Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jodi Arias Granted Access To East Queensborough Crime Scene

Travis Alexander's Home - from MSN News

I just read Jodi Arias petitioned the Court for access to Travis Alexander's East Queensborough home in Mesa, aka "the scene of the crime" - her request was granted. Arias reportedly plans to bring a new investigator to the home where the brutal slaying occurred.  What she hopes to accomplish during her twisted field trip is anyone's guess.  Since Arias' guilt is NOT at issue for the upcoming penalty phase retrial, what can possibly be gained by returning to the scene?  Naturally there are new occupants at the home and they can't be thrilled with the prospect of Jodi Arias in that house.  After all, she is responsible for the horrors that unfolded more than 6 years ago when she yielded a knife and gun, and presumably attacked an unassuming man who was simply taking a shower.

Sadly the house on East Queensborough had become somewhat of a tourist attraction in the years that followed the murder - the people who ultimately purchased it initially thought it had been vandalized when they saw it.  There were fixtures missing and there was work to be done, all of which they were willing to do.  By the time the house was listed and being shown to prospective buyers, there were no outward signs that this was the scene of such a brutal murder.

I'm all for doing whatever needs to be done to get this trial back on track, I simply don't see what can be gained by her revisiting this site.  I can't see WHY she'd want to go back there where such a devastating and life altering event happened.  What exactly is the probative value in doing so?  Is she still hung up on trying to prove justification in this attack? Does Arias hope a walk through will cure her of the foggy amnesia she claims erased much of her memory of the stabbing and slashing that took place?  The only act of violence she seems to remember was the gunshot - but even that admission came with a qualifier.  She said Travis was coming after HShe does still speak of herself as a survivor of domestic abuse, despite there being not a shred of evidence to support her claims other than some verbal altercations that went both ways.  Is this why Kirk Nurmi has fought so hard to be removed from this case? Is this one of the impasses they reached during the course of their business relationship?

From what I've read, Arias has hired on a new investigator with the funds she has raised through her various online ventures and art sales.  Hey, who's to say what any one of us would do if we were fighting for the right to live and avoid death row - but everything Arias does seems to be in the gray area of the law.  How could she go back there?  I don't get it.  I'll probably never get why she has done many of the things she has done but if she has hopes of getting her guilty verdict tossed via this penalty phase retrial she's in for a big surprise because it's not going to happen.  

During this penalty phase of her trial, both sides will argue - the prosecution will lay out the aggravating factors that make this a death penalty trial and the reasons her actions support a death sentence.  For Arias, this is her chance to argue mitigating factors, and she didn't lay out many during the first trial other than pointing to her parents and asking to be spared "for them".  Jodi Arias also presented the jury with several pet projects she hopes to spearhead from prison, such as a recycling program and various educational and literary groups.  She should be focusing on the reasons she isn't a death row candidate, NOT domestic violence or what she has repeatedly referred to as a "wrongful conviction".  Not during this trial - I have no doubt the prosecutor will have none of it.  He must be salivating at the thought of Arias representing herself at trial.  He clearly has the advantage but he also must walk a fine line or risk Arias gaining the sympathy of the jury if he is perceived as bullying her.


I'm just shocked that they are allowing a convicted murderer to return to the scene of the crime before this phase of the trial, just unbelievable to me.  I'd love to know what the basis for the request is since it would seem to be completely irrelevant to the matters that will be argued during the penalty phase. It all seems to point to Jodi Arias not wanting to concede that she LOST at trial. She is a convicted murderer - that part is done, history.  Granted there undoubtedly be appeals, but we are nowhere near that at this point.  I just don't see what can be gained by her returning to the house where she committed murder.

I've got to keep reading and find out more about this move.  There are no new minute entries that speak of this move and for the most part hearings have been done out of the public with the transcripts sealed under lock & key. Will the jury selection begin on September 29th, or will Arias seek yet another delay to prepare?  Remember, when Judge Stephens granted her motion to represent herself she told her there would be no further delays! Don't any of these warnings stand, or are they so afraid of denying this defendant anything she asks for because of potential appellate issues?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Let's get this trial started.  Travis has been dead for more than 6 years now! 
S I X   Y E A R S!   Arias and her defense team have had plenty of time to prepare for trial and it's time to stick to the program starting now.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jodi Arias Trial Delayed.....Again

It's not surprising, yet the news that's bound to make prosecutor Juan Martinez cringe - Judge Sherry Stephens has granted a motion giving Jodi Arias more time to prepare for her upcoming penalty phase retrial.  The trial was slated to begin with jury selection on September 8th is now set for September 29th.  I know the wheels of justice in this country can be painfully slow, but this is beyond ridiculous given that the Arias defense has had a year and a half to prepare for this day.  We basically have a convicted murderer who doesn't get a long with lead attorney Kirk Nurmi. She wants him off her case and he wants to be off the case.  But given the time and resources the state has put into giving Jodi Arias the defense team she fought to keep prior to going to trial, there is no time or resources to allow her to hire another attorney and get them up to speed.  She has competent representation, she doesn't have to like him and vice versa.

