Jodi Arias was found guilty of the grisly premeditated first-degree murder of her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in June 2008. (Photo : myspace.com/jodiarias)
Jodi Arias trial judge Sherry Stephens has rescheduled the status update hearing for the case, moving the court date two days earlier than previously planned.
Earlier this week, the Maricopa County Superior Court announced through its Twitter account that the date for the Status Conference and Motion to Continue Trial for Arias' case was now set for July 16. The Court failed to elaborate further or explain what motivated judge Stephens' decision to change the date of Arias' hearing.
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An aspiring photographer and waitress from California, Arias was found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder May 8 in the gruesome killing of her ex-boyfriend, 30-year-old Travis Alexander, in June 2008. While Arias at first lied about her involvement in the crime on numerous occasions throughout the years since his death, she eventually admitted to killing him, but claimed that she had merely acted in self-defense, testifying that Alexander had a deep history of domestic violence as well as sadistic tendencies that forced her to fight for her life that fateful day.
A jury of eight men and four women agreed Arias had not acted in self-defense when she killed Alexander, but could not reach a unanimous agreement about whether she should receive the death penalty or life in prison. With the jury at an impasse, judge Stephens dismissed jurors. Now, both the prosecution and defense are planning their next moves. While the prosecution has yet to officially announce its future intentions for the case, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has already suggested his office will continue to pursue the death penalty for Arias, saying he and state's attorney Juan Martinez are continuing to prepare for a retrial.
The rescheduling of Arias' next court appearance moves up the court's decision in retrying her penalty phase. When Montgomery likely announces July 16 that the prosecution will once again demand the death penalty for Arias, the case will move into the penalty phase, which will act as a kind of mini-trial, with the selection of entirely new jurors, opening and closing statements, summarizing crucial arguments and evidence, and more witnesses testifying.
With the high likelihood of another penalty phase for Arias, the 32-year-old's case that began back in January could stretch on interminably. The selection of an unbiased jury alone could take weeks, or months, considering the pervasive media coverage of virtually every aspect of Arias' trial, and dragging a new set of jurors through the case again could prove just as exhausting as the trial's first round of court proceedings.
Meanwhile, Arias' attorneys are currently challenging the initial trial ruling that Arias' crime was "especially cruel"—a factor that made her eligible for the death penalty. Arias' defense team filed a motion last week arguing that "especially cruel" was too vague of a term for jurors without legal knowledge to fairly judge what specific factor would make one murder more heinous than another. Arizona law defines "cruel manner" as when a victim suffers physical and/or mental pain.
The responsibility of determining what is "especially cruel" rests with jurors thanks to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled defendants have the right for a jury to decide what aggravating factors could qualify them for the death penalty. Arias' lawyers' motion directly challenges that decision.
Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi argues that due to current laws "layperson jurors" are forced to "muddle through" the meaning of "especially cruel."
"By including the word 'especially', the statute was designed to be employed by a judge, one presumed to have the depth and breadth of experience to identify those first degree murders 'above the norm,'" Nurmi wrote.
Medical examiners found that Arias stabbed Alexander nearly 30 times in the torso, chest, back, and heart, shot him in the face, and slit his throat from ear to ear with such intensity that it almost decapitated him—all in under two minutes.
Arias will return to court July 16.