Tough road lies ahead in jury selection for Jodi Arias sentencing

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jodi arias

Jodi Arias

(CNN) — When jury selection gets underway in a Phoenix courtroom on Monday, attorneys may be hard-pressed to find jurors untainted by news of the case against Jodi Arias.

Lurid details about how the former waitress seduced her lover and left a trail of pictures depicting their sex play, before shooting and nearly decapitating him, created a media sensation for months during her 2013 trial.

A new jury will be tasked with determining punishment after her first jury found her guilty of first-degree murder but deadlocked on whether she should be put to death for the 2008 murder of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, who was stabbed 29 times, had his neck slit from ear to ear and shot in the face.

“She’s very scared,” said Donavan Bering, a friend of Arias. “Things changed for her. She came to the realization that she didn’t want the death penalty. She wants to be able to see her mom and her family.”

After efforts to settle the case went nowhere and legal motions to drop the death penalty were denied, Arias will resume the fight for her life with the help of a lead attorney, Kirk Nurmi, that she neither wants or trusts.

“I do not trust his advice and especially do not trust how he might conduct himself towards me because I know from personal experience that he is curt, rude and condescending,” she wrote in a 12-page, single-spaced handwritten letter to the judge in October of 2013.

When her efforts to replace him were unsuccessful, she persuaded the judge to let her represent herself, but then changed her mind weeks before the start of her retrial. The defense team is made up of Nurmi, Jennifer Willmott and mitigation specialist Maria Delarosa.

Sex, lies and digital images

While Arias has the same defense team, trial strategy could be a lot different if Nurmi follows the advice of jury foreman William Zervakos, who shared his thoughts with the defense team when they met with him to discuss the case.

“Jodi Arias is her own worst enemy. She’s a terrible defendant,” said Zervakos, one of the four jurors who voted to spare her life. “I was candid with them. I told them it was best if she were not on the stand.”

“The strategy this time is to keep Jodi off the stand,” said a source close to the defense. “However, Jodi has a mind of her own.”

Arias spent 18 days on the witness stand recalling the minutiae of her allegedly abusive relationship with Alexander, but claimed to have no recollection of the actual attack.

The trial was rife with sex, lies and digital images, including graphic autopsy photos that showed Alexander’s body.

But the 2013 hung jury brought to a close a dramatic chapter in a high-profile case that lasted months, drawing spectators who lined up for courtroom seats and waited anxiously outside the courthouse.

Emotions ran high in the courtroom as the jury’s inability to agree on a sentence was announced. Arias appeared to be on the verge of tears. One of Alexander’s sisters sobbed.

Even the normally stoic judge’s voice cracked as she dismissed jurors.

“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the participants in this trial, I wish to thank you for your extraordinary service to this community,” she told them. “This was not your typical trial. You were asked to perform very difficult responsibilities.”

An alternate juror and a juror who was on the panel cried as the verdict was being read.

As the jury filed out of the courtroom, one juror said, “I’m sorry” to Alexander’s family.

Jurors had deliberated for more than 13 hours in the penalty phase of the trial when they told the court they wouldn’t be able to agree on a verdict.

“We’ll never know what happened, and whatever triggered that rage,” said Zervakos. “She must be held accountable. But up until then, she had led a relatively normal life.”

Witnesses threatened and intimidated?

The jury foreman found mitigating evidence in her lack of criminal history and was not persuaded by the state’s argument that the murder was premeditated. Despite the heavy social media backlash from people who wanted the death penalty for Arias, Zervakos said time has only made him more comfortable with in his decision.

Arias needs only to persuade one juror to vote in her favor to avoid the death penalty. While the odds may seem favorable, it is a formidable challenge for a defense team that has complained that their witnesses have been threatened, intimidated and bullied into silence by “haters” who loathe Arias.

“It’s impossible to get a fair trial with all the publicity this case has received,” said a source close to the defense. “We had several witnesses who backed down because they are so afraid to support Jodi.”

The jury is expected to hear the state argue that the murder was especially cruel and heinous, a violent attack that included dozens of stab wounds, a knife wound to the neck that went down to the spine, and a bullet to the head.

