Jodi Arias Trial’s Penalty Phase Begins This Week

Posted May 10, 2013 in Criminal Law by

Now that Jodi Arias has been found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury of her peers, she faces the penalty phase of her trial.

Because she is eligible for the death penalty as the result of killing her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander, Arias must now make her way through another round of legal processes designed to weigh both the “aggravating” and “mitigating” circumstances of the killing.


The Medical Examiner Returns

A capital case in Arizona, as in many states, is tried in two separate proceedings, according to a report on the Arizona attorney general’s web site: The guilt phase, which ended May 8 for Arias with a guilty verdict, and the sentencing proceeding.

Arias’s sentencing proceeding was set to begin May 9; but after a reported last-minute, closed-door meeting among attorneys and the judge, it has been rescheduled to begin May 15. First up will be prosecution witness Dr. Kevin Horn, the New Mexico medical examiner in Albuquerque.

During the guilt phase of the trial Dr. Horn testified twice about the self-defensive nature of the knife wounds on Alexander’s hands, his near-decapitation, and the fact that he was stabbed repeatedly in the back – first during the state’s case, then when the state countered Arias’s claim that she stabbed Alexander after shooting him.

Arias cried throughout the latter part of his testimony in April, as jurors were shown graphic images of Alexander’s corpse. Dr. Horn said of Alexander’s throat being cut all the way back to his spine, “I think by far it’s the most significant injury.”


Two-Part Penalty Process

In capital cases in Arizona, the sentencing phase itself is broken down into two parts.

During the first part of the sentencing phase, the prosecution presents evidence of the “aggravating circumstances” that warrant capital punishment. In Arias’s case, the prosecution will reportedly try to prove that she “committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner,” one of the 14 statutory aggravating circumstances available.

That circumstance must be proven by the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” just as her guilt was. 

If the jury finds that the state does not meet that standard – and it only must prove one aggravating factor – then Arias would no longer be up for capital punishment, the jury is finally dismissed, and the case goes to the trial judge for sentencing.

But if the jury finds that the state has proven an aggravating factor beyond reasonable doubt, it remains empaneled. The process continues to the second part of the penalty phase, in which the jury considers any “mitigating” evidence presented by the defense, as well as victim impact evidence.

Mitigating factors available to Arias include her capacity to appreciate her conduct’s “wrongfulness,” and whether she was under “unusual or substantial duress.” In the guilt phase of the trial, she argued that she had been a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Alexander. 

Trial watchers have observed that a “mitigation specialist,” identified as Maria DeLaRosa, is poised to testify on behalf of Arias. In addition, possibly her mother will take the stand.

If Arias is sentenced to death, the case is automatically appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. Of the 125 people on death row in Arizona, only three are women.

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