Even though I am a criminal defense attorney, I was not surprised that Jodi Arias was found guilty of First Degree Murder in the 2008 killing of her boyfriend Travis Alexander. I will also not be surprised if the jury recommends the death penalty.
The prosecution presented strong physical evidence to support that Arias killed Alexander. For example, her bloody palm print was on Alexander’s wall; and a digital photo card recovered from Alexander’s washing machine contained preserved photographs of Arias and Alexander in his house on the day of his murder. Furthermore, the prosecution presented Arias’ eventual confession to the crime.
The circumstantial evidence was just as strong as the physical evidence. The exact type of pistol that was used to shoot Alexander was stolen from Arias’ grandparents the month prior to his death, Arias fled the state after the murder and was arrested in California, and Arias gave multiple conflicting statements to investigators.
Just as important, is what Jodi Arias did not prove to the jury. The prosecution always has the burden to prove the accused guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But Arias placed the ball in her court when she argued an “affirmative defense” that even though she killed Alexander, it was in self-defense. Arias was not required by law to conjure up an excuse. Simply put, Arias’ defense team could have sent the case to the jury without putting on a single witness.
Juries generally want to hear from the defendant. Silence is often inferred as a sign of guilt. However, some of the most widely-watched trials where the accused did not testify resulted in not guilty verdicts. In Oct. 1995, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. He did not testify in his defense. In July 2011, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of the murder of her daughter Caylee. She did not testify. Currently, a jury is still deliberating in the multiple-murder trial of Kermit Gosnell. He did not testify.
Arias, on the other hand, chose to testify (for an entire 18 days). Again, both sides stipulated that she killed Alexander -- the issue for the jury was whether she was legally justified in doing so. While on the stand, Arias was unsympathetic. She was a self-admitted liar to the police and her excuses were unconvincing.
Aside from Arias’ testimony, her defense team did not substantiate its self-defense defense with additional witnesses or evidence. Arias claimed that Alexander had a sexual attraction to adolescent boys. She did not prove it. Arias claimed Alexander was abusive. She did not prove it through testimony of her friends and family that they witnessed his abuse. She did not prove it through police reports of prior abuse. Arias claimed Alexander physically abused her on the day she murdered him, slashing his throat, shooting him twice, and stabbing him 29 times. She did not prove the abuse. Instead, Arias fled the scene (and the state) instead of calling authorities and providing them an opportunity to photograph and document her defense wounds. The list goes on...Arias failed to convince the jury that she should be excused for killing her boyfriend.
After approximately 15 hours of deliberation over the course of four days, the 12 jurors unanimously voted that Arias was guilty of First Degree Murder (five jurors found her guilty of Premeditated Murder and seven found her guilty of Premeditated Felony Murder). Many believed that the jury’s lengthy deliberation was a sign of hope for the defense. Deliberation requires deliberate effort. The jury most likely spent its time walking through each charge, voting on each element, and using a process of elimination to reach the most severe charge.
Now that the guilt phase is complete, the case moves into a two-part sentencing phase that begins tomorrow.
The first part is where the prosecution asks the jury to find “aggravation.” It will focus on the gruesome murder of Alexander -- not just one gunshot or one stabbing -- but a repeated assault on an unarmed and helpless victim. Its goal is to prove Arias acted in an "especially cruel, heinous and depraved" manner.
The second part is the penalty phase. If the jury does not find aggravation, Arias cannot be sentenced to death and the judge must sentence Arias to a prison term possibly for life. If the jury finds aggravation, it will listen to testimony from additional people, including mitigation from Arias’ witnesses, then determine if Arias should be sentenced to death.
Although I am not a proponent of the death penalty, Arias has few legal arguments that could help her avoid being sentenced to death, just as she provided no evidence to substantiate her defense at trial. Sure, Arias does not have a criminal history, but she is otherwise unsympathetic. She does not have the support of numerous family and friends. She does not have the support of domestic violence groups. She does not previously-diagnosed mental health struggles. The prosecution, on the other hand, already stated it is seeking the death penalty. Alexander’s friends and family will testify about their emotional pain. The prosecution will stress that not only was Arias convicted of murder but premeditated, cold-blooded, calculated murder.
Additionally, I do believe there will be a time when a battered woman will be acquitted of murder because she acted in self defense.