As the Jodi Arias murder trial continues to captivate the public, I decided to take a look at other cases in which a woman charged with first degree murder claimed self-defense. I chose a few that I was familiar enough with to write about. In the state of Arizona, if the jury finds a defendant guilty of first degree murder with at least one of the aggravating factors - they go on to decide if a defendant receives life in prison or a death sentence.
Prior to August 2002, sentencing was handled entirely by the trial judge, with no jury involvement. Arizona’s new death penalty statute calls for a 2 part sentencing process. In the first phase, the prosecutor presents evidence relating to aggravating circumstances. If the jury determines that the State has not established at least one statutory aggravating circumstance, the defendant is no longer subject to the death penalty. The jury is dismissed and the trial judge decides the appropriate sentence.
If the jury finds that there is at least one aggravating circumstance, the jury remains empaneled and considers any mitigating evidence presented by the defense or by the State, as well as victim impact evidence. The jurors then decide whether to impose a death sentence, assessing whether the proffered mitigation is sufficiently substantial to warrant leniency.
Jodi Arias is charged with first degree murder with the aggravating circumstance that the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner. Regardless of what came first, the gunshot, the 29 stab wounds or the slit throat, this was an especially heinous cruel and depraved murder! Even if Arias shot Travis Alexander first, as she claims - in her scenario he was still alive and coming after her after being shot in the head. A gunshot to the head would have been painful and would have rendered him somewhat incapacitated yet she still stabbed him more than 2 dozen times and cut his throat so deeply it nearly severed his spine. Thankfully Judge Stephens agrees that the murder was heinous regardless of the order of the many lethal wounds to Travis Alexander.
How willing are jurors to hand down a death sentence to a young woman with no prior criminal record? Let's take a look at another case prosecuted by Juan Martinez in the same jurisdiction:
State of Arizona vs. Wendi Andriano.
Wendi Andriano is one of the three woman who currently resides on Arizona's death row at the Lumly Unit in the Arizona State Prison Complex in Perryville. Andriano was 30 years old at the time of the murder of her 33 year old husband Joe Andriano. Andriano's husband was terminally ill and very weak from undergoing chemotherapy and wasn't expected to recover from his illness.
In the early morning hours of October 8 2000, police and paramedics were called to the couple's Ahwatukee apartment to find Joe Andriano dead from 23 blows to the head and a lethal knife wound to his neck. A bloody Wendi Andriano told the police her husband became enraged and attacked her after she told him she had been having an affair with another man. She claims they struggled with the knife and she killed him in self defense. The medical examiner found traces of sodium azide in Joe's system, which the police linked directly to Wendi Andriano - she had been trying to poison her husband without success, and it was also uncovered at trial that she had tried to enlist friends to pose as her husband in an attempt to have a life insurance policy reinstated in her husband's name before the murder.
Wendi Andriano, like Jodi Arias - chose to take the stand and testified for 9 days. During her testimony, she claimed her husband took the sodium azide in an attempt to end the suffering from his terminal cancer - she also alleged that husband Joe stabbed himself during the struggle for the knife. On 11/18/04, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Andriano after 2 1/2 hours of deliberations. She was sentenced to death by lethal injection on 12/22/04.
Hong Kong vs. Nancy Kissel: Nancy Kissel was convicted of first degree murder for the 11/2/03 slaying of husband Rob Kissel in their Hong Kong luxury apartment. Kissel's body was found rolled up in carpeting in the couple's storage unit at the apartment they shared. Kissel had been bludgeoned to death and had large amounts of sedatives in his system. Dubbed "the Milkshake Murder" by the press, the trial received international press coverage - Rob Kissel was a very successful investment banker for Merrill Lynch. During Nancy Kissel's trial, she testified that she suffered years of physical abuse and sexual humiliation at the hands of husband Rob, and claims he raped and sodomized her over a 5 year period of time. Prosecutor's claimed Nancy Kissel's affair with a man in the US had been discovered by husband Rob, who planned to tell Nancy he wanted a divorce the night he was murdered. Nancy Kissel testified that on the night of the killing, Rob flew into a rage about the affair and came at her with a baseball bat. She swung back with a statue, and after hitting him he became more enraged and threatened to kill her. Sound familiar? The jury was unmoved by Nancy Kissel's testimony and convicted her of first degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Kissel was granted a new trial in 2010 after the prosecution improperly used evidence including hearsay, and the jury instructions were problematic. Her new trial had the same outcome and on 3/25/11 she was found guilty and received a life sentence.
