PHOENIX — 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 Sept. 29 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.
“You’d have to have been living in a cave to have not heard about Jodi Arias,” said Phoenix defense lawyer Mel McDonald, a former judge and federal prosecutor. However, McDonald added, an impartial juror doesn’t mean they have never heard of Arias, just that they haven’t made a decision on whether she should live or die.
Jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who has worked numerous high-profile cases, including the murder trials of Scott Peterson and O.J. Simpson, said a key obstacle for Arias’ attorneys will be identifying so-called stealth jurors who will lie to get selected after already making up their minds on punishment.
“I can assure you they’re going to have at least one person on that panel that has an agenda,” Dimitrius said, adding that the possibility of another sentencing mistrial should be a huge concern for prosecutors.
“It just takes one whack-job, if you will, to hang a jury,” Dimitrius said.
She also said that in such high-profile cases, even prospective jurors who don’t know much about the trial might find themselves suddenly interested and ignore the judge’s admonishments to avoid any outside research.
The jury questionnaire used to screen panelists will not be made public until after the jury is seated.
“They’re largely going to be focused on the media,” Dimitrius said. “Did you follow the case? Did you watch the TV coverage? Did you watch the trial every day? They’re going to want to find out if this is someone who is a court watcher or someone who just happened to see it in the paper the next day.”
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.
(AP Photo/Matt York, File)