PHOENIX — Complaining that Jodi Arias’ sensational murder case has become a modern-day “witch trial,” her lawyers tried to quit in the middle of the death-penalty phase yesterday, then said they will call only one witness: Arias.
When Arias addresses the jury today, the big question will be whether she pleads for mercy or repeats what she told a TV reporter minutes after she was convicted: that she would rather be executed than spend the rest of her life in prison.
The courtroom fireworks came as the jury that found Arias guilty of murder in the 2008 shooting and stabbing death of boyfriend Travis Alexander was hearing evidence on whether Arias should get the death penalty or a life sentence.
Last week, Alexander’s brother and sister tearfully described how his killing had torn their lives apart. This week, the defense planned to call its own witnesses, including a female friend and an ex-boyfriend of Arias, in hopes of convincing the jury her life is worth saving.
But defense attorney Kirk Nurmi told the court yesterday morning that the female witness refused to testify after receiving threats, and he asked the judge to declare a mistrial in the penalty phase. He argued that he could no longer effectively defend Arias without all of the intended witnesses.
Nurmi also renewed arguments that the judge should have sequestered the jury during the nearly five-month trial and that it should never have been broadcast live. The case became a tabloid and cable sensation, with its tales of sex, lies and death.
“The court had a duty to protect Ms. Arias’ right to a fair trial and failed to do so time and time again,” Nurmi told the judge. “This cannot be a modern-day version of ... a witch trial.”
Judge Sherry Stephens denied the mistrial request. Nurmi then asked that he and co-counsel Jennifer Willmott be allowed to withdraw from the case, saying they could not effectively represent Arias.