Arias’ behavior before and after the murder — allegedly stealing her grandfather’s gun, getting rid of incriminating evidence, including the weapons used in the attack, and a rendezvous with a prospective lover hours after killing Alexander — are likely fodder for the state’s case for the death penalty.

The reluctance of defense witnesses to testify may also have something to do with the aggressive style of prosecutor Juan Martinez, whose cross of defense expert Alyce LaViolette caused her such anxiety she sought medical help during the trial. She refused to return for the retrial, telling CNN’s Ted Rowlands: “Threats to my life, threats to my family. My family doesn’t want me to go back.”

LaViolette wasn’t the only defense witness raked over the coals by Martinez, who mocked the professionalism of defense psychologist Richard Samuels, suggesting his judgment was clouded by his fondness for Arias. The psychologist testified that one of the reasons for Arias’ amnesia was post-traumatic stress disorder.

The exchanges between Martinez and Samuels became so heated during trial that defense attorney Jennifer Willmott pleaded with the judge to intervene and “tell (the prosecutor) stop yelling at the witness.”

While some of Arias’ witnesses have abandoned the case, the defense has cobbled together a “handful of witnesses,” their names kept secret and their testimony spared the pressure of live TV coverage by a court order, said the source close to the defense.

Judge Sherry Stephens ruled that while TV cameras will be permitted in the retrial, no video can be aired until a verdict has been rendered. Her decision came after the defense argued that live TV coverage would keep their witnesses from testifying.

“There will be people testifying that now feel safe where they didn’t before,” said Bering, Arias’ friend. “I think there will be a lot of surprises.”

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  • Devon Rose

    First of all, has anyone seen a picture of this Donavan chick? She is a sick groupie who is obsessed with Jodi Arias, and Arias uses her to post on social media, etc. She did not even know Arias before the trial, as a matter of fact, don’t quote me on this, but I think she was in jail with Arias.
    Just wanted to clear up who exactly this pathetic loser is.
    We can only hope and pray that for Travis Alexander’s family’s sake and peace of mind, Arias is sentenced to death.

  • Toussaint Foster

    Here are 5 reasons why a jury will not give Jodi Arias the death penalty. (1) It is not politically correct to give an abused woman the death penalty even if the alleged abuse from Travis is mostly a sham (2) Jodi was supposedly abused as a little girl. It’s not politically correct to give the death penalty to people who once suffered child abuse. Once again, it does not matter if that child abuse was a sham. It only takes one moron on the jury (like William Zervakos) to feel sorry for Jodi (3) Jodi has been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. It is not politically correct to give the death penalty to disturbed individuals (4) Juries generally don’t give the death penalty to beautiful white women (4) It helps that Jodi is articulate and doesn’t speak Black vernacular ghetto English (remember Rachel Jeantel’s from the George Zimmerman trial?). That’s a big turn off (5) Jodi will not get the death penalty because her defense lawyer, Kirk Nurmi, will kill her first.

    • Jack

      Politically incorrect to sentence an abused woman to death? Um, your forgetting Aileen Wuornos who was actually abused and given the needle . All Martinez needs to do is emphasize on the crime scene photos. That’ll do it.

  • Collene Ivy

    Maybe I am looking at in too simply, but she stalked him, stabbed him multiple times, slit his throat, and shot him in the head; and was found guilty of these acts. So how many ways does she have to kill him to deserve the death penalty?

    • SusieQ

      Precisely my point. But she has such mitigating “qualities” LOL. I don’t care if she could paint the Sistine Chapel! Give her the penalty she deserves: death. Don’t think it will happen but we can all pray.