She may blame Kirk Nurmi for losing her trial, but she can't really think it's his fault.  He had a bad case to start with, the police had so much evidence against Arias and she really was her own worst enemy in the way she has handled herself since she smiled for her mug shot. When it became clear Arias couldn't lie her way out of this murder charge, she turned to slander, shock and what many believe to be outright lies to try to garner sympathy and make this slaughter look justified.  None of which worked, thankfully the jury saw through the attempts to paint Travis Alexander as a pedophile and domestic batterer - but Arias' and Nurmi's infighting didn't help them either. The extent or exact reasons for their apparent hatred of each other isn't really known, but it's been chalked up to a difference in opinion on trial strategy.  I think Nurmi was realistic about their chances of anything other than first degree murder, but I think Arias thought she could actually walk away with a lesser charge of second degree murder or manslaughter.  With all the evidence pointing to a calculated and planned murder that was not likely to happen.

There has been so much secrecy around this trial it's hard to know what's really been happening.  All we can do is look to the Court's Minute Entries to try and see what's going on in all of these closed door hearings.  Here's the latest two minute entries, the first of which is from August 20th:

IT IS ORDERED that the For the Record remaining portion of these proceedings shall be sealed and not provided to any person or transcribed absent further Order of the Court.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Court Reporter, Mike Babicky shall seal his notes as to this portion of the proceedings; not to be made available for the public or persons other than: counsel associated with this case, or any higher Court that may request it; absent further order of 
the Court. Ms. Arias’ expert appears telephonically and is questioned by Ms. Arias, Mr. Martinez and the Court. This expert does not anticipate authoring a report in this case.

LET THE RECORD REFLECT the State’s experts for the penalty phase are set forth on the record. The State requests the addresses of the civilian witnesses disclosed by the Defendant and that interviews of those witnesses be scheduled September 5, 6 and/or 7, 2014. Defendant advises that the witnesses have asked that their addresses not be given to the State; and that contact between the State and Defendant’s witnesses go through defendant’s 
advisory counsel. 

IT IS SO ORDERED. Defendant is directed that the State must have a mechanism for contacting Defendant’s disclosed witnesses and that those witnesses shall submit to an interview by the prosecutor prior to trial. 
The Court will look into where the interviews will be conducted, either at the Courthouse or at the Estrella Jail.

IT IS ORDERED setting the next Capital Case Management Conference and hearing on pending motions for SEPTEMBER 4, 2014 at 8:30 a.m. in this division. The State has no objection to Defendant’s Motion to Continue, so long as firm dates and times are established for interviewing Defendant’s expert and for her civilian witnesses.

IT IS ORDERED setting a date and time certain for interview by the State of Defendant’s expert – SEPTEMBER 2, 2014 at 9:00 a.m., in Arizona. Specific location to be determined. There being no objection by the State and for the reasons articulated on the record this morning as well as issues discussed in an ex parte proceeding.

THE COURT FINDS extraordinary circumstances exist warranting a delay and that delay is in the interest of justice. Accordingly,
IT IS ORDERED vacating the September 8 re-trial of the Penalty Phase of this Capital Case and resetting same for SEPTEMBER 29, 2014 at 8:30 a.m., 16 days allotted. 

Jury selection will consist of three panels of 100 jurors, appearing at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on September 29. Those available/not excused will complete the Questionnaire; the Questionnaires 
will be copied and provided to counsel/Defendant. Division staff will re-send the Questionnaire via Email to counsel. Defendant requests that the State set a date and time certain for her Investigator to observe the crime scene. The Prosecutor will contact his case agent immediately following this 
hearing to schedule a date and time certain, on or before August 28, as requested by Defendant. Prior custody orders are affirmed.


9:04 a.m. Matter concludes

So what does it all mean?  Who are "the defendant's expert and civilian" witnesses?  Will her family testify under the circumstances that Arias is acting as her own attorney this time around? How many of you think Arias will really end up acting as her own attorney when it comes down to trial day? She may make it through the jury selection, but I can't believe she expects to go toe to toe with Juan Martinez and come out on top.  I believe Jodi Arias' move to self-represent is largely in part because she believes this action will sway the Judge into letting her fire Kirk Nurmi and the other part being her narcissistic need to be front and center in that courtroom.  This could end up being the SECOND BIGGEST MISTAKE OF HER LIFE!  Let's take a look at the other minute entry from August 19th:

MINUTE ENTRY
Courtroom SCT-5C
Based on request by Defense because their witness is not available,
IT IS ORDERED vacating Evidentiary Hearing on 8/22/14 and resetting same on 8/20/14 

at 8:30 a.m. in this division.

Not much there, the defense's witness was not available - is this going to be the tone of the rest of this trial? Witnesses who are not available, or who say they are afraid to testify because of harassment and threats made against them?  Arias is already complaining that she doesn't have adequate access to interview witnesses because she is in jail. Duh.  Aside from not having a law degree, that's probably one of the top reasons people who are behind bars should not represent themselves.  

Meanwhile, television stations are making requests to the court to air delayed trial coverage - one such proposal has them airing the footage after court has recessed for the day.  The 2012 trial grabbed millions of TV viewers, and naturally the media wants to cover the retrial. However, Arias' defense has complained that the excessive coverage was to blame for witnesses refusing to testify due to threats and general harassment.  This is the crux of the reason they aren't airing the trial live this time around.  I have to believe Jodi Arias wants her face on that TV. She seems to love the attention, and seems oblivious that much of it isn't positive. 

