Friday, March 23 , 2018, 10:05 am | Fair 55º


Harris Sherline: The High Price of Justice in Jodi Arias Case

How much money should we be willing to spend to try to convict criminals?

The Jodi Arias case in Arizona has highlighted the issue of the cost of justice, without actually intending to do so. To date, the trial is reported to have cost $1.4 million.

Arias killed her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in the most egregious way — by stabbing and slashing him 30 times, nearly decapitating him, which the jury found was “cruel” enough to merit consideration of the death penalty.

After failing to reach a verdict, the jury was dismissed, and a new panel most likely will be seated to try reaching a decision again on a sentence — unless the prosecutor takes death off the table and agrees to a life sentence. The judge has scheduled a retrial for July 18.

“Arias, who has said both that she wanted to live and wanted to die, looked visibly upset with the jury’s decision,” the news media reported. “Before it was announced, she sobbed in the courtroom.”

“The jury began deliberating Tuesday and first reported it had failed to reach a unanimous decision the next day. ... Under Arizona law, a hung jury in the death penalty phase of a trial requires a new jury to be seated to decide the punishment. If the second jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the judge would then sentence Arias to spend her entire life in prison or be eligible for release after 25 years. The judge cannot sentence Arias to death.”

“... If the prosecutor decides not to pursue the death penalty a second time, the judge would then sentence Arias to one of the life in prison options, and the trial would come to a conclusion.”

“The verdict came two days after Arias spoke directly to jurors and pleaded for her life. She said she ‘lacked perspective’ when she told a local reporter after her conviction that she preferred execution to spending the rest of her days in jail. She told jurors she could bring about positive change in prison by teaching inmates how to read and helping launch prison recycling programs.”

That night, Arias gave a series of media interviews from jail, telling reporters out about her many fights with her legal team and her belief that she “deserves a second chance at freedom someday.”

“Arias, 32, contends she killed Alexander in self-defense when he became enraged after a day of sex, forcing her to fight for her life,” media reported. “Prosecutors say she attacked him in a jealous rage because he wanted to end their relationship and go to Mexico with another woman.”

“Her case became a sensation from the beginning as Arias gave a series of jailhouse interviews following her 2008 arrest in which she blamed the killing on armed, masked intruders.”

“The former waitress told jurors of an abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, dead-end jobs, her sexual relationship with Alexander and her contention that he had grown physically violent.”

“The trial was streamed live on the Internet and became a real-life soap opera to people around the globe.”

The trial’s penalty phase featured dramatic statements by Alexander’s sister and brother as they described how their lives were shattered by the loss of their beloved sibling.

“Arias stood confidently before the jury when she addressed the eight men and four women Tuesday, her voice breaking at times as she told them to spare her life for her family’s sake,” media reported. “She said she planned to use her time in prison to design T-shirts that would raise money for victims of domestic abuse. She also said she would donate her hair to be made into wigs for cancer victims.”

The judge had told jurors they could consider a handful of factors when deciding Arias’ sentence, including the fact that she has no previous criminal record. They also could weigh defense assertions that Arias is a good friend and a talented artist.

“The prosecutor has accused me of wanting to be famous, which is not true,” Arias told the Associated Press on Tuesday in an interview where she combed her hair beforehand and wore makeup for the cameras. She also insisted that no images be transmitted of her from the waist down, showing her striped jail pants and shackled ankles.

A woman hasn’t been executed in Arizona since 1930. According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, there are 122 men on death row along with three women.

— Harris Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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