After closed-door hearing with defense, judge delays next phase of Jodi Arias trial

CNN
Friday, May 10, 2013 - 2:52am

A day after jurors found her guilty of first-degree murder, Jodi Arias and her attorneys met with a judge in a closed-door hearing Thursday, according to a source with knowledge of the proceedings.

The hearing was sealed, and it's unclear what they discussed. But afterward, officials abruptly announced the cancellation of Thursday's court proceedings and said that the trial would not resume until next week.

The last-minute cancellation was the latest twist in a high-profile case that has been marked by drama so intense that spectators line up to get seats in the Phoenix courtroom.

Court proceedings are now scheduled to resume on Wednesday at 10 a.m. (1 p.m. ET). That's because the prosecution's witness, medical examiner Dr. Kevin Horn, is not available Monday or Tuesday, the source with knowledge of the proceedings said.

Although it was not immediately clear what prompted the unexpected scheduling change, some analysts pointed to a television interview Arias gave minutes after the verdict was announced Wednesday.

"I said years ago that I'd rather get death than life, and that still is true today," she told Phoenix television station KSAZ. "I believe death is the ultimate freedom, so I'd rather just have my freedom as soon as I can get it."

Arias told KSAZ that longevity runs in her family, and that the worst possible outcome in the case would be a life sentence without parole.

"I would much rather die sooner than later," she said.

The comments prompted authorities to place Arias on suicide watch, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

After visiting with her family Wednesday night, Arias was transferred from the jail where she had been held to a psychiatric ward at a different jail, the sheriff's office said.

Her mother, Sandra Arias, told In Session's Jean Casarez Thursday evening that authorities did not allow her to visit with her daughter in the psychiatric ward because she is "under watch" there.

Next phase in trial is key

Arias was stoic in court Wednesday. Her eyes briefly welled up with tears as a clerk announced that the jury found her guilty of first-degree murder for killing ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in June 2008.

Alexander was stabbed repeatedly, shot and nearly decapitated five years ago. Arias says she killed him in self-defense after he attacked her, but the grisly slaying caused even some anti-domestic violence advocates to doubt her case.

The jury's highly anticipated verdict Wednesday after more than 15 hours of deliberation was a significant step in the case.

But the trial isn't over yet.

And Arias, who testified for 18 days during the trial, could speak to jurors again in court.

The next step of the case, known as the aggravation phase, is now scheduled to start on Wednesday.

That phase will move Arias closer to learning whether she will live or die.

Before they can consider imposing the death penalty, jurors must answer a key question: was Arias cruel when she killed Alexander?

To answer that question, prosecutors will have a chance to present additional evidence and jurors will decide whether Alexander's death was caused in a cruel manner.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez is expected to call Horn, the medical examiner, back to the stand to testify about how Alexander suffered before he died.

There are currently 127 people on death row in Arizona. If Arias is given a sentence of death, she would be the fourth woman on death row in the state.

Trial marked by dramatic arguments

In the trial, both sides have dramatically presented their arguments with details about Arias' love affair with Alexander.

"She rewarded that love from Travis Alexander by sticking a knife in his chest," Martinez said in his opening statement. "And you know he was a good man, according to her. And with regard to being a good man, well, she slit his throat as a reward for being a good man. And in terms of these blessings, well, she knocked the blessings out of him by putting a bullet in his head."

But defense attorney Jennifer Willmott countered: "Jodi Arias killed Travis Alexander. There is no question about it. The million-dollar question is what would have forced her to do it?"

Willmott said Arias was the victim of a controlling, psychologically abusive relationship, and Alexander considered Arias "his dirty little secret."

Martinez accused Arias of playing the victim. He alleged she staged the crime scene to make it look like self-defense.

He also accused her of actively seeking to profit from her media attention.

Courtroom bomb threat

Earlier Thursday, the sheriff's office said a suspect had been detained after a reported bomb threat targeting the courtroom where the Arias trial is taking place.

Authorities found no evidence of explosives or threats at the courthouse, Sheriff Joe Arpaio told reporters. A search of the suspect's hotel room revealed bullets, but no gun or explosives, he said.

But Arpaio said deputies were interviewing the suspect and the investigation was ongoing.

"I hope this doesn't disrupt the trial. On the other hand, I think people have to know that this guy who made the threat is behind bars," he said. "Let's go on with the trial and see what happens."
 

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