According to a report on Foxtv10.com, since Arias is representing herself she could choose not to oppose the request for live coverage or some variation on when it would be played. She doesn't ultimately have the power to make this decision, though her opinion on the matter would be heard.  If trial footage was played after court recessed, any witnesses who testified would be gone and since the witness list is sealed their testimony would not be anticipated or known until after the fact. This could solve a lot of the problems they encountered during the first trial, and it seems like a fair proposition.  I think the public absolutely has a right to see this trial play out - and since the courtroom doesn't hold millions of viewers, television is the only way most people will ever get to see the justice system at work.  It gives the defendant a fair trial and it gives the people access, just not in real time.  

Will this trial ever begin? Will Travis Alexander's rights ever be taken into consideration while we bend over backwards to ensure the person convicted or murdering him has everything she wants and needs at her penalty phase retrial?  Sorry, but I hate that the murder victim and his loved ones seemingly have so few rights when it comes time for an actual trial to begin.  I understand why, better to use an overabundance of caution and in the interest of justice we never would want to risk sending an innocent person to prison for life - but she was already found guilty!  Isn't a year and a half enough time to prepare for this one part of the trial?

This has to end.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Arias' Jail Perks - By Representing Herself, Visits & Calls Increase

Kirk Nurmi (LET ME OUT!)

I found this photo of Kirk Nurmi and am wondering how old the photo is.  He is sporting a bit of facial hair, and that looks like a wall clock he's wearing on his wrist.  It appears to me that he's begging Judge Stephens to let him off this case!  I have no clue what he's really saying or when the photo was taken but we haven't seen or heard much from or about Jodi Arias' lead attorney in some time.

It's such an outrage that Arias is flip flopping on who will represent her and how the trial will proceed.  The taxpayers have already shelled out probably close to $2,000,000 to pay for her defense - here's a look back at a letter her mother Sandy wrote to Judge Duncan back when Kirk Nurmi was trying to withdraw as her attorney:


Hon. Sally Duncan,
My name is Sandy Arias, the mother of Jodi Arias. I am writing to you to plea for my daughter's case. I feel for Mr. Nurmi to quit her case at this point would be detrimental to her defense. He has been helping with her case for the past eighteen months and knows everything about her and her circumstances. As you know, Jodi had some issues with Maria [mitigation specialist] and wasn't able to communicate with her.
She has come to trust Kirk. To bring Victoria in as head council and someone new to work with her would not be fair to Jodi. Jodi deserves a fair trial. Kirk has a lifetime to start his own practice where Jodi only has a few months that will determine whether she has a life at all. Where do his legal and moral obligations lie?
Our family circumstances will not allow us ot be able to hire legal council for her. Jodi's father's health is not good. He is a dialysis patient, has been through treatment for lymphoma and just had open heart surgery. I work two jobs to keep up with our bills.
Jodi doesn't deserve to be tried for the death penalty. The evidence against her will prove that. She has been an exemplary inmate for the entire time she has served in jail. She has been able to help other inmates with various things such as her signing for them, writing poems, doing drawings for them and also helping with reading and writing.
I am only hoing that you will step in and make sure that she gets the fair council that she deserves and needs. Also, that you will be willing to work with Kirk to retain him for the remainder of the time that she needs. As her mother, I am begging you to help save my daughter.
Sincerely,
Sandy Arias

What issues was Jodi having with mitigation specialist Maria de la Rosa? I hadn't heard anything about that before.  Interesting how Jodi Arias feels entitled to a defense team of her choosing, and if they don't agree with her ideas on how to keep her off death row she files Motion after Motion after Motion.  Judge Sherry Stephens has made it clear she will not allow this trial to be delayed any further.  If you ask me, the last year has been a gift to Arias and her defense team.  Maybe she should spend less time peddling her goods and raising funds for her appeals and more time on working with the defense team she already has?

Since Arias was granted the right to represent herself, she has been given more time out of her cell and has had more time to make phone calls - the Sheriff's office is aware that Arias may be trying to manipulate the system with this move and they are keeping a close eye on her, according to the Examiner.com.  Arias can now get 6 visits a week, as opposed to 1 prior to her move to act as her own attorney.  5 of those visits need to be court approved, so she doesn't have complete free reign but still....she also will have no limits to the time she spends on phone calls now, but she will have to provide a court approved list of phone contacts. 

An officer for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said:

"She's still a close custody inmate which is the highest we have, and we are going to continue to treat her that way. She's been convicted of a crime, and one of the most serious crimes that you can think of, and we will continue to think and treat her that way."

It also appears that Jodi Arias has been writing to a reporter at the Houston Chronicle about her experiences in jail and her artwork. We all wonder how an inmate in close custody is able to run a business from a jail cell - and where is the money she's making going.  She had the following to say:
The money goes to other causes, including charity. Some goes to my family, who is struggling badly like so many. There is a mistaken believe that me selling my art is somehow unethical or unlawful. That's false. Everything I do with regard to my art is well within the law.
As for ethics, were it unethical for convicted people to lawfully earn money, there would be no employment opportunities within the nation's prisons. I was an artist for decades before I derailed my life. I had a business, Jodi Arias Fine Art & Photography, now defunct. What I do now is the same concept. Marketing my art is completely lawful and not connected with the deeply regrettable things I've done."

