PHOENIX – Attorneys for Jodi Arias asked the Arizona Court of Appeals on Thursday to overturn her 2008 murder conviction based on “cumulative misconduct” by high-profile prosecutor Juan Martinez.
“It’s so pervasive and so persistent in this case,” said Arias’ attorney Cory Engle during oral arguments before a three-judge panel in Phoenix.
But Assistant Attorney General Terry Crist countered that while Martinez, the Maricopa County prosecutor, may have violated the rules “occasionally,” his actions don’t warrant a reversal of the murder conviction.
Arias, who is now 39, was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 for murdering her sometime boyfriend Travis Alexander in his Mesa home. The 30-year-old Alexander was found dead with a bullet in his head, 27 stab wounds and a slit throat. Arias confessed to the killing, but claimed she had acted in self-defense.
Arias appealed her murder conviction, and Thursday’s arguments before the Court of Appeals were part of that process. The judges frequently stopped the attorneys to ask pointed questions.
Judge Jennifer B. Campbell repeatedly asked Crist if Martinez had committed improper conduct in the Arias trial.
“There are instances, yes,” he said. “Not as many as the defense argues and none that resulted in jury prejudice.”
Thursday’s argument also focused on the “carnival-like” atmosphere surrounding the lengthy trial, which Arias’ attorneys contended denied her a fair trial and an impartial jury.
The trial garnered international publicity and made the flamboyant Martinez famous. Spectators harassed witnesses online, and SWAT teams had to accompany jurors to their cars.
Arias’ lawyers argued Martinez committed several actions of prosecutorial misconduct during the trial, and that the cumulative misconduct should be enough to overturn the conviction.
But Crist argued that Martinez’s actions didn’t prejudice the jury and were not a reason to reverse the conviction.
Jodi Arias: Murder conviction could be overturned because of prosecutor misconduct claims
Judge Michael Brown questioned Crist about what an appellate court could do if a prosecutor goes into a case knowing he can do unethical things without the conviction being overturned. Crist said the court is able to file a bar charge against the prosecutor.
Campbell also brought up an incident that has been reported in the media, when Martinez told Arias’ defense attorney Jennifer Willmott during a sidebar at the judge’s bench that if he were married to Willmott he would “want to kill myself” and later telling Willmott she should go back to law school.
Martinez later apologized for the comments, according to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Campbell said Martinez in his comments “insults” Willmott, “inappropriately” calls into account her gender and then uses an expletive, which she said would get an attorney expelled from most courtrooms.
“How do you even defend that kind of conduct in this context of a death penalty case?” Campbell asked.
Crist replied, “You don’t. I don’t think it’s appropriate in the slightest.”
He added, however, that the jury did not hear the comment, and ultimately the Court of Appeals is deciding whether Arias received a fair trial.
“You don’t punish prosecutors by reversing convictions,” he said.
The Court of Appeals is also considering whether publicity outside the courtroom impacted Arias’ right to a fair and impartial jury.
For Arias’ attorneys, the answer to that question is yes.
During the oral argument, Campbell told Arias’ attorneys that the court must look at Arias’ interaction with the media when discussing Martinez’s behavior.
The judges listed at least three times when Arias conducted interviews with the media.
However, Engle disagreed that Arias was “courting” the media.
“She certainly wasn’t standing on the courthouse steps signing autographs,” she said, referring to actions by Martinez.
Crist told the court he could only think of one occasion when Martinez signed autographs and took photos outside the courthouse.
Martinez currently is facing a series of ethics complaints by the State Bar of Arizona and Clark related to his behavior in the Arias and other criminal trials. He was recently transferred out of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s capital litigation bureau and into the auto theft division, though he is still working on his remaining capital cases.
Monica K. Lindstrom, an attorney who is not part of the case but has followed the case for years, said Arias’ attorneys focused on the cumulative effect of Martinez’s behavior while the state emphasized the overwhelming evidence of Arias’ guilt.
“That’s exactly what they needed to do,” she said.
If she had to predict how the judges will eventually rule, she said, she believes they will uphold the conviction. However, “they don’t like” what Martinez said during the trial, she said.
Follow Lauren Castle on Twitter: @Lauren_Castle. Follow Anne Ryman on Twitter: @anneryman.
Published at Thu, 17 Oct 2019 20:52:00 +0000