PHOENIX (AP) — Jodi Arias has spent two weeks on the witness stand answering detailed questions from attorneys about practically every aspect of her life including the day she killed her lover and the painstaking steps she took to cover her tracks. Now it's the jury's turn.
After a withering cross-examination last week, and her attorneys' efforts to portray the victim as an abusive womanizer, in part, hoping to spare Arias the death penalty, jurors on Wednesday will pose their own questions to the defendant, something allowed in Arizona criminal cases.
Judge Sherry Stephens and attorneys on both sides worked Wednesday morning to whittle down the list of about 100 questions the panel has for Arias as objections were raised in private. The jury is set to return Wednesday afternoon then Stephens will pose the questions to Arias directly.
Arizona is one of just a few states where jurors are allowed to ask questions of witnesses during a criminal trial as a matter of law. Many other states, including California, allow the practice at the judge's discretion, but not all agree it's a good idea.
"It becomes too difficult, too tempting for a juror to lose their role as an impartial fact-finder and slip into the role of an advocate, and I think that's contrary to what the whole justice system is based upon," said Los Angeles-area defense attorney Mark Geragos.
"In effect, you've deputized the jurors as investigators," Geragos added.
Others, however, say the practice is a useful tool aimed at getting to the truth of a case, and provides attorneys on both sides a window in the deliberation room while the trial is still ongoing, giving lawyers time to change their strategies.
Phoenix criminal defense attorney Julio Laboy said juror questions of a witness during a case where he was representing a client charged with murder once led to prosecutors offering a deal to plead to a lesser count.
"In the end, what this is all really about is the search for truth, and any mechanism that allows jurors to get closer to the truth without prejudicing one side or the other, I think, is a good tool," Laboy said.
"And it really is a window into the juror's mindset," he added. "It can help attorneys direct which way you need to go, what path you should take."
Arias is charged with first-degree murder in the June 2008 killing of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. She says it was self-defense when he attacked her after a day of raunchy sex, but police say she planned it in a jealous rage.
Arias initially told authorities she had nothing to do with Alexander's death then blamed it on masked intruders before settling on self-defense. Her repeated lies to authorities, friends and family in the days after his death, and her methodical efforts to create an alibi and avoid suspicion have been center stage throughout the weekslong trial as she explained how she remembers little from the day of the killing.
Alexander had been shot in the head, stabbed and slashed nearly 30 times and had his throat slit.
Throughout her testimony, Arias has described an abusive childhood at the hands of her parents, a past littered with cheating boyfriends and dead-end jobs, and the minutia of car problems, cooking and converting to Mormonism. She has also detailed for jurors how Alexander grew physically abusive in the months leading up to his death, once choking her into unconsciousness, and how he had sexual desires for young boys.
However, none of her allegations have been corroborated by witnesses or evidence during the trial, and she has admitted to lying repeatedly prior to and after her arrest, but Arias insists she is telling the truth now.
She has acknowledged that she dumped the gun in the desert, got rid of her bloody clothes, tried to clean the scene at Alexander's home, and even left the victim a voicemail on his mobile phone within hours of killing him and dragging his body into the shower. She said she was too scared and ashamed to tell the truth.
Arias' grandparents had reported a .25 caliber handgun stolen from their Northern California home about a week before the killing — the same caliber used to shoot Alexander — but Arias says she never knew her grandfather had the weapon. Authorities believe she brought it with her, though she has testified she shot Alexander with his own gun as he chased her into his closet after body-slamming her and threatening to kill her.
"I was very, very scared," Arias told jurors.
"Did you want to kill Mr. Alexander on June 4?" defense attorney Kirk Nurmi asked.
"No, that was not a goal of mine," Arias replied, sobbing. "I considered myself a nice person."