Need I say more?  The fact that people are still talking about her is probably her point.  In stark contrast, the family of Travis Alexander recently held a fundraiser in his honor, where all proceeds raised were donated to help the homeless.  "This is exactly what Travis would have wanted", they said.  

Cold Justice - TNT Signs On For A Third Season!

TNT recently announced that they've renewed their hit reality crime show Cold Justice for a third season. At least 10 new episodes are on deck and expected to begin airing in January of 2015. Man I love this show!  There are so many reality crime shows out there nowadays - the staples, such as Dateline, 48 Hours, 20/20, The First 48 in addition to the onslaught of new shows on Investigation Discovery and Oxygen's popular Snapped.  Cold Justice is in the same genre of some of these shows, yet to me it's in a league of it's own. Not many crime shows have the impressive and very real statistics they have gotten.  In the first two seasons since the shows inception:


  • 15 arrests
  • 8 indictments
  • 4 confessions
  • 2 guilty pleas
  • 1 22- year prison sentence
Those are real results, in addition to being a very informative show that shows the inner workings and challenges that detectives face when re-opening cold murder cases.  The chemistry between veteran former prosecutor Kelly Siegler, former Las Vegas CSI Yolanda McClary and their team of veteran homicide detectives is outstanding.  You get the sense these people truly like and respect one another, and there is no doubt in my mind they feel a real sense of duty and accomplishment in trying to get justice for these murder victims.  I get the feeling they would be loving doing this even if it wasn't being televised by the huge network TNT.  To them, this isn't about television, this is all about the victims and their families.  It shows, it comes across when you watch them working these cases and it's admirable what they are doing.

I'm a big fan of Kelly Siegler's work, and I've come to really admire Yolanda McClary as well as I see how her years of experience is paying off when they arrive at these crime scenes.  These ladies are sharp, smart, independent yet team-oriented - it seems Siegler and McClary and team go to great lengths to ensure the credit for indictments goes to the local cops and not Cold Justice. Many of these cases may not have ever been solved without the help and financial resources the show has brought to Small Town USA.  The Season 2 finale which aired on Friday, August 15th did not disappoint.  This was a 29 year old murder case with virtually no evidence, half of the potential witnesses were deceased but the team was determined to work through it, and did they ever!

In episode "Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice?", the Cold Justice team traveled to Vigo County, Indiana to re-open the suspicious death of 23 year old Kathy Taylor.  Kathy Taylor was reportedly found dead by husband Earl Taylor when he got home from work on April 2, 1975.  This was pre-911, so Taylor originally went to his father's house and the two of them went to the police station to report the death of wife Kathy. When police arrived at the Taylor home, they found the 23 year old lying nude on the bathroom floor beside an empty bathtub - an electric clock radio was reportedly found inside the bath tub and Earl Taylor told police he returned home from work at 4:30PM and found Kathy inside a full bathtub of water with the clock radio submerged. She was dead. 

He unplugged the clock radio, drained the tub and removed her from the tub and placed her on the floor.  Police were suspicious of the death scene for many reasons, one of which was the fact that the clock radio's cord had obviously been altered to a 10 foot cord when an exact replica bought by the police proved it came with a 6 foot cord.  In addition, they didn't understand or believe that Kathy would have set the clock radio on the side of the tub when the bathroom counter was a more logical place for it to sit.  They were suspicious but at the time they didn't feel there was enough evidence to support a murder charge. Earl Taylor remained free and eventually remarried. As a result of his freedom, his second wife was eventually killed in what appeared to be a tragic car accident - later found to be a staged scene.

Mrs. Taylor #2's car was found in a lake, the scene was staged to make it appear she veered off the road and drove into the lake.  This episode didn't get into the details of that case, but it was disclosed that Earl Taylor was in fact convicted of killing her and staging the scene - he was sentenced to 60 years in prison but served only 27 before being released on parole.  While the Cold Justice team was setting up the Kathy Taylor case at the police headquarters, Earl Taylor was seen walking into the police department!  Apparently he was there to register as a violent offender, he was not aware at the time that they had re-opened his first wife's case.

The challenges of this case were basically time elapsed and lack of physical evidence. Because it was nearly 30 years ago when Kathy was killed, many of the original witnesses, detectives and even the medical examiner who did her autopsy were deceased.  They called in another medical examiner to interpret the report done by the original coroner and they found that Kathy did not die from electrocution, but rather drowning.  Her lungs were full of fluid, and electrocution stops the heart - if she died by accidental electrocution, there shouldn't have been so much water in her lungs.  Secondly, her stomach contents revealed corn and peas.  This is consistent with a dinnertime meal, not breakfast. Earl had told the police that when he left at 7AM that morning, Kathy was asleep and she must have taken a bath when she woke up.  Not true.

Another red flag - the time of death was believed to be night before she was found due to the stage of rigor her body was discovered in.  In addition, when a neighbor called Kathy the night before her body was found Earl told her that Kathy was taking a bath.  It seems unlikely she would take a bath at night after dinner and then take another bath in the morning when she woke up.  Another neighbor reported seeing Earl come home with the dog around 10AM the day the body was found, yet he told police he didn't return to the house until he got home from work around 4:30PM.  Perhaps the biggest red flag was the multiple life insurance policies Earl had taken out on his wife - many were forged and taken out without her knowledge.  At the time, he was working for an insurance agency so that may not have been suspicious if it wasn't for the forgeries and the other evidence they uncovered about the true cause of death, her stomach contents and the tampered with clock radio.

