After over a year of anticipation, the Jodi Arias retrial on her sentencing for the murder of ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander commenced this week in a Phoenix, Arizona courtroom. Arias, already convicted of first-degree murder, is now facing a possible sentence of death or life in prison.
Before proceedings even began Monday with opening statements, Judge Sherry Stephens announced that one juror had a family emergency and was to be excused from the case, despite vigorous objection from the defense and requests for an immediate mistrial. Unfortunately, that would not be the only juror drama to hit the Arias case this week.
As per Arizona law, the defense presents their opening arguments first during the sentencing phase. Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi described the relationship between Arias and Travis Alexander as one of lust, spirituality, passion, forbidden sex, abuse, and violence. Referring to the relationship as a tale of “infinite sadness,” Nurmi warned jurors that evidence documenting the relationship is violently graphic, preparing them for the photos they were going to see a short time later.
Nurmi told jurors they need to understand a little more about the people involved in this case before making a decision about what should happen to his client. The attorney, whose appearance has significantly changed since the first trial, described Arias’ background as horrific, detailing alleged abuse at the hands of both her mother and father.
Nurmi noted the defense will present experts to discuss how abuse at an early age can affect someone and that will play a substantial role in the defense’s call for leniency.
Using the state’s own expert to make his point, Nurmi told the packed courtroom that Dr. Janeen DeMarte diagnosed Arias with Borderline Personality Disorder and this “mentally ill young girl” then met her victim, Travis Alexander.
In keeping with the strategy during the first trial, Nurmi attacked the “beloved Travis” for causing Arias to suffer extreme emotional distress. Nurmi claimed Arias was the girl behind closed doors in Alexander’s bedroom engaging in sexual acts but not the girl being taken out on dates, alleging that is emotional abuse and Arias was simply being used for sex.
Nurmi, who told the jury they would hear from Arias herself, cited the 27 stab wounds to Alexander as proof of Arias’ extreme emotional distress in the relationship, and he told the jury the only appropriate sentence was life in prison.
In response, prosecutor Juan Martinez at the start of his opening statement put up a photograph of Alexander’s neck showing him nearly decapitated, and told jurors “that” was how much Arias loved him. Continuing with that theme, Martinez called Arias a jilted woman, stating that Arias loved Alexander so much that she showed up to his memorial service just days after she killed him.
With the new jury not having heard any of the evidence before, Martinez went in detail through the evidence against Arias, showing she planned to kill Alexander, possibly for weeks. In retelling the story of how she planned the crime, Martinez told jurors about Arias renting the car, buying the gas cans, dying her hair, and turning the license plate upside down before entering Arizona.
Martinez laid out how the murder occurred, describing Alexander being stabbed but still conscious as he stood at the sink and could see Arias stabbing him repeatedly in the back and head over and over. Alexander walked and crawled down the hallway and Arias, wanting to make sure he was dead, slit his throat from ear to ear, dragged his lifeless body back to the bathroom, and shot him in the head, according to Martinez.
What did Arias do next? According to the state, she took the time to delete all the graphic sexual photos on the camera, the same camera that Arias testified she did not know how to use at the 2013 trial. Martinez said this is more proof that Arias just lies and attempts to cover things up, pointing out she went as far as leaving a voicemail on Alexander’s cellphone hours after she killed him.
Turning to Arias’ claim of mental illness, Martinez explained to the jury how the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder given to Arias by a defense expert was all based on her lies in a psychological test where Arias was still giving the story she gave to police that masked intruders broke into the home and killed Alexander. Martinez said the diagnosis by Dr. DeMarte of Borderline Personality Disorder does not make Arias mentally ill.
Martinez asked the jury to sentence Arias to death, saying the jury must accept that the murder was premeditated and especially cruel.
The following is a breakdown of the witnesses and their testimony so far in court.
Witnesses Day 1:
State Witness #1 – Michael Melendez – Mesa P.D.
Uncovered photos in the digital camera found in the washing machine in Alexander’s home
Melendez told the jury at least five buttons must be pushed in order to delete a photo from the camera
Witness was taken through all the deleted photos on the camera, including photos of Alexander in the shower before the murder and graphic nude shots of Arias and Alexander
State Witness #2 – Detective Esteban Flores – Mesa P.D.
