Monday, May 20, 2013

I really, really don't want to have to write about this case!

Come on, people. I don't want to blog about the Jodi Arias case. It is a stupid case that does not deserve to be famous. The issues in it are not worthy of national attention. Neither the victim nor the defendant are any more interesting than the victims and defendants in every other murder case currently pending throughout the nation. The only reason anyone should be talking about this case is as a starting-point for why we have developed this media monster that creates celebrities out of whatever random criminal defendant it latches onto.

But, goshdarnit, then today I read that Jodi Arias' childhood friend, who had planned to testify during the mitigation portion of the death penalty trial, was now declining to testify because she had received death threats and was feeling conflicted about the case. Wait. Back up. Death threats? She received death threats?!

First, let's just get this one thing out of the way: whoever made those death threats has definitely committed a felony and probably two (depending on how Arizona categorizes these crimes*). Criminal threat, obviously. And then there's intimidating a witness. Both of these things are obviously big no-nos. (At least I hope it's obvious...) Threatening people is not cool. Intimidating witnesses into not testifying is not cool. Interfering with a defendant's right to present mitigation at a death penalty trial is not cool.

Whatever really happened, it wouldn't have happened without Nancy Grace and her HLN cronies (yes, and other media outlets, but Nancy Grace is the worst) turning this case into a media circus. They've spent months vilifying this woman who otherwise wouldn't be known outside of her own and her victim's families. In that case, her childhood friend would probably have put aside her conflicting feelings (which are normal enough) and testified as she had planned. And as lots of other friends and family members of convicted murderers do at death penalty trials all across the country. No one is proud of their murdering friends; but they