Details revealed over courtroom closure at Arias trial

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- The judge at Jodi Arias' sentencing retrial felt the convicted murderer was being manipulative when she said she wouldn't testify unless the public was barred from the courtroom, but still kicked out the public over concerns over how an appeals court may view her refusal to testify.

A transcript was unsealed Thursday of a closed-door hearing in late October in which the case's lawyers discussed Arias' request to have the courtroom cleared. Arias' attorneys argued social media posts on the trial could inspire people to send threats - and that would affect Arias' ability to defend herself against the death penalty.

In the end, the judge closed the courtroom for Arias' testimony and declined a request from a lawyer for news organizations to identify the witness. An appeals court later overturned the courtroom-closure decision and revealed that the witness in question was Arias herself. A transcript of her testimony was eventually released, revealing few new details about her actions in 2008 in the killing of her former boyfriend, Travis Alexander.

Arias was convicted last year in the death of Alexander, but jurors deadlocked on her punishment. A new jury has been hearing testimony since mid-October over whether she should be sentenced to life in prison or death.

Prosecutors said Arias attacked Alexander in a jealous rage after he wanted to end their affair and planned a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias has acknowledged killing Alexander but claimed it was self-defense after he attacked her.

Despite her reservations about testifying during the sentencing retrial, Arias has actively courted the spotlight since she was arrested in 2008. She did interviews on TV's "48 Hours" and "Inside Edition" after her arrest and was on the witness stand for several weeks during her criminal trial. She also did a series of media interviews after the jury convicted her of murder.

In the private discussions over whether to close the courtroom, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens wanted to move news reporters and the public to a remote viewing room where they could still watch the proceedings but Arias couldn't see them. That proposal was rejected by Arias, who said she didn't want the public to have knowledge of her testimony. She cited threats she has received over the years.

"So I'm not able to testify in the way - in the way that I would need to testify as far as being open and honest because of the pressure that I would feel because of these threats," Arias said.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez said it sets a bad precedent to close the courtroom based on claims by defendants that their nervousness will affect the way they testify.

Despite believing that she was being manipulated, Stephens said she was concerned that Arias wouldn't testify if her comments were open to the public. The judge said she wasn't sure whether an appeals court will conclude Arias' refusal to testify will be viewed as a voluntary waiver of her right to defend herself.

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