Detective Flores is the lead detective on the case
Described arriving at Alexander’s home after the body was found, telling the jury no gun or rope was found (Arias previously testified she and Alexander used rope during sex shortly before the murder)
Witnesses Day 2:
State Witness #3 – Dr. Kevin Horn – Medical Examiner
Dr. Horn went through autopsy photos, including wounds to the hands that the witness concluded were defensive wounds that the victim would have to be conscious to receive
Dr. Horn told jurors that Alexander was conscious and in extreme pain while he was being killed
Dr. Horn described the knife wound to Alexander’s heart as not rapidly fatal, but it would have caused death. The state alleges the 3-inch deep wound to the heart came first
The neck wound was rapidly fatal, according to Dr. Horn. Alexander’s windpipe was cut; he could not scream anymore but could make faint gurgling-type sounds
Dr. Horn testified that immediately after his throat being slit, Alexander would have lost consciousness and died in just minutes
The gunshot wound to the forehead was above the right eye, and the trajectory of the bullet was right to left and down through the skull and brain, indicating Arias was above Alexander at the time
Dr. Horn told the jury he believed the gunshot was likely the last wound after all the stabbing injuries and the throat being slit. The state believes this shows the murder was especially cruel
On cross-examination, Dr. Horn was questioned about testimony from Detective Flores from 2009 when Flores claimed Horn told him the gunshot was first; Horn does not recall that conversation
Arias’ attorneys tried to show jurors that the gunshot could have come first based on blood at the sink, but Dr. Horn believes Alexander would not have been able to stand after the gunshot
The defense argues that if the gunshot was first, then Alexander would have been deceased at the time of the other wounds, and they submit the murder would therefore not be especially cruel
In a dramatic move, on redirect examination, Juan Martinez quickly approached Dr. Horn and acted like he was stabbing him with his pen, and asked, “That didn’t take long, did it?”
State Witness #4 – Nathan Mendes – Former Detective, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office
Testified he went to the Arias home in Yreka, California to execute a search warrant and found receipts in the home from Arias’ road trip to Arizona
The witness noted that none of the receipts from Arias’ trip came from Arizona, and none came on the day of the murder, June 4, 2008
Witness also spoke with the rental car employee who was at the agency when Arias came in to pick up the rental car two days before the murder
The rental car employee told the witness that Arias’ hair color was different in her mug shot (black) from when she rented the car before the murder (blonde)
Mendes also noted for the jury that he was present when Arias was booked into jail and photographed. Arias asked the officer if her hair was okay before the mugshot
Another Juror Dismissed
During the lunch break on the second day of the trial, Judge Stephens announced another juror had been dismissed, this time for asking a reporter if she was Nancy Grace. As jurors filed out for the lunch break, reporter Beth Karas was called into the courtroom and questioned about her interactions with a juror earlier that morning. Karas told the court that the juror, who was not wearing an ID badge, asked her if she was Nancy Grace. Karas told the juror she wasn’t, and she later informed the court about the conversation.
So for those scoring at home, the jury now consists of 11 women and six men.
Witnesses Day 3:
Cross-Examination of Detective Flores
Defense cross-examined Flores after Dr. Horn and Mendes testified for the state
Defense questioned Det. Flores about his testimony from a 2009 probable cause hearing where Flores told the court he was informed by Dr. Horn that the gunshot was first
Defense had Flores go through time stamps of photos of Alexander in the shower, pointing out 24 seconds where Alexander had his back to Arias with his eyes closed in the shower and she did not attack him
State Witness #5 – Amanda Webb – Walmart Employee
Witness was called to testify that Arias purchased a gas can from a Walmart in Salinas, California before the murder
Arias has previously testified she returned the gas can the same day she purchased it, but the witness told the jury they have no record of any return of a gas can
Defense pointed out the store has moved since then and got the witness to admit they don’t know for sure that every record was transferred over to the new location
Reacting to that information, defense attorney Kirk Nurmi slammed his file down on the podium. When Martinez began redirect, he slammed his file on the podium twice before questioning the witness
State Witness #6 – Kevin Friedman – Yreka P.D.
Witness was called to investigate the burglary at Arias’ grandparents’ home a week before the murder
A small .25 caliber pistol was missing from the gun cabinet, the same caliber of gun used to kill Alexander. The murder weapon was never recovered
Witness noted there were two other guns in the same cabinet, but only the .25 caliber was taken
Arias arrived at the home while the witness was present, and she claimed to be missing money from her dresser, but her laptop was still there
Witness described the burglary as unusual, citing the lack of valuables and firearms actually taken from the home
The trial resumes Monday at 12:30 p.m. ET with more testimony from state witnesses.
The Nancy Grace Show will be live tweeting the Jodi Arias penalty phase retrial from start to finish.