Editor’s note: As the penalty phase of the Jodi Arias retrial resumes with a new jury, a Nancy Grace producer who has been in court for the trial, Michael Duffy, comments on the victim impact statements. Michael Duffy is on Twitter.
Jodi Arias enters the courtroom and stands to the side looking at everyone around her. From the third row, I am at most 15 feet away with a clear line of vision. Her hair is down. She is wearing a short sleeve, soft black sweater top and black pants. Her eyes are beaming from behind her now trademarked clear nude thick-rimmed glasses. A smile creeps across her face and spreads wide as if she was about to laugh. She is glowing. The court is packed, the public filling every available seat, eager to catch a glimpse of the players made famous by the murder of Travis Alexander.
If I freeze time for just a moment, if I forget about the blood, if I forget about the gruesome, discolored autopsy photos of Travis Alexander’s face with that frozen post-death toothy grimace or his neck gaping open from having been sliced from ear to ear, Jodi Arias almost seems like a normal woman relishing the spotlight of a made-for-TV courtroom drama. She almost seems happy to be there, to command the attention of the masses that have flocked to the Maricopa County Superior Court to catch a glimpse of the proceedings.
However, the Alexander family is sitting directly in front of me. Their shoulders are slumped. They have their arms around each other, hand in hand for comfort and strength. They are exchanging a few words but their faces are stern, something is coming. The week has been a difficult one: Monday’s testimony detailed texts, emails and voicemails Jodi had left for Travis after he was already dead. Tuesday’s testimony involved graphic photographs and audio tapes of sex conversations. Only a few member of the Alexander family had been present on those days. They knew what was coming even if we, the public, did not.
Today is one of those days, another day we didn’t see coming. We didn’t know it, but Steven and Tanisha Alexander are reading victim impact statements and no one is prepared for the effect they have. Tanisha goes first. She calls Travis her big brother and her best friend. She explains he will always be 30 in her memory and her children will never grow up to know their uncle Travis, instead they’ll know he was a victim of murder. Her body begins to heave and it becomes clear she is unable to control the volume or pitch of her voice. Her emotion comes from a guttural place and the jury seems paralyzed by her words. “Our family has gone through a living hell…it has made me question my faith in God and my will to live,” she cries out through tears and gasps. Many members of the jury are now weeping as Tanisha continues. She finishes by saying, “When I think of my brother, I don’t want to see pictures of his slit throat, his blackened face, a gunshot wound to his head…I just want to hear his voice but I can’t.”
Travis’ brother Stephen also speaks. He is much more collected but his tone is grave. He begins about where he was the moment he got the news of his brother’s death, his wife couldn’t tell him so his sister, Samantha, did. He also explains how much of an impact his brother’s murder has had on him. He reports how he’s been woken up many times at night by his wife, screaming from a nightmare. He says he has visions of someone coming after him or his family with a knife and when he wakes up he has to run around waking everyone up just to make sure they are alive. Stephen explains how he has been hospitalized several times for severe ulcers and has come close to dying. He also discloses the murder has had a major impact on his marriage and he is now getting a divorce. His voice quivers as he tells how he always believed Travis was bulletproof and now Travis is dead. He finishes with a statement written by Travis detailing his optimism for the future. He reads Travis’ words, “This year will be the best year of my life. This is the year that will eclipse all others.”
I look around me and see nearly everyone in the courtroom has been swept up in the emotion. The public is crying. The jury is crying. Many reporters are crying. I glance over at Jodi and she is hiding behind her hair, wiping her nose repeatedly with a tissue, a stark contrast from the woman that confronted the public with a beaming smile just an hour earlier.