Earl was also having an affair with a 19 year old woman, the Cold Justice team found her and interviewed her. She told them that Earl never told her he was seeing Kathy until the day before he was set to get married to Kathy! He kept in touch with her after he married Kathy, and when it became clear they were heading for a divorce he mentioned something about getting more life insurance on Kathy.  He also told co-workers that the 23 year old Kathy had terminal cancer and she only had 2 weeks to live.  A short time later, she was found dead.  Sounds like a good case to me!  The local police and Cold Justice team caught up with Earl Taylor towards the end of the episode - as soon as they told him what they wanted to talk to him about, he abruptly got out of the car and wouldn't talk.  They didn't need Earl to say a word.  He was indicted and charged with capital murder for killing Kathy.

I'm not sure why this case took so long - it seems to me that the evidence was there all along.  They didn't uncover any substantially new evidence during the Cold Justice investigation, but they did put it all together in a way that showed the overwhelming evidence that Earl Taylor killed wife Kathy Taylor for life insurance proceeds.  Had he been taken down earlier, his second wife wouldn't have met the fate that she did.  That just compounds this tragedy.  Another great episode, and add another indictment to their stats.  Great job Kelly & Yolanda!  You ladies rock.






Jodi Arias' Motion to Have Kirk Nurmi Removed is Denied

The news surrounding the Jodi Arias penalty phase retrial has started to pick up as the September 8th start date approaches.  Jodi Arias Motion to represent herself was granted by Judge Sherry Stephens recently, the second such request Arias has made during her time in the legal system - however, it appears she is having second thoughts about her strategy as she has told Judge Stephens she is willing to "stand down" and not act as her own attorney if they allow Kirk Nurmi to withdraw from the case.

Arias wants to keep Jennifer Willmott on, who she apparently has a better rapport with and if Nurmi were released that would mean the Court would have to assign another attorney to her case - death penalty cases require that the defendant have two qualified attorneys as well as a mitigation specialist. Prosecutor Juan Martinez's interactions with Arias in non-pubic court hearings have made it clear he does not intend on making things easy for Jodi Arias either way.  He has aggressively objected to her requests for delays in starting this trial - citing the fact that when Arias argued in favor of representing herself, she agreed to the time schedule and knew what she was up against.  It's time for this trial to resume and this case needs to come to an end!

Here is the latest minute entry from August 13, 2014 denying Arias' request to have Nurmi removed:

Court and counsel discuss matters.

Advisory counsel Kirk Nurmi’s Motion to Withdraw is heard.
IT IS ORDERED setting Evidentiary Hearing on Defendant’s Motion to Continue Trial on 8/22/14 at 1:30 p.m. in this division.
Filed Under Seal: State’s Objection to Defense Request for Deposition
9:01 a.m. Matter concludes.

This case is eFiling eligible: http://www.clerkofcourt.maricopa.gov/efiling/default.asp. 
Attorneys are encouraged to review Supreme Court Administrative Order 2011-140 to determine 
their mandatory participation in eFiling through AZTurboCourt.
Later:


IT IS ORDERED denying Advisory counsel Kirk Nurmi’s Motion to Withdraw.

Judge Sherry Stephens has been thought of as being very lenient to this defendant and her defense team - but on this point, I'm happy that she is standing firm and not allowing Arias' shenanigans to dictate how this trial is going to play out.  What is said to be at the heart of the discord between Arias and Kirk Nurmi is trial strategy - Arias says Nurmi has a "utter poverty of people skills" and she says he hasn't visited or talked to her since they lost the case in chief.  I don't know if that's true, but I'm sure Jennifer Willmott has been working with Arias and we all know the lead attorney doesn't necessarily always do all of the legwork.  Whatever works for that particular defense team is usually sufficient.

Apparently when Arias decided she was the best person to represent herself in the penalty phase retrial, she wasn't thinking of how difficult it would be for her to interview witnesses from behind bars.  This is true, but she had to have known this wouldn't be easy.  I think this is like a chess game to her.  She probably knows that it is generally not a good idea for defendants to self-represent at trial, even when you aren't going up against a tough veteran prosecutor who knows this case like the back of his hand and is seeking to send her to Death Row.  Was this all a ploy, to get the Judge to let Nurmi withdraw - since she has stated she would end her bid to represent herself on those terms?  Is she thinking about the appeal potential with the Judge allowing her to represent herself versus keeping on a "qualified" attorney who has been on the case all along but doesn't necessarily like her as a person?

Arias is all over the map here - it seems she's trying to work the system but there's no way Judge Stephens is going to allow Nurmi to walk away because of the time and resources it would take to get another qualified attorney up to speed on this case would be outrageously high.  The taxpayers have already shelled out $1.7MM for Jodi Arias' defense!  What about the victim's rights? Doesn't Travis Alexander have the right to a speedy trial, or does the defendant have all the rights in this country? Let's get this trial back on track and stop the delays.  Jodi Arias is playing a dangerous game of chicken by trying to force the Judge into letting Nurmi off the case.  It seems like a transparent attempt to me.

