Convicted killer Jodi Arias was mystery witness at her sentencing retrial

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2014 4:18 PM

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Convicted murderer Jodi Arias was the mystery witness allowed to testify in secret at her sentencing retrial in Arizona because of fears for her safety after her lawyers said she received death threats, court papers showed on Tuesday.

A state appeals court ruled last month that the judge had been wrong to close those proceedings to the public, and the appeals court on Tuesday confirmed suspicions that Arias herself had been the witness in question.

The 34-year-old former waitress from California could get the death penalty after being found guilty last year of murdering her former boyfriend at his Phoenix-area home in 2008.

A three-member panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals said Arias was permitted to testify in secret on Oct. 30 after her lawyers said she received death threats and argued that media coverage would affect her ability to think and answer questions.

The panel said the trial judge, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens, agreed to the request from Arias' legal team despite feeling manipulated by the defendant.

The appeals court said the defense attorneys failed to prove there was a "clear and present danger" requiring that her testimony be given behind closed doors, and it ordered a transcript be released to the public.

Media organizations had appealed Stephens' decision. Defense lawyers said they planned to challenge the state appellate court's ruling in the Arizona Supreme Court.

Arias says she acted in self-defense when she killed 30-year-old Travis Alexander, who was found dead in a shower at his home. He was stabbed multiple times, his throat was slashed, and he had been shot in the face. Prosecutors said she murdered him in a jealous rage.

The jury that convicted Arias later deadlocked on the death penalty. A new jury is hearing testimony and if it also deadlocks, the judge will sentence Arias to life in prison or life with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

(This story has been refiled to change murder to murderer in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)