State of CA vs. Susan Polk: 70 year old psychologist Dr. Felix Polk was found dead on 10/14/02 in the pool house of the couple's Orinda home. 47 year old wife Susan Polk was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Felix Polk had 27 wounds on his body, including at least 15 stab wounds and blunt force trauma. Polk first denied any knowledge of or involvement in her husband's death, but later claims she killed him in self defense. At trial, Polk claimed she suffered from years of beatings and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, and on the day of the murder he brandished a kitchen knife against her. She gained control of the knife and stabbed him instead. Polk was found to have no defensive wounds from her husbands alleged attack. Two of the Polk's sons took the stand against their mother, a third son testified that their father was an unstable parent. The jury wasn't convinced of pre-meditation and convicted Susan Polk of second degree murder. Before she was sentenced, Polk shouted at jurors "shame on your all" - she received a sentence of 16 years to life.
State of TX vs. Susan Wright: On 1/13/03, Jeffrey Wright was stabbed 193 times by his wife - 26 year old Susan Wright. She then buried his body in their back yard, and promptly filed a domestic abuse report in order to get a restraining order against her (dead) husband. She attempted to cover up the crime by painting the bedroom. On 1/18/03, Susan Wright called attorney Neal Davis and asked him to come to her Houston home, where she admitted to stabbing her husband. Davis contacted the DA's office to inform them of the body buried in the couple's back yard and the confession. Wright turned herself in on Friday 1/24/03 and was indicted for murder the following Monday.
Wright plead not guilty by reason of self-defense and her trial began 2/24/04. During the trial, Wright took the stand and tearfully told the jury her husband became violent on the night of the murder after a long cocaine binge. Once she started stabbing him, she testified "I couldn't stop stabbing him, I couldn't stop". She told the jury she feared Jeff wasn't dead and that he was going to kill her. ADA Kelly Siegler presented a different theory to the jury, calling Wright a "card-carrying, obvious, no doubt about it, caught red-handed, confirmed and documented liar". Siegler famously had the couple's bed brought into the court room and reenacted the murder, counting out each stab wound in dramatic fashion "1-2-3-4-5-6", and asking Wright "didn't you get tired?" It was a dramatic trial, that's for sure - it spawned a made for TV movie called "Blue-Eyed Butcher". On 3/4/04, Wright was found guilty of murder after the jury deliberated for 5 1/2 hours. While the State was hoping for a sentence of 55 years, the defense argued for probation! Wright received a 25 year sentence, which was later reduced to 20 years after a new witness came forward to testify about the domestic violence she suffered during a 4 year relationship with murder victim Jeff Wright. The new witness was his former fiancee.
It goes to show how similar crimes committed in different states can have much different outcomes and sentences. What will this Maricopa County jury ultimately decide Jodi Arias's fate should be? Will seeing and hearing her testify for so many weeks have an effect on their ability to hand down the ultimate punishment? Judging by the 200+ jury questions we heard this week, one thing is crystal clear - they have been paying close attention to Arias's words. They are questioning the many things that don't make sense, they are calling her on discrepancies. They seem to be asking her why she felt it was absolutely necessary to take the action she took, she had other options.
It's difficult for society to think of women and capital punishment. Women are regarded as "the fairer sex" for a reason. Most violent crimes are committed by men, women who kill tend to do it more passive non-violent ways such as poisoning or a single gunshot. Jodi Arias showed no mercy on Travis Alexander, whether she remembers it or not. I hope that seeing Travis's siblings in the courtroom every day has made an impact on the jury. They jury has only heard Travis's voice in the most negative way imaginable. Whether or not he obeyed the "laws of chastity" has no bearing on whether or not he should have been brutally murdered. She has used Travis's own faith against him, and as much as she claims to not want to "de-edify" Travis Alexander - she has done that and so much more over the course of this trial. She has used words like "edify" in an effort to paint herself as an articulate, intelligent and soft spoken woman who would never kill anybody unless she absolutely had to. The defense has actually tried to insinuate that since her prior boyfriends are all still breathing, she must not be a vengeful killer. What will the jury decide? What will the defense "experts" say next week about Jodi Arias? Will the contents of the stolen laptop of prosecution witness Dr. Janeen Demarte fall into the hands of Jodi Arias's defense team?
Hey, she was willing to try to smuggle a coded message out of jail via two magazines during a jail visitation - is having a laptop stolen that far fetched? Arias does have followers, after spending nearly 5 years in the Estella jail in Phoenix. Wouldn't surprise me at all if one of her supporters was behind the break in, especially if the laptop was the only thing taken from the break in. Like the .25 caliber gun stolen from Arias's grandparents Yreka home. Is this just another coincidence? It very well could be.
My hopes are that the jury will speak for Travis Alexander, who can no longer speak for himself. Relying on the word of somebody like Jodi Arias can be a very dangerous mistake.