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May 24, 2013

Jurors deadlock on Jodi Arias penalty; retrial set

PHOENIX — Jurors who spent five months determining Jodi Arias’ fate couldn’t decide whether she should get life in prison or die for murdering her boyfriend, sending prosecutors back to the drawing board to rehash the shocking case of sex, lies and violence to another 12 people.

Judge Sherry Stephens gave a heavy sigh as she announced a mistrial in the penalty phase of the case Thursday and scheduled a July 18 retrial.

“This was not your typical trial,” she told jurors. “You were asked to perform some very difficult duties.”

The panel then filed out of the courtroom after 13 hours of deliberation that spanned three days, with one female juror turning to the victim’s family and mouthing, “Sorry.” She and two other women on the jury were crying.

None of the jurors commented as they left court.

The mistrial set the stage for a whole new proceeding to determine whether the 32-year-old former waitress should get a life sentence or the death penalty for murdering Travis Alexander five years ago. Arias stabbed and slashed him nearly 30 times, slit his throat slit and shot him in the forehead in what prosecutors described as a jealous rage after the victim wanted to end their affair and planned to head off on a trip to Mexico with another woman.

A new jury will be seated to try again to reach a decision on Arias’ sentence — unless the prosecutor takes execution off the table and agrees to a life term. Jury selection for the next phase could take weeks, given the difficulty of seating an impartial panel in a death penalty case that has attracted global attention.

Arias, who first said she wanted to die and later pleaded to the jury for her life, looked visibly upset about the mistrial and sobbed before it was announced. Her family didn’t attend Thursday but has been present for much of the trial.

Alexander’s family cried as they left the courtroom.

The same jury on May 8 found Arias guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Alexander, who was nearly decapitated in the bathroom of his Mesa home. The jury later determined the killing was cruel enough to merit consideration of the death penalty.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery thanked the panel in a statement after the mistrial was announced: “We appreciate the jury’s work in the guilt and aggravation phases of the trial, and now we will assess, based upon available information, what the next steps will be.”

A status hearing has been set for June 20, “and we will proceed with the intent to retry the penalty phase,” Montgomery said.

Under Arizona law, a hung jury in a trial’s death penalty phase requires a new jury to be seated to decide the punishment. If the second jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the judge would then sentence Arias to spend her entire life in prison or be eligible for release after 25 years. The judge cannot sentence Arias to death.

A new jury would have to review evidence and hear opening statements, closing arguments and witness testimony in a condensed version of the original trial. Attorneys will also have to find prospective jurors willing to issue a death verdict.

As the proceedings continue, Arias will remain in the Maricopa County jail system, where she has spent the past five years. Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Thursday she will be confined to her cell 23 hours a day and not be allowed to give interviews.

The mistrial came two days after Arias spoke to jurors and pleaded for her life. She said she “lacked perspective” when she told a local reporter after her conviction that she preferred execution to spending the rest of her days in prison.

That night, Arias gave a series of media interviews from jail, telling reporters about her many fights with her legal team and her belief that she “deserves a second chance at freedom someday.”

Arias contends she killed Alexander in self-defense when he became enraged after a day of sex, forcing her to fight for her life.

Her case became a sensation from the beginning as Arias gave a series of jailhouse interviews following her 2008 arrest in which she blamed the killing on armed, masked intruders.

She went on trial in January, and the case provided seemingly endless amounts of 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.

She told jurors of an abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, dead-end jobs, her sexual relationship with Alexander and her contention that he had grown physically violent.

The trial was streamed live on the Internet and became a real-life soap opera to people around the globe. Some even traveled to Phoenix to attend the trial and became fans of the fiery prosecutor, Juan Martinez, who repeatedly tangled with Arias during her testimony. They sought his autograph outside court and had pictures taken with him, prompting the defense to argue for a mistrial. Their request was denied.

The trial’s penalty phase also featured dramatic statements by Alexander’s sister and brother as they described how their lives were shattered by the loss of their sibling.

Alexander, 30, overcame a tough upbringing in Southern California to become a successful businessman at a legal insurance company and a source of inspiration to his colleagues, his friends at his Mormon church and his family.

The judge had told jurors they could consider a handful of factors when deciding Arias’ sentence, including that she has no previous criminal record. They also could weigh defense assertions that Arias is a good friend and a talented artist.

Arias found it difficult to resist the spotlight throughout her case. She spoke to a Fox affiliate minutes after her conviction, and did a series of jailhouse interviews just hours after the jury got the case in the penalty phase.

“The prosecutor has accused me of wanting to be famous, which is not true,” Arias told the AP on Tuesday in an interview where she combed her hair beforehand and wore makeup for the cameras. She also insisted that no images be transmitted of her from the waist down, showing her striped jail pants and shackled ankles.

 

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