    • Michelle pollard

      You are not looking at this too simply. From Yreka to a Salt Lake City ( which was the alleged destination of Ryan and the reason for her trip, in the first place) it is ~ 769 miles, most of which are EAST. What victim of domestic violence or abuse of any kind drives ~ 650 miles past their end stop to visit the person that allegedly abused them but they had successfully broke away from and had NO REASON to be dependent on or tied to? I’ll tell you, someone who is NOT A VICTIM AT ALL!!! Her actions prior to and after June 4 are the actions of a very SANE, calculating, focused, driven aggressor. She took extreme and deliberate steps to accomplish her murderous goal. Other than her claim, there is NOT ONE minuscule shred of evidence that Travis was ever violent to anyone, ever, in his life. Her past, however is riddled with lies. And the jury foreman needs to revisit the fact that she was busted by her parents growing pot, which was very illegal. Her parents are not legally required to report this and charge her, but she was guilty. Just because she didn’t get charged or even caught, does not mean that she did not conduct illegal activities. On her trip she broke the law by altering the license plate on her rental car, again another illegal act, despite how minimal, it was done very deliberately for very diabolic reasons! She was pissed that he rejected her, she planned and exacted revenge for that’s, drove over 1,000 miles to torture and kill Travis. For that, she should be put to death!

      • KateS

        Absolutely 100% Jodi WAS abused by Travis. Those who say she wasn’t just do not know what they are talking about. They do not recognize abuse. Perhaps they are sick themselves and just don’t see it. Travis approached Jodi at the prepaid legal meeting. He controlled the codependent attachment from the beginning. Travis already had a history of abusing women. This was not his first rodeo. He was a scumbag when he met Jodi. Travis abused Jodi verbally, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, physically and spiritually. His own words out of his own mouth to Jodi ” you sound just like a 12 year old having her first orgasm” What was Jodi’s response? Shock, disgust. She verbalized that and Travis doubled down on his remark exerting his control. If you do not see the emotional, psychological, sexual abuse in that, you just are ignorant. It is there plain as day. Doesn’ matter that she made a mess out of things, dead is dead. If she had been a good shot, it would have been clean and she would have gotten 15 years. However, she does not even deserve any time. She was a victim of Travis’ long before she regurgitated his abuse back to him. Travis would be alive today if he was not an abuser of women. Perhaps in this over-reach by the prosecutors and their what IMHO appears to be an effort to change the facts (order of the wounds) to support their new theory, they have opened the door for Jodi’s appeal to win her a complete new trial. Get those emails of the Hughes in there and a new expert and a new jury will find her innocent. Even “if” there was premeditation which was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, one could argue that Jodi was under the control of Travis the entire time and her borderline PD made it impossible for her to act on her own. She was controlled. Thus, she could get an insanity defense and win it. Regardless, of which charge she ends up with, there are tons of mitigating conditions.

        All of you who seek Jodi’s blood have some serious hate and unforgiveness issues. As you call for her death or even pray for it, you are inviting your own damnation. God put a mark on Cain, the first murderer in the Bible, and He said that He would severly punish anyone that killed Cain. So you all better be careful. You are spitting in God’s face.

  • chris

    Why is this Looney Donovan Bering still giving her opinions to the media? She’s a nobody! She is in no way, shape or form related to the murderer. She should shut up already. I hope and pray this new jury gets it right this time. It’s beyond ridiculous already. I hope they can see past her manipulations and endless lies. I hope they don’t fall for her domestic abuse fairytale. I hope they can see the evidence and see it was all planned ahead of time. She most definitely deserve death. Did she show the same mercy to Travis? NO! Justice for Travis and his family. They have suffered enough.

    • KateS

      Travis got his justice. He reaped what he sowed. He is in hell where he is getting all of the justice he earned. Travis got what he deserved. If he would have treated women with respect, he would be alive today. The monster is Travis and the other monsters are his vengeful, selfish family. They need to learn how to forgive but I have never met a Mormon yet that could forgive. Their religion is straight from the devil. As they urge on justice, they too will get their justice in the same measure as they used.

