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PHOENIX— Jodi Arias was peppered with questions Wednesday from a jury deciding her fate in the death penalty case against her for the June 2008 killing of her lover in Arizona.
Arizona is one of just a few others where jurors are allowed to ask questions of witnesses during a criminal trial as a matter of law. The panel in Arias’ trial had about 100 questions after her 15 days on the witness stand.
Judge Sherry Stephens read them one-by-one aloud to Arias, who responded with calm, concise answers. One focused on why she didn't call police after she claimed Travis Alexander had repeatedly physically abused her in the months leading up to this death.
The questions provided a glimpse into the panel's thoughts after hearing her testify about practically every detail of her life, from a self-described abusive childhood in California to her stormy romance with Alexander and her conversion to the Mormon faith.
They asked her about past relationships with other men, how it could have been so easy for her to get a gun from the victim's closet as they fought on the day of the killing, and he chased her in a fury. Jurors also wanted to know why she tried to clean the bloody scene at Alexander's suburban Phoenix home.
Arias said she grabbed the gun from Alexander's closet as he came after her, but she didn't know for certain if he was right behind her.
“I just had the sense that he was chasing me,” she said.
After killing Alexander, Arias took photos of his bloody body and then put the camera in his washing machine. The jury asked her why she did that.
“I don't know why I would have done that,” she said.
She faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder. She says the killing was self-defense, and hopes that the jury spares her the death penalty by convicting her of a lesser murder count.
Stephens and attorneys worked Wednesday morning to whittle down the list of questions for Arias as objections were raised in private.
Many other states, including California, allow jury questions at the judge's discretion, but not all agree it's a good idea.
“It becomes too difficult, too tempting for a juror to lose their role as an impartial fact-finder and slip into the role of an advocate, and I think that's contrary to what the whole justice system is based upon,” said Los Angeles-area defense attorney Mark Geragos.
“In effect, you've deputized the jurors as investigators,” Geragos added.
Others, however, say the practice is a useful tool aimed at getting to the truth of a case, and provides attorneys on both sides a window in the deliberation room while the trial is still ongoing, giving lawyers time to change their strategies.
Phoenix criminal defense attorney Julio Laboy said juror questions of a witness during a case where he was representing a client charged with murder once led to prosecutors offering a deal to plead to a lesser count.
“In the end, what this is all really about is the search for truth, and any mechanism that allows jurors to get closer to the truth without prejudicing one side or the other, I think, is a good tool,” Laboy said.
“And it really is a window into the juror's mindset,” he added. “It can help attorneys direct which way you need to go, what path you should take.”
Arias initially told authorities she had nothing to do with Alexander's death then blamed it on masked intruders before settling on self-defense. Her repeated lies to authorities, friends and family in the days after his death, and her methodical efforts to create an alibi and avoid suspicion have been center stage throughout the weekslong trial as she explained how she remembers little from the day of the killing.
Alexander had been shot in the head, stabbed and slashed nearly 30 times and had his throat slit.
None of her allegations have been corroborated by witnesses or evidence during the trial, and she has admitted to lying repeatedly prior to and after her arrest, but Arias insists she is telling the truth now.
She has acknowledged that she dumped the gun in the desert, got rid of her bloody clothes, and even left the victim a voicemail on his mobile phone within hours of killing him and dragging his body into the shower.
Arias’ grandparents had reported a .25 caliber handgun stolen from their Northern California home about a week before the killing — the same caliber used to shoot Alexander — but Arias says she never knew her grandfather had the weapon. Authorities believe she brought it with her.