Putting the Jodi Arias jury into an impossible dilemma, Judge Sherry Stephen failed to get the four-woman, 8-man panel to agree on the death penalty, declaring a mistrial on the penalty phase. If Maricopa County wishes to retry the penalty phase, it would require a new jury, giving them an overview of the trial and relevant testimony. “This was not your typical trial,” said Stephens, accepting the unhappy fate of a hung jury. “You were asked to perform some very difficult duties,” not specifying exactly what was different than any other jury. While the there was lurid testimony and gruesome crime scene photos, Stephens failed to see how Maricopa County prosecutors created an impossible dilemma for the jury by charging Arias with First Degree Murder. Prosecutors did their utmost to paint Arias as a cold-blooded killer when all evidence pointed to a messy passion killing.
At the end of the day, the jury simply couldn’t make sense of a conviction on First Degree Murder with a possible death sentence when all evidence showed a chaotic passion killing based on a fit of rage. Prosecutors spent weeks with psychiatric expert testimony proving Arias was a Borderline Personality Disorder, something they figured would show more calculation and premeditation. Once they proved their point, prosecutors had to live with the fact that Borderlines often go into rages, commit violent or suicidal acts and wind up in prisons or mental hospitals. In closing arguments, lead prosecutor Juan Martinez told the jury that Arias was a cold blooded killer that murdered Travis Alexander in a fit of rage, where the two statements are mutually exclusive, completely confusing the jury. For jurors to have decided on the death penalty, they had to see a carefully planned attack.
When you consider that Alexander was stabbed about 30 times, had his throat slit ear-to-ear and shot in the head, it not logical that Arias performed a cold blooded killing. Had Arias really planned the attack so methodically, as Martinez told the jury, why would she have slashed Travis to pieces? Execution-style killings typically involve a single gunshot wound to the head. Arias was clearly, as Martinez said, in a jealous rage when she killed her former boyfriend. Whether or not there was some planning involved doesn’t rule out that she went ballistic and lashed out against Travis. If prosecutors decide on a new jury, they’ll face the same dilemma, except they’ll have even less information or time to decide the death penalty. While the Alexander family no doubt wants the death penalty, the prosecution made a compelling case that Arias was a raging Borderline Personality.
Prone to fits of rage that more often result in suicidal behavior, Arias fits the Borderline diagnostic category to-the-tee. Sexual promiscuity, kinky or perverse behavior, drug or alcohol abuse, all fit the pattern of the BPD. When you add to that a fragile self-structure, extreme abandonment issues and fits of rage, she couldn’t have been a better fit. What prosecutors didn’t consider as they pushed for the BPD diagnosis was that it fit the perfect crime of passion, where human emotion eclipses rationality, causing violent outbursts. Why the defense argued for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when BPD provided enough mitigation to avoid the death penalty is anyone’s guess. Painting Travis as a domestic abuser would have provided mitigation if the jury believed Arias defense attorney Kirk Nurmi. As it turned out, most jurors didn’t believe Nurmi’s arguments about Domestic Abuse.
Given Martinez’s inconsistency over a cold-blooded murder or a rage killing, the outcome of the next jury panel should wind up the same. No matter how horrific the crime scene or no matter how despicable the perpetrator, jurors are forced to apply the rule of law when deciding cases. Assigning the death penalty to Arias serves no one other than revenge for the Alexander family. Leaving the jury box with a mistrial after 13 hours of deliberation, it was inappropriate for a juror to tell Alexander’s family “she’s sorry.” No jury should apologize to either prosecution or defense when they’ve applied the rule of law to reach a verdict. “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,” said Maricopa County attorney Bill Montgomery, unsure what his office would do.
If the Maricopa County District Attorney looks at the facts, they’ll stop throwing more tax dollars down a rat hole trying to send Jodi Arias to death row. No conscientious future jury could arrive at any different conclusion than the eight-man, four-woman jury that convicted Arias of First Degree Murder May 8, yet couldn’t send her to death row. When you add up all the facts, the jurors know that Arias—no matter how she lied and cajoled—slashed Travis Alexander to death in a messy fit of jealous Borderline rage, preventing him from taking his new girlfriend to the beaches of Cancun. Whatever the needs of Alexander’s family for revenge, they should take some satisfaction knowing that the beguiling 32-year-old former cocktail hostess will spend at least 25 years behind bars. Instead of wasting more taxpayer money, Maricopa County should not retry the case and let the judge rule on life in prison.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.