  • Barbara A Kennedy

    I believe the jury foreman was never able to give the death penalty. he should have never sat on that trial. i am happy he is ok with his decision,what about the alexander family who now because of him and 3 others have to go through this again? that convicted murderer was Never abused by that kind man she brutally murdered. real domestic abuse survivors are outraged that the defense has used a FAKE defense. jodi arias has lied,lied and lied some more. didnt the jury foreman say she didnt look like a killer?? i ask you what does a killer look like do they have horns??? jodi arias has NO mitigating factors, so what if she doesnt have a past police record,so what if she donates (lol) her murderess hair,so what if she can teach people to read,so what if she thinks she is worth saving. if the tables were turned travis would be on death row. i believe what she did that day on june 4th.2008 has earned her the death penalty. women should be put on death row just like we can put men on death row. i have no pity for that cold blooded killer,or her heartless family. its time for the new jury to send her where she belongs clink-clink the death row at perryville.

  • Carolo43

    Doesn’t matter if she is given the DP anyway. First thing the appellate court will do is get her sentence reduced to life. And this will be year after year of appeals. Too bad people couldn’t have been happy with “life” to began with. She could have been rotting away in prison all this time and long forgotten.

    • sara

      REALLY??? I’m sure Wendy Andriano will love to hear this – why has not AZ court automatically reversed HER DP from years ago??? How about everyone else on death row??? Jeez….

    • sara

      The murderer is a pathological liar. It was NEVER abused. It was dumped and rejected by its victim – then it stalked and premeditated a horrific murder – (much the same type execution done by ISIS). It is a heartless cunning savage whom earned and deserves the DEATH PENALTY. Hope the jury gets it right this time.

    • denise

      Renee you must be a lost soul and someone that didnt watch all her questioning by the cops all interviews and last but not least the TRIAL itself.The only thing i can come up with is you must be a groupie For you to say she was abused because you wrote her and she wrote you back If it wasnt so sad it would be funny.But to read your comment i can only think you really have not lived a life you have to write someone that is so evil. I can only guess it total made your day when you got a letter back from that killer. I truely feel sorry for you to have no life besides writing to a evil women that tortured That man then tryed to blame him.How would it make you feel if travis with the family member? And some psychopath did that to him and then tryed to put the blame on him after stabbing him Cutting his throat from ear to ear And then shotting him. How would it make you feel then to have people like you to say she was abused after a court of law proved it was a lie. Please get help befor you trust the wrong person and you get hurt.

    • chris

      Did Ted Bundy look and sounded like a murderer? ..Don’t be fooled Renee! .. There is absolutely NO evidence from anybody that Travis was an abuser or a Pedophile… All lies coming from Jodi’s mouth. How many times she lied and lied and lied? .. If she were innocent, why try to destroy the camera in the washing machine? Why leave him that ridiculous message in his answering machine AFTER she had slaughtered him? She said she was on an alleged “Fog” when she slaughtered him, but obviously not when she was covering her tracks! … And landed in another man’s house. Domestic Abuse Victim my ass!!

  • sharon

    What is taking the justice system to get this taken care of. The people have spoken
    To you Renee because you talked to her you believe in what she told you? She was proven guilty. She lies constantly. When she found out she .wasn’t going with Travis and put someone else on the airlines ticket to mexico, she decided he wouldn’t be going with anybody. Case closed!!!

  • kim

    If this country was like other countries in the way they punish their criminals the crime they commit is how they are punished! Our prison system is over running with our tax dollars keeping all these sick killers full of meals and healthy medically while our US citizens fight to afford health care give them all ( killers) the death penalty! If it were your child that was killed how would you feel.

  • denise

    Wow renee what planet Have you been living on? As someone that has been abused It makes me sick that she claimed She was abused. You think because she wrote to you that she told you the truth? She was found guilty. I was glued to the tv and never missed a second of her trial.She lied ever time she opened her mouth. Anybody that cant see that i would never want them on a jury.We would be having alot of killer out there.She is the most conniving Women i have seen. Death penalty or not She should never ever get a chance to walk out side of prison.There is to many people that really cant see evil in people.

  • Renee

    I watched every second of the trial also and I’ve also been abused. There is not always proof of abuse. Nobody knew I was being abused, there were no police reports, nothing. Only thing I did different was take pictures of my injuries. Most abusers ate very charming and people on the outside would never think in a million years they would be a abusive monster.

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