Let her act as her own attorney.  It probably won't be pretty!  Even if she's spend every waking minute since she's been in custody reading law books, there's not a chance in hell that she would be prepared for going up against Juan Martinez or any other experienced prosecutor.  Law school is tough for a reason - she's no attorney, and she's certainly not death penalty qualified but if that's what she wants to do that's her right.  The Judge has ruled she is legally competent to make that decision, so let her live with it and let's get the show on the road!!


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jodi Arias to Represent Herself in Penalty Phase Retrial

The latest news that Jodi Arias will act as her own attorney in her upcoming penalty phase retrial shouldn't come as any surprise to those of us who have been following this ongoing saga for the last 6 years - yet I was indeed surprised!  What is this woman thinking?  She sought to represent herself early on, long before her case went to trial but she seemed to realize then that she was way out of her league in the legal ring.  Can you imagine Jodi Arias going toe to toe with Juan Martinez in a courtroom showdown? I can't believe this isn't going to be televised, as this would surely make for must-see TV.

It's not exactly breaking news that Jodi Arias did not see eye to eye with at least one of her attorneys (Kirk Nurmi) but she seemed to have a better rapport with Jennifer Willmott.  Both Nurmi and Willmott have unsuccessfully petitioned the courts to be removed as her attorneys, perhaps this is their solution?  Will this give her more ammunition on appeals?  As we all know, Arias set up that "Jodi Arias Appellate Trust" last year, so what happens to the money she managed to get from Joe Public?  Will she represent herself on appeals and keep the funds?  This just went from a three ring circus to a all out sideshow.  Here is the minute entry from the Maricopa County Superior Court's website:

08/04/2014

2:54 p.m.
State's Attorney: Juan Martinez
Defendant's Attorney: Kirk Nurmi & Jennifer Willmott, Advisory Counsel
Defendant: Present

This is the time set for Defendant’s pro per Motion to Represent Herself Pro Per.

The Court proceeds with waiver of right to counsel hearing.

The Court advises the Defendant of the responsibilities of counsel such as asserting legal defenses, interviewing witnesses, doing investigation, doing legal research, filing and arguing motions, examining and cross examining witnesses, giving opening statement and final argument to the jury.

The Court further advises the Defendant that he/she will be held to the same standard as an attorney regarding the presentation of the case. This standard includes knowledge of courtroom procedure, applicable state law, Arizona Rules of Evidence, and Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure.

The Court advises the Defendant that she will not be granted a continuance of the trial setting based on her request for self-representation.
In asking the Defendant if she still wishes to give up her right to counsel and represent herself, the Defendant responded affirmatively.

The Court advises Defendant of her right to change her mind and obtain an attorney anytime during the proceedings, however the retained or appointed attorney will not be allowed to repeat any part of the case already held or waived without their presence.


The Defendant acknowledges understanding her waiver of right to counsel.

The Court finds, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that Defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily desires to waive the right to representation by an attorney and to represent herself.

IT IS ORDERED pursuant to Rule 6.1(c), Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, that Defendant’s waiver of right to counsel is accepted.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED assigning Kirk Nurmi and Jennifer Willmott as advisory counsel to assist defendant in preparation and trial of the case, consistent with the guidelines announced in McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 U.S. 168, 178-179, 184 (1984) and State v. DeLuna 110 Ariz. 497, 520 P.2d 1121 (1974)
FILED: Waiver of Counsel with attached Letter

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED affirming Capital Case Management Conference on 
8/13/14 at 8:30 a.m. in this division.


3:08 p.m. Matter concludes

What do you make of this move?  There are those in the legal world who say she doesn't have much to lose at this point.  Arias attempted to bond with the jurors by testifying for 18 days during the case in chief - does the fact that jurors didn't hand down a death sentence evidence that it worked?  Many people were stunned the jury was conflicted over the punishment for such a brutal and vicious attack, but as statistics seem to support juries have a notoriously difficult time sentencing women to death.  

In the penalty phase retrial, Jodi Arias will be dealing with a brand new jury. These jurors won't see Arias as the first jury may have after seeing her for 5 months during the trial and weeks on the stand.  Is this her solution to that problem? Does she hope that putting herself front and center will forge a bond, sympathy or empathy from just one juror? I can't imagine she feels her knowledge of the legal system makes her a better qualified attorney than Kirk Nurmi or Jennifer Willmott and taking on Juan Martinez in this way will almost guarantee some fireworks in that courtroom!  Oh if I had the time to drive to Phoenix I'd love to be in that courtroom to watch this unfold.

In an interview with Foxnews.com, San Francisco defense attorney Daniel Horowitz said "it's actually probably a good idea to represent herself.  She looks like a vicious psychopath with a ridiculous defense".  Horowitz also noted that the jury "may find her pathetic".  We all know that Jodi Arias has seemingly relished being in the spotlight from day one of her arrest.  Who smiles in their mugshot?  Who would, after being charged with the first degree murder of someone who supposedly meant so much to you could smile at all under these circumstances? A narcissist could.  And Arias' answer to that very question about the mugshot doesn't ring at all true - I believe she told a reporter that she thought about "what Travis would do" under similar circumstances.  Wow, really?  I doubt Travis Alexander or any other normal person would be smiling at such a dire and somber moment.

