Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Arias hearing a 'witch hunt,' lawyers say

Judge denies mistrial motion

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PHOENIX -- Defence attorneys for Jodi Arias asked the judge to remove them from the case and declare a mistrial Monday, arguing the frenzy surrounding the case has created a modern-day witch hunt.

The judge denied both motions, and Arias planned to take the stand today. Jurors will find out then if she tells them the same thing she told a local reporter: She'd rather be executed than spend her life in prison.

Defence attorneys told the judge they would call no witnesses after a key witness refused to take the stand because of death threats.

'This cannot be a modern-day version... of witch trials' -- Defence lawyer Kirk Nurmi

They argued the attention the case has received has made it impossible for Arias to receive a fair trial. Defence lawyer Kirk Nurmi alleged the prosecutor has fanned the flames with incendiary attacks on witnesses, stirring up outrage among the public. He noted an earlier defence expert witness also received death threats.

"This cannot be a modern-day version... of witch trials," Nurmi said.

After Judge Sherry Stephens denied their mistrial request, Nurmi and defence lawyer Jennifer Willmott asked to withdraw. The judge promptly rejected that request, too.

It was the second time in the past week the defence has asked to step down.

The defence attorneys continued with their protest of the unfavourable rulings by saying they had no plans to call any witnesses, sending the court into recess as the lawyers worked to resolve the next step. They later decided Arias would speak to the jury today.

Arias, a close friend from California and an ex-boyfriend had been expected to speak to jurors before the panel begins deliberating whether to sentence the 32-year-old to life in prison or execution for murdering her lover in 2008.

The same jury convicted Arias on May 8 of first-degree murder in the death of Travis Alexander.

Last week, the panel heard tearful comments from Alexander's brother and sister as they described how his killing has torn apart their lives.

Stephens instructed jurors they could consider a handful of factors when deciding what sentence to impose, including the fact Arias had no previous criminal record. Stephens said they also could consider defence assertions Arias is a good friend, had an abusive childhood and is a talented artist.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2013 A15

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