Judge allows Jodi Arias to represent herself at September retrial as prosecutors seek death

Brian Skoloff / The Associated Press
August 4, 2014 03:38 PM

FILE - This Jan. 9, 2013 file photo shows Jodi Arias appearing for her trial in Maricopa County Superior court in Phoenix. A judge has ruled, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, that Arias can represent herself in the upcoming penalty phase of her murder trial. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX - Jodi Arias bathed in the spotlight soon after her arrest for the killing of her ex-boyfriend, and she remained there for years, offering jailhouse interviews, using Twitter from behind bars and spending 18 days on the witness stand during her murder trial.

After having faded from the spotlight for months while awaiting the second penalty phase in her case, Arias again is back in it, this time serving as her own attorney after a judge approved her request Monday to represent herself.

Experts say the move might not be such a bad idea given the gruesome nature of the crime. Arias, 34, admitted killing Travis Alexander at his suburban Phoenix home in 2008 but said it was self-defence. He was stabbed nearly 30 times, had his throat slit and was shot in the forehead. Prosecutors argued it was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage when Alexander wanted to end their affair.

She was found guilty of first-degree murder last year but jurors couldn't reach a decision on sentencing. Under Arizona law, while Arias' murder conviction stands, prosecutors have the option of putting on a second penalty phase with a new jury in an effort to secure the death penalty.

"It's actually probably a good idea to represent herself," said San Francisco-area defence attorney Daniel Horowitz. "She looks like a vicious psychopath with a ridiculous defence."

However, Horowitz noted, the jury "may find her pathetic."

"If she can get just one juror to bond with her on some level, even if they hate her, they're getting to know her, and it's harder to kill someone you know," he said.

Arias will have the task of arguing a death penalty case just four weeks from now despite having no legal experience and no college degree or high school diploma. Arias got her GED in jail.

Alexander's family, who lauded her conviction after spending every day of the trial sitting in the front row of the gallery, often sobbing and looking away from horrific crime scene photographs, will now have to see Arias argue her own case in an attempt to save her life.

Her defence lawyers will remain on as advisory council. They declined to comment on the latest developments. Prosecutors also declined comment.

Arias has long clashed with her defence attorneys and tried to fire them previously. The feud only intensified after she gave a series of media interviews following her May 2013 conviction. Her lawyers also have tried to withdraw several times, but the judge rebuffed their requests.

The five-month trial that began in January 2013 was broadcast live and provided seemingly endless amounts of cable TV and tabloid fodder, including a recorded phone sex call between Arias and the victim, nude photos, bloody crime-scene pictures and a defendant who described her life story in intimate detail over 18 days on the witness stand.

Arias told jurors of an abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, dead-end jobs, her sexual relationship with Alexander and her contention that he had grown physically violent.

"They thought she was a liar. She was narcissistic. She was arrogant, and it made it easy to convict her," Horowitz said. "But that's a lot different than killing somebody."

Phoenix defence lawyer Mel McDonald, a former Maricopa County judge and federal prosecutor, agreed that Arias doesn't have much to lose.

"I think generally that anybody that represents themselves has a fool for a client, but it also gives her a way, if she's out there making a fool of herself, to maybe invoke some sympathy from a juror," McDonald said.

This time around the trial will not be broadcast live after the judge ruled footage may not be used until after a verdict.

If the new jury fails to reach a unanimous decision during the second penalty phase set for Sept. 8, the death penalty will be removed from consideration. The judge would then sentence Arias to spend her life behind bars or to be eligible for release after 25 years.


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