I am so very curious about how this retrial will go on, and how they will frame the first trial to the new jury.  We know the verdict is not in question, nor is the circumstance that makes the crime eligible for the death penalty.  Still, they will have to reference the crime, the trial and I'm wondering how this will be done given the length of that first trial.  Will only witnesses that go to mitigation or aggravating factors be heard in the penalty phase?  Given that it's been more than a year since the mistrial was declared this seems like it will be a daunting task to bring the jury up to speed and get to the heart of the matter - punishment for Jodi Arias. Can the defendant make statements that challenge the prior guilty verdict? What is and is not allowed to be brought in during this phase?

I found an interesting publication online about sentencing retrials - the fact is that when David McCord talked to dozens and dozens of prominent attorneys across the country, he found few that had experience in this area. It's not the norm.  The article is called "Switching Juries Midstream - The Perplexities of Penalty-Phase Only Retrials" and it talks about problems and issues inherent in penalty phase retrials.  Here are a few interesting findings from that piece: ( http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/students/groups/osjcl/files/2012/05/McCord-PDF-11-29-04.pdf)  Sorry about the format here, it's a lengthy read and I'm cutting and pasting parts I think are interesting and relevant to this retrial.  There are quotes from various prosecutors and defense attorneys who participated in the discussion:

Moderator: Prosecutors, how do you try to get the jury up to speed on the guilt/innocence facts? Obviously, you want to do more than simply present the prior verdict form showing the conviction. But do you need to re-present all the guilt/innocence phase evidence, to the extent it is still available? 

Prosecutor Laeser: In Florida when a case is sent back for resentencing, both parties start from square one, except for the fact of conviction. Indeed, the prosecution can even prove additional aggravating circumstance(s) beyond what it presented at the original trial. Under Florida law, we do not labor under the hearsay rule at the penalty phase, so in a penalty-phase-only retrial, I can put on summary witnesses. I can use a lead investigator to summarize parts or all of the investigation—this is important because it limits the cross-examination the defense 
can do. So I could put up a very bare bones case, but I do not do that. 
Strategically, I put on as much evidence as possible. To convince a jury that a death sentence is appropriate is a difficult task. I have to put on as many important witnesses as possible. I have to pull emotional heartstrings. This takes a huge amount of pretrial preparation. Usually it is a very old case; witnesses’ memories are not all that sharp. You do not like to refresh their recollection in front of a jury. 
So it takes a lot of witness preparation. 

I was also wondering if Arias will be able to challenge her guilt finding on first degree murder, will she be able to argue self defense or battered woman's syndrome again.  I found this:

To the extent a defendant at a resentencing attempts to present evidence to undermine a guilty verdict, or an aggravating circumstance inherent in a guilty verdict, the governing law from a constitutional standpoint is that relating to “residual doubt,” a.k.a. “lingering doubt” or, more pejoratively, “whimsical doubt,”43 “Residual doubt” is a term to describe the phenomenon that a juror who has found the defendant guilty beyond a doubt still may be unwilling to sentence the defendant to death if there is the slightest doubt in the juror’s mind about the defendant’s guilt.44 While the defendant is entitled to present penalty phase evidence concerning “the circumstances of the offense,”45 and doubt about the defendant’s guilt is arguably relevant to the circumstances of the offense, the 
Supreme Court long ago rejected this argument. In Franklin v. Lynaugh46 the Court held that “residual doubt” does not relate to the “circumstances of the offense,” and thus a defendant has no constitutional right to a jury instruction that the sentencer can consider residual doubt in determining the sentence.

 Most states have followed the Court’s lead on this issue, and refuse to permit the defendant to introduce evidence at the penalty phase to suggest a doubt about the defendant’s guilt, or to require an instruction that the jury may consider residual doubt in determining the sentence, although somewhat paradoxically, a fair number of states do nonetheless permit defense counsel to argue residual doubt in summation at the penalty phase, even though the defense is not entitled to present 
any additional evidence to show lack of guilt, and is not entitled to a jury 
instruction. 

Prosecutor Hawkins: In the case I just finished, at the original trial the 

prosecution presented over a hundred witnesses. At our new penalty-phase, we presented only forty witnesses. The prosecution still needs to put on a full case, but we are able to dispense with a good deal of foundational evidence. For example, we put in the beginning and end of the chain of custody for physical evidence, like a cartridge case, but not the middle. Actually, that feels weird for a trial attorney who is accustomed to laying a complete foundation.

Prosecutor Morton: With new juries, we are not limited to just aggravating and mitigating circumstances. We put on as much guilt phase evidence as needed to put the crime in its context. Juries want to be assured that the person they are going to sentence did in fact commit the crime. Live witnesses are my preference. Otherwise we have to use a detective to summarize the evidence, or transcripts of the original trial will be read back. But that just does not have the same emotional 
impact (often including tears) that you get from live witnesses. 

