Push to drop death penalty in Jodi Arias trial

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Jodi Arias' attorney, Kirk Nurmi, pleaded his case Friday to spare the convicted killer's life.

Nurmi told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stevens during an afternoon hearing that a number of issues have come up that have made it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial.

Nurmi argued that 14 witnesses have been afraid to come forward because the court won't protect their identity.

He also said that prosecutors withheld key evidence, and that Arias' conviction was based on false testimony.

A Mesa police officer testified during the original trial that there was no pornographic material on the computer of murder victim Travis Alexander.

However, there's now proof that pornographic images were on the computer, according to Nurmi.

"Your honor, it is our argument here today, that under these highly unusual circumstances, the pursuit of the death penalty in this case is not lawful," Nurmi said.

Nurmi insists the false information hindered Arias' case and the judge has no choice but to have the state no longer seek the death penalty.

"The legal reality before you, however difficult it might be, is that the only viable option is to dismiss death against Ms. Arias," Nurmi told the judge.

Legal expert Beth Karas said that Nurmi presented a strong case.

"I think it's unlikely the judge will take death off the table," Karas said. "I thought arguments were very good today in court, and I could see a judge doing it. I think its unlikely Judge Stevens will."

On Thursday, the Arizona Supreme Court denied Arias' request to delay her trial, which means that the transcripts from her closed-door testimony in October are closer to being released.

But the transcripts, which the media have been fighting to be made public, can't be released until the notes from the court reporters are turned over to the Clerk of the Court to be recorded and put into the proper format for release.

The court's decision also means a Jan. 16 status conference will not be held.

In a ruling that overturned Stephens' decision barring the public from watching Arias' testimony, the Arizona Court of Appeals ordered the transcripts be released.

A lawyer for media organizations on Thursday requested release of the transcripts from her closed-door testimony on Oct. 30 and Nov. 3, from which the media and public were barred.

However, Stephens said she wouldn't do that until the state Supreme Court ruled on the defense lawyers' motion to pause the retrial while they appeal the Court of Appeals' ruling.

The oft-interrupted proceedings in the Arias sentencing retrial resumed Thursday morning, as the jury continues to determine whether Arias deserves life in prison or the death penalty.

Stephens sent jurors home Monday morning, saying the petition had been filed by the Arias defense with the state Supreme Court regarding the transcript of Arias' testimony.

Monday's resumption of the trial was supposed to be the first day since the holiday break Arias was back in court, but Stephens' action gave the jury nearly three more days off.

The Arias defense team continues to try and convince the jury that Arias was a victim and suffered from some type of mental illness in the hope jurors might give her life in prison and not the death penalty.

Legal experts believe the Arias defense team is trying to show that the convicted killer has a personality disorder that was brought on by a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse, which could be a mitigating factor in the jury's decision to sentence Arias to death or life in prison.

The Arias trial has garnered national - even worldwide - attention. On May 8, 2013, a jury convicted her of murdering her ex-lover Alexander, and while they found her eligible for the death penalty, they could not unanimously agree to hand down the sentence.

Because of that, Stephens declared a mistrial in the penalty phase of the trial.

After months of legal wrangling, a new jury was eventually impaneled, and a retrial of the sentencing phase began Oct. 21. It is expected to last until the middle of the month.

In the meantime, rumors that Arias herself will once again take the stand continue to swirl.


Continuing coverage: Jodi Arias penalty phase retrial