Should the judge in the Jodi Arias trial ban or limit media coverage of the penalty phase retrial?
PHOENIX – Convicted murderer Jodi Arias was back in court Monday for a quick hearing in which the judge was expected to set a date for a retrial of the penalty phase.
Monday's proceeding lasted less than 15 minutes and no decision were made. Judge Sherry Stephens said she needs time to review a pair of motions submitted by the defense last week. She continued the hearing until Sept. 16. At that time, she is expected to set a date for the penalty phase retrial and rule on the defense motions relating to media coverage and access to the prospective jurors' Twitter accounts.
After a trial that went on for more than four months, a jury convicted Arias of first-degree murder in May. While they found her eligible for the death penalty, they could not unanimously agree to sentence her to it.
The plan now is to seat a second jury to decide Arias’ fate. Her conviction on first-degree murder is not in question and will stand. The new jury will deal only with her sentence.
Arias' attorneys had sought to have set aside the jury's determination that Arias killed her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in an "especially cruel" manner, one element of so-called aggravating factors that allows the panel to then consider the death penalty.
The judge denied that motion earlier this month, leaving death on the table.
If, like the original jury, the jurors in the penalty phase retrial cannot come to a unanimous decision, Arias will be sentenced to life in prison automatically. In Arizona, only a jury can hand down the death penalty.
Should that automatic life sentence kick in, Judge Sherry Stephens will decide if Arias should be eligible for parole after 25 years.
While no date has been set, Stephens has indicated that she’d like to start the retrial process by late September. Arias’ defense team has been trying to push it after the first of the year.
Just seating a new impartial jury could take weeks, given the widespread publicity of the trial that captured headlines worldwide with lurid tales of sex, betrayal and a bloody killing. That lengthy process would be followed by reading testimony and evidence to bring the fresh panel up to speed before jurors would once again attempt to decide whether Arias should live or die.
Another big question that will likely be addressed at the next hearing is the issue of media coverage. Defense attorneys would like the judge to limit or ban live coverage of the retrial. They also want prospective jurors to provide information about their Twitter accounts.
“I think that it’s dangerous to have social media inside a courtroom in some aspects,” court blogger Kinsey Schofield said. “If somebody does find out who a juror is and they do have a social media account … people will take advantage of it. They will tweet them. They will give them their opinion. And the scary thing is it could impact Jodi Arias’ life – live or die.”
After first denying any involvement in his death, Arias, 33, eventually admitted killing Alexander, but claimed it was self-defense after he attacked her. Prosecutors argued it was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage.
As a result of new motions filed, the Jodi Arias hearing was continued to September 16.— MC Superior Court (@courtpio) August 26, 2013
Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this story.