Friday, February 22, 2013 3:58 pm
Arias seeks death penalty stay, court rejects
By BRIAN SKOLOFFAssociated Press
Arias is charged in the June 2008 stabbing and shooting death of her lover in his suburban Phoenix home. She claims self-defense, while authorities say she planned the attack in a jealous rage. Testimony has been ongoing since early January.
After failing to win a mistrial or stay of the death penalty option in the lower court earlier this year, her defense attorneys sought relief Friday from the state's highest court, which quickly rejected it. Her trial is set to continue Monday with the death penalty still on the table if prosecutors can secure a first-degree murder conviction.
Arias' attorneys argued in early January before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens, who is overseeing the trial, that the lead detective on the case perjured himself during a pretrial hearing aimed at determining whether the death penalty should be considered an option for jurors.
Mesa police Detective Esteban Flores testified at the hearing that based on his own review of the scene, and a discussion with the medical examiner, it was apparent that Alexander had been shot in the forehead first. Arias then repeatedly stabbed and slashed him 27 times and slit his throat, he said.
However, shortly before the trial began, the prosecution changed its theory of how the killing occurred, stating that Arias first stabbed Alexander, slit his throat and in a final savage salvo, shot him in the head. Their story aimed to undercut Arias' claim of self-defense by noting the sheer brutality of the attack.
Arias' attorneys claim she shot Alexander first to fend off his attack on her, but the bullet didn't stop him, forcing her to continue to fight for her life by stabbing him, which they are hoping could lead to a conviction on a lesser second-degree murder charge or even an unlikely acquittal.
Contrary to Flores' testimony at the previous hearing, a medical examiner later told jurors the gunshot probably would have incapacitated Alexander. So given his extensive defense wounds, including stab marks and slashes to his hands, arms and legs, it wasn't likely the shot came first.
The detective later acknowledged that he misunderstood the medical examiner in his mistaken testimony, but he never admitted committing perjury.
Stephens denied the mistrial motion and testimony continued.
Prosecutors declined comment Friday. Defense attorneys have not responded to a telephone message from The Associated Press.
Arias, 32, has been on the witness stand for nine days, describing in painstaking detail specifics of her life in the years leading up the killing - from an abusive childhood to dead-end jobs. Yet when asked to detail events from the day she killed Alexander, Arias drew a blank, noting there were "huge gaps" in her memory from that day.
She has said she only remembers shooting at him, putting a knife in the dishwasher and disposing of the gun in the desert as she drove from Arizona on her way to Utah to see a friend. And she immediately began planning an alibi "to "throw the scent off for a little while."
Arias' grandparents reported a .25 caliber handgun stolen from their Northern California house about a week before the killing - the same caliber used to shoot Alexander - but Arias claims to know nothing about the burglary. She says she brought no weapons to Alexander's home on the day she killed him, again attempting to undercut the prosecution's theory of premeditation.
During her cross-examination Thursday, the exchanges grew so heated that the judge admonished Arias and prosecutor Juan Martinez to stop talking over each other. Arias smirked at times, while Martinez stammered in frustration.
"Do you have memory problems, ma'am?" Martinez asked.
"Sometimes," Arias replied.
Martinez hammered back, noting it's puzzling that she can't remember such crucial details to the case, yet "can tell us what kind of coffee you bought at Starbucks sometime back in 2008."
Arias first told authorities she knew nothing about Alexander's death. She later blamed it on masked intruders before eventually settling on self-defense. She now says she remembers Alexander in a rage, body slamming her and chasing her around his home.
She said she grabbed a gun from his closet, and fired it as they tussled. She had no explanation for the multiple stab wounds and slit throat.
However, according to court records, she previously told police before her trial began that Alexander was unconscious after she shot him, but then "crawled around and was stabbed."