The jury in the Jodi Arias murder trial began its third day of deliberations today on whether to sentence Arias to death, raising the possibility that prosecutors may retry the penalty phase of the case if the jury is deadlocked.
Under state law in a capital case if the jury can't reach a unanimous decision, the Maricopa County, Ariz., district attorney's office will have to weigh whether to spend time and resources to find a new jury, schedule new court dates, and represent its evidence to try and reach a death sentence, which could take months, according to Jerry Cobb, spokesperson for the prosecutor's office.
Arias, 32, was convicted of first-degree murder last week for killing her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in a gruesome attack in 2008.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez has argued that because the murder was especially cruel, involving 27 stab wounds, a slit throat, and a gunshot wound to Alexander's head, Arias deserves the death penalty.
But the jury has not yet returned a verdict on whether they agree.
On Wednesday, the jury stopped deliberations and sent Judge Sherry Stephens a note about their indecision. She responded by sending them back to the jury room to continue deliberating, with instructions on how to ask questions of her or attorneys if they felt they could not come to an agreement.
"Each juror has a duty to consult with one another, (and) to try to reach agreement without violence to individual judgment. You may want to identify areas of agreement and disagreement. If you still disagree, you may wish to tell the attorneys and me what issues, questions or law or facts on which we can possibly help," Stephens told the jurors.
"At this time please go back to the jury room and continue deliberating," she said.
If the jury cannot agree, a hung jury will be declared. Martinez and the Maricopa County Prosecutor Office will then decide whether to find a new jury and present the death penalty phase of the trial to them, Cobb said.
If they decide not to redo the death penalty phase, Arias will be sentenced to life in prison, either with or without the possibility of parole, depending on Stephens' ruling.
If the prosecutor's office proceeds, the case will face logistical challenges, including scheduling additional court time with all of the attorneys and the judge, finding an impartial jury in Maricopa County, and presenting enough evidence in the death penalty phase that the new jury would be brought up to speed on the case.
"If state decides to retry with new jury, they get a new chance, but one more chance only to convince jury to impose death sentence," Cobb said.
The current jury has sat through nearly five months of testimony in the case.
Arias's conviction would stand, as will as an earlier decision by the current jury that there were aggravating factors present in the murder that made the death penalty a possible sentence.
"The facts and evidence presented in the guilt phase would be brought out and presented to jury, but the jury would be told that the defendant was found guilty and here is the evidence. It would be a shorter version of the original trial," Cobb said.
If a second jury was seated and the death phase retried, that jury would then deliberate whether to give Arias the death penalty or life in prison. If they also reached an impasse, and could not agree, then Arias's life would be saved.
Stephens would then sentence her to either life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years, or natural life, without the possibility of parole.