Arias trial to resume after a nearly 2-week break

AP News
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Posted: Nov 11, 2014 5:34 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — The sentencing retrial of Jodi Arias is scheduled to resume Wednesday after a nearly two-week break during which news organizations protested a decision to let a skittish defense witness testify in private and authorities were accused of destroying evidence.

The trial has been in recess since Oct. 30 after a judge ordered that the public be kept out of the courtroom during testimony by the first witness called by Arias' lawyers, who are trying to spare her the death sentence in the 2008 killing of her former boyfriend Travis Alexander.

Defense attorneys launched a new legal attack Monday when they sought to dismiss the case by alleging that authorities destroyed thousands of files on Alexander's computer — including files from pornographic websites — that would have been beneficial in defending Arias.

Dwane Cates, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix who isn't involved in the Arias case, said the latest allegations haven't yet been proven, but if they are determined to be true, the judge could put the case on hold while the defense team examines computer evidence or could declare a mistrial.

"It's unusual to have major prosecutorial misconduct allegations uncovered during a trial," Cates said. "It doesn't happen every day. It does happen, but this is unusual."

Arias was convicted of murder last year in Alexander's death, but jurors deadlocked on whether she should be sentenced to life in prison or death. A new jury has been picked to decide her sentence.

Prosecutors said Arias attacked Alexander in a jealous rage after he wanted to end their affair and planned a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias has acknowledged killing Alexander but claimed it was self-defense after he attacked her.

While some of the testimony by Arias' first witness was conducted in private, news organizations later succeeded in getting an appeals court to overrule Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens and barred her from closing the courtroom to the public.

Arias' attorneys said in court records late last week that several people are unwilling to testify because of the potential negative consequences of speaking up on behalf of Arias.

Her lawyers said some defense witnesses at the first trial were threatened and harassed for their role in the case and that the only people willing to testify for her at the second trial will do so only in private.

It's unknown whether the first defense witness, whose identity hasn't been publicly revealed, will continue testifying on Wednesday or whether others will be called.

Arias' attorneys, who alleged Alexander had treated their client in a sexually humiliating manner, say the missing computer files deprived Arias of a fair trial.

At her first trial, Arias testified she once walked in on Alexander viewing child pornography and that he would get angry when she raised the encounter with him.

No evidence was submitted at the first trial to support those claims. The case's prosecutor contended Arias was lying about her child pornography allegation.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office and Mesa Police Department, the two law enforcement agencies that led the investigation, declined to comment on the allegations of destroyed computer files.