The concept of residual doubt is normally associated with an original trial 

where the same jury determines both guilt and sentence. But for the sort of cases that are the subject of this article—resentencings years later before a new jury that is instructed that the guilt finding is binding—perhaps we should coin a new term, like “belated residual doubt.” Even this may be a misnomer, because how can there be “residual” doubt when the new jury does not have any “residue” in its memory? In this matter, as in so many others, capital defenders feel put upon. Even though residual doubt has no constitutional status even at an original trial, 
there are still ways a good lawyer may sub silencio seek to invoke its benefits. But if there is no residue of doubt to draw upon, and no constitutional right to try to create a residue of doubt, even good defense lawyers may founder. But there is a practical consideration that cuts at least somewhat the other way: prosecutors generally have an incentive to present guilt/innocence phase evidence at the resentencing to familiarize the jurors with the case—and to energize their outrage so as to induce a death verdict. And once the prosecutor presents evidence relating 
to guilt, the defense may be able to undermine it by deft lawyering. 
Now, getting back to our panel discussion, I am sure you all agree that the issues of law of the case and residual doubt loom large with respect to resentencings. From a practical standpoint, death penalty litigators know residual doubt is a real and important phenomenon.49 The peculiar thing about the new jury in a penalty-phase-only retrial is that they have no basis for having a residual doubt, since they have not heard the guilt/innocence phase evidence. I am guessing, though, that prosecutors still have to worry about the defense attempting to inject doubt about the conviction, and any inherent aggravating circumstances. 
Am I right about that? 

Prosecutor Benito: The residual doubt phenomenon is very real. If one jury hears 
both phases of a capital trial the jury wants to make sure that justice is handed out and a guilty verdict is handed down. If it was a close case of guilt or innocence, the jury is not going to then recommend the death penalty. They may have lingering doubts about guilt or innocence and they can feel like they have served justice by handing down a guilty verdict but helped the defense by not recommending a death sentence. But that dynamic just does not exist for the new jury. And if the defense tries to inject it, and the prosecutor objects, the judge may reel the defense in and admonish the jury that they are not dealing with guilt or 
innocence regarding this phase. 

Prosecutor Laeser: Even though the jurors are told they have to assume guilt, 
some jurors are very hesitant to accept someone else’s finding. Some feel they have to be absolutely certain of guilt before assessing a death sentence. As a practical matter, we usually do present enough evidence to persuade them, but we do not take anything for granted. 

Defense Attorney Gelman: You cannot challenge a finding of guilt, although you 
can subtly try to inject some doubt. But it is usually better not to because the prosecutor can really slam you on that. Plus, I do not think it is likely to be effective to try to get this jury to say the first jury made a mistake—that is just not going to happen. So you proceed with the assumption that they have been convicted and try to show more mitigating circumstances than aggravating. 

Defense Attorney Silver: I think trying the penalty phase to a new jury may give 
the defense a slight advantage in contesting the aggravators, over the original trial. It would be very hard to attack the aggravators right after you had just tried and lost the guilt/innocence phase of a trial that included the aggravating evidence. If you started trying to water down what they heard, I think the jury will resent you. But before a new jury, it is possible for the defense to present evidence concerning 
why the crime is not as bad as it seems. You are telling the jury, “I’m not asking you to say he’s not guilty, just that there is something about the crime that is not that horrible.” 

Defense Attorney Kerns: 
For one of my clients I was able to present some unusual mitigation: he had received some notoriety as a writer while in on Death Row. We brought in writers and editors to testify he had social value as a writer. In fact, in that case the victim’s closest relative actually testified for the defense in the retrial. My client had killed this person’s great aunt. The niece originally corresponded with my client and then met him because she was trying to understand how someone could do what he had done to a wonderful person like her aunt. She found him to be a human being, and became interested in his writing—she was also a writer. A relationship developed between the two. The niece testified how he helped and 
assisted her. I have seen victims and defendants reconcile on a number of cases. But the jury apparently did not receive any of that well—they returned a death sentence.

Moderator: Another aspect of the lapse of years is that the defendant will have 
built up quite a record of behavior in prison—either good or bad. Does the defense often offer evidence of good prison behavior,56 and do you think it is effective? 

Prosecutor Williams: That is pretty standard defense strategy—get the prison 
records—virtually all inmates have had some infractions after that length of time, but usually they are pretty minor. But then, there is not much opportunity for Death Row inmates to get into trouble; they are kept in individual cells and only let out one hour a day. 

Prosecutor Laeser: I agree. When the defense puts on testimony that he has been 
a model prisoner, that is pretty easy to counter: if he is locked in a small room twenty-three hours a day, there is not much of an opportunity to be a bad prisoner.   

You get the idea?  I'm sure we can expect Jodi Arias to talk up her hair donations, Survivor T-Shirt sales/donations and any other things she considers to be good acts to this new jury.  As for her conduct while in the Estrella jail? What is her conduct record like there?  Seems to me I read she's been in at least one altercation while behind bars. We can't forget that Arias was caught red-handed trying to smuggle out contraband from the jail, once in the form of encoded messages in a magazine many believe was meant for Matt McCarty and the "artwork" found with Maria de la Rosa's legal paperwork that got the death penalty specialist banned from the Estrella jail for some time!

As the trial date approaches, I'm sure we will start hearing more news about what to expect from this trial.  I'm guessing this will be another long and drawn out court battle, with Jodi Arias representing herself anything goes.  Will she start suffering from her headaches again once the trial begins? Will Arias try to emulate Jennifer Willmott's style in the courtroom? Will the sheriff's office be sure Jodi Arias has a nice bag lunch every day so she isn't complaining of hunger this time around?  We will soon see.  

(It's hard to believe it's been more than 6 years since Travis Alexander was murdered in his home.  He would have been 36 years old, he may have been married with kids by now.  I hope the new jury doesn't forget that Travis was the victim, not Jodi.)