Jodi Arias Death Penalty: Lawyers Denied Motion To Withdraw; Travis Alexander's Brother, Sister Give Tearful Testimony In Trial's Final Phase [VIDEO & REPORT]

By Beth Roeser May 16, 2013 6:23 PM EDT
Jodi Arias may get the death penalty, and there's not much her lawyers can do about it. After Arias said in an interview that she would consider death
Jodi Arias may get the death penalty, and there's not much her lawyers can do about it. After Arias said in an interview that she would consider death "the ultimate freedom," her lawyers moved to withdraw from the case. They were denied. (Photo: Reuters)

Jodi Arias is eligible for the death penalty after the jury determined her murder of Travis Alexander was "especially cruel," as though there were ever any doubt. While the prosecution presented Travis Alexander's autopsy photos and described in graphic detail how Alexander suffered as Arias shot him in the face, stabbed him nearly 30 times, and slit his throat from ear to ear, the defense team seemed to be at a loss.

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Defense attorneys Kirk Numi and Jennifer Willmott could only argue that Alexander may not have been in much pain due to the adrenaline rushing through his veins as he was brutally attacked, and reminding the jury that the whole bloody ordeal only lasted two minutes. The prosecution countered by asking the court to sit quietly for two minutes and consider just how long those moments must have felt for Travis Alexander.

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If Jodi Arias' lawyers seemed hard-pressed to properly defend their client, it's only natural. Numi and Willmore actually asked to step down from the case after the jury reached its guilty verdict last week, but their request to withdraw was denied. Though details of the motion filed by Arias' lawyers were sealed, legal experts believe the lawyers were frustrated when Arias complicated their defense efforts with remarks she made in an interview with Fox affiliate KSAZ just minutes after her conviction.

"I believe death is the ultimate freedom," Arias said on camera. "And I'd rather have my freedom as soon as I can get it."

Arias' lawyers were denied permission to withdraw from the case, according to court minutes released Thursday. But criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos explained that the lawyers were put in a difficult position when Arias stated that she preferred the death penalty over a life sentence, and would have had no choice but to confront the conflict of interest the remarks created.

"It's not highly unusual," Geragos said. "There are cases where defendants make decisions that they're better off on death row, but that puts the lawyer in a conflicted position. You've got a duty as a lawyer to bring the conflict of interest to the courts and disclose it."

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Phoenix criminal defense lawyer Julio Laboy agreed. "It would be something I would do in my major felony cases if I found that a client was actually working against me and not working with her defense."

Arias' attorneys' motion to withdraw will have no impact on the penalty phase of the trial, since jurors will not be aware of the filing. And the fact remains that Arias is not entitled to choose her own sentence, regardless of whether or not she actually prefers the death penalty.

During this final penalty phase of the trial, the same jury that convicted Jodi Arias of first-degree murder last week will decide whether to sentence to life in prison, or death.

Travis Alexander's brother Steven gave emotional testimony in the final penalty phase of the Jodi Arias trial. (Photo: Reuters)
Travis Alexander's brother Steven gave emotional testimony in the final penalty phase of the Jodi Arias trial. (Photo: Reuters)

On Thursday the jury heard heartbreaking testimony from the relatives of Travis Alexander, who described how their lives had been destroyed by the brutal killing. Alexander's younger brother Steven revealed how he had been hospitalized for ulcers since the murder, suffered insomnia, and had separated from his wife.

"I've had nightmares about somebody coming after me with a knife, then going after my wife and my daughter," Steven Alexander said, choking back tears. "I don't want these nightmares anymore. I don't want to see my brother's murderer anymore."

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Alexander's sister Samanta also testified, telling of their grandmother's tragic failure to cope with the loss of her grandson Travis and the toll it took on her health. Alexander's grandmother died before the murder trial even began.

Samantha Alexander tearfully described how her brother Travis' murder weighed on his family -- especially their grandmother, who died before the trial even began. (Photo: Reuters)
Samantha Alexander tearfully described how her brother Travis' murder weighed on his family -- especially their grandmother, who died before the trial even began. (Photo: Reuters)

Arias, 32, admitted to killing Travis Alexander, a Mormon businessman, after a day of sex in his Phoenix home on June 4, 2008. Those facts alone are just the tip of the iceberg in a trial marked by lurid details about Arias' heated sexual affair with Alexander -- the court was witness to a number of pornographic photos taken by Alexander and Arias during their kinky sex sessions and heard graphic stories of the "pornographic fantasies" Arias claims she brought to life for the man she would eventually murder.

The extravagant brutality of Jodi Arias' murder of Travis Alexander is another remarkable aspect of the trial. Alexander's mangled and bloody body was found slumped in the shower stall of his home on June 9, five days after his death. He had been shot in the head and stabbed between 20 and 30 times, and Arias had slashed his throat with such ferocious intent that his jugular vein, carotid artery, and windpipe were cut. Alexander's hands bore defensive wounds, a fact the prosecution would later bring up to convince the jury that he had suffered physical and mental anguish during the "especially cruel" assault -- a point that needed to be proved in order to make Arias eligible for the death penalty.

The defense has argued that Jodi Arias suffers bipolar disorder and murdered Travis Alexander while overwhelmed by a fit of anger. The prosecution had described the killing as an attack sparked by jealous fury after Arias learned that Alexander wanted to end their affair and leave for a trip to Mexico with another woman.

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