prior posts on the Arias case:

March 5, 2015 at 02:48 PM | Permalink


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as compared to Ebay auction?

Posted by: Joe | Mar 5, 2015 3:08:25 PM

Well, Joe, in some other high-profile criminal cases, especially white-collar federal cases, the defense expenses are bourn by the defendant and there can be some economic recovery by victims and/or the govt as well.

But you are right, of course, that in most capital cases the state bears all the expenses. This is why I tend to be against the death penalty as a fiscal conservative --- even if/when the state secures a death sentence, that sentence is rarely worth the public expense. In the Arias case, notably, we had all the public expense TWICE and still no death sentence. What a fiscal waste.

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 5, 2015 5:08:55 PM

I have to agree. In this case didn't she agree to accept life without parole if they took death off the table. If so the prosecutors should pay ever dime of their rush to the death penalty out of their own pockets.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 5, 2015 9:14:17 PM

Criminal justice sometimes becomes a team sport. Justice is lost in the quest to win - tax money means nothing to the government employees who want the limelight.

Posted by: beth | Mar 5, 2015 11:55:41 PM

Doug B., which I take to be your rap name (kidding!), I get your point, but the caps seemed a bit silly. I know they were for emphasis, but still.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 6, 2015 9:41:16 AM

Thou shalt not kill. No exception for Y'all can.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Mar 6, 2015 2:27:20 PM

The biblical command is "thou shall not murder." It does not, e.g., ban killing in self defense. In fact, the Torah lists loads of things where the penalty is death.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 6, 2015 3:53:14 PM

Let's take an accuracy break.

The prosecution only failed to persuade one member for the jury, a holdout. There should have been notice to the prosecutor, prior to the verdict. The prosecutor should have reviewed the application of the juror. If any inaccuracy or deception had been found in any part of the selection process by this juror, the prosecutor should have moved to remove the juror, arrested the juror, and prosecuted the juror for lying under oath. Then, continue with deliberations. The prosecutor was not aggressive enough.

I do not believe, that getting in the papers is the sole motivation, there is also the scheme to generate worthless government make work salary.

The lawyer generates these massive, worthless expenses, then claims the process is too expensive to continue. My Jewish friends have a name for this effect, chutzpah.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 7, 2015 8:34:06 PM

Prof. Berman:

Notwithstanding some comments I have made in the past, fiscal conservatism is a legitimate point of view as to spending by state and local governments, who are currency users (just like a husband and wife sitting at the kitchen table deciding which bills to pay) but not a currency issuer like the USG.

State and local governments' spending is directly constrained by tax receipts, unlike USG spending, where whatever is needed can be printed or key-stroked into existence.

So I agree with you as to the spending in the Arias case.

Posted by: Fred | Mar 9, 2015 11:38:59 AM

Merely printing money is not without problems, so does not provide a solution for the federal government here. States do have more restraints including some with balanced budget amendments. But, there is a limit.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 9, 2015 5:42:46 PM


Underlying my comment above was my understanding that the entire expense was borne by Arizona. As state and local governments as currency users have to tax first before they can spend, tax receipts are precious. This is true whether a state has a balanced budget amendment or not. So it was a waste of tax money.

As to USG spending, Washington insiders intentionally conflate a husband and wife sitting at the kitchen table deciding which bills to pay, as well as state and local governments, with the USG. The first two can run out of money and go bankrupt. The third can never run out of money, as it can always print/keystroke whatever it needs.

I'm not arguing that the USG should just print, print, print. I'm just pointing out that there is a material difference between the USG, state and local government, and a husband and wife deciding how to pay the family bills, that is intentionally obscured in the debate over the deficit and USG spending and taxation policies.

Posted by: Fred | Mar 9, 2015 6:07:33 PM

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