Jodi Arias is doing something you won’t see very often, spending days on the witness stand, testifying in her own defense.
She has described in painstaking detail her relationships with men, particularly Travis Alexander who she killed in June 2008. She claims her former boyfriend was abusive and his killing was in self-defense.
The risk of answering tough questions from attorneys may be worth it. The prosecution is asking the jury to send Arias to death row for what it calls a brutal, cruel premeditated murder.
Once all the evidence is in — and that’s still about two weeks away — jurors will decide whether the state proved she committed first-degree murder. If they don’t think the prosecution did its job, Arias will be a free woman.
But if jurors think she is guilty, they will have more decisions to make.
If the jurors unanimously decide Arias is guilty of first-degree murder for Alexander’s death, the case would then move to the aggravation phase.
That is the prosecution’s chance to present additional evidence that the death was caused in a cruel manner. Arizona law defines it as when the victim suffers physical pain or mental anguish and the defendant knew or should have known that the victim would suffer.
The jury would then deliberate for a second time to determine if the aggravating factor of cruelty is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the jury does not find her guilty of cruelty, the case ends and the judge sets a sentencing date within 30 to 60 days. At the sentencing, the judge decides whether to sentence Arias to natural life in prison or life with parole eligibility after 25 years.
But if the jury decides cruelty is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the case moves to the sentencing phase.
This is the defense’s opportunity to ask the jury for leniency and present evidence to support why Arias should be spared the death penalty. Witnesses may include Arias’ friends and family. Arias could also make a statement to the jury.
The jury then deliberates for a third time to determine whether Arias should be sentenced to life or death. Their decision must be unanimous. In the case of a deadlock, a mistrial would be granted and a new jury would be chosen for this phase only.
If the jury votes for the death penalty, Arias would be sentenced immediately and she is likely to be sent to death row within hours. If the jury opts for a life sentence, the judge will set a sentencing date within 30 to 60 days and, at that time, will sentence Arias to natural life or life with eligibility for parole after 25 years.
If the jury rejects first-degree murder, but finds her guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder, the judge will sentence Arias to no less than 10 years and no more than 22 years in prison.
Arias will get credit for the four and a half years she has been incarcerated awaiting trial.