Judge Sherry Stephens, in charge of the sentencing retrial for Jodi Arias, has agreed to allow Arias, 34, to represent herself, said Maricopa County Superior Court spokesperson Vincent Funari on Monday. The retrial of the sentencing portion of her case, in which she was convicted of killing her ex-boyfriend on June 4, 2008, will determine whether or not Arias, who previously worked as a waitress in California, will be sentenced to death. The retrial has been scheduled to begin in September.
Judge Stephens granted Arias’ request to act as her own attorney only after warning her that, in the judge’s opinion, taking over her representation from her current lawyers is not in her best interest. Arias herself does not have a high school diploma or college degree and has no legal experience. She responded to the judge’s question regarding whether or not she was currently taking prescribed medication by saying that she was, but that it did not affect her ability to make this decision. Although the Arias case has been ongoing during recent months, the proceedings have taken place in closed court, however Monday’s session was open. According to Funari, Arias’ current lawyers will remain during her trial to act as advisers. Their relationship with Arias has been rocky, with Arias trying to fire them in the past and the attorneys themselves asking unsuccessfully to be removed from her case.
Although the original jury convicted her of first-degree murder and ruled that she was eligible for capital punishment, they were unable to agree on whether the death penalty should actually be given in her case. Under Arizona law, prosecutors were able to retry the sentencing portion of Arias’ trial in order to attain a death sentence. A new jury will be seated for the sentencing retrial. Should the new panel be unable to agree on whether or not to give Arias the death penalty, the judge will hand down a sentence of life in prison without parole or a life sentence with a chance of being paroled in 25 years.
After a five-month trial, a jury found Arias guilty last year of savagely killing her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in a fit of jealous rage after the two spent the day having sex. Alexander’s body was discovered in the shower of his Phoenix-area house. He had suffered a gunshot wound to the head, been stabbed almost 30 times and had his throat slashed. Graphic photos of the scene, lurid testimony and salacious sexual details were live-streamed on the Internet during the trial, as was Arias’ 18-day stint on the witness stand in which she claimed that she had killed Alexander in self-defense after he had become physically abusive. Her defense centered around details of abuse she claimed to have suffered as a child, the boyfriends who had wronged her in the past and her inability to break free of an endless cycle of dead-end jobs.
Unfortunately, according to San Fransciso defense attorney David Horowitz, her demeanor in court led jurors to believe that she was “a liar” and “narcissistic,” saying that her own behavior had made it “easy to convict her.” Although not a wise decision, perhaps representing herself will cause at least one juror to feel sympathy for her, says Phoenix defense attorney Mel McDonald. One juror on her side is all she will need to be spared the death penalty. There was no comment from the county attorney’s office.
By Jennifer Pfalz