Jodi Arias trial echoes through courtrooms 10 years later

According to Michael Volkov, mistakes included allowing witnesses to repeat themselves on the stand and allow outside influences to affect the trial.
Published: May. 8, 2023 at 6:00 AM MST|Updated: May. 8, 2023 at 9:56 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - A decade later, the Jodi Arias trial remains a cautionary tale for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. “This was a trial that went off the rails,” said former federal prosecutor Michael Volkov, a former longtime federal prosecutor. “The atmosphere that was created in the courtroom became almost circus-like,” said Volkov.

The case centered on a murder. Jodi Arias was arrested for the brutal attack and killing of her boyfriend, Travis Alexander. He was stabbed 27 times and shot in the head. The trial contained sex tapes, graphic photos and video, and testimony from the defendant that lasted more than three weeks. Volkov faults the judge, Sherry Stephens, who is now retired, for allowing the trial to go on too long.

According to him, those mistakes included allowing witnesses, including Arias, to repeat themselves on the stand and allowing outside influences and pressures to affect the proceedings. At one point, Arias was interviewed by a television station during the trial. She was found guilty but ultimately spared from the death penalty. “I believe the reason that they ultimately did not secure the death penalty was because the judge made various mistakes,” said Volkov.

After the trial, both the prosecutor, Juan Martinez, and the defense attorney, Kirk Nurmi, were disbarred. Martinez was sanctioned for in-office behavior and for allegedly leaking jury information to a reporter. Nurmi wrote a tell-all book about the trial without getting Arias’ permission.

“Confidentiality is just about the most fundamental principle for lawyers,” said Larry Cohen, who teaches litigation ethics at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Cohen says high-profile cases do come with more pitfalls and potential for problems than everyday cases. But he argues that there is an upside to public attention on court cases – when they are tried correctly and competently. “If people believe it was a just process conducted consistent with the applicable rules, seeking an outcome on the merits, they’ll be more likely to be comfortable not just with the outcome in this case, but with the outcome in all cases,” said Cohen.

Michael Volkov says attorneys and judges learn lessons from high-profile trials of the past, including the Arias trial, and this one is a cautionary tale. “In today’s world, Twitter, Instagram – everything. People know a lot about a case before they come in. And the fact is that we are bombarded by lots of social media information,” said Volkov. “If you are going to conduct a trial like this, and there’s so much at stake, you have to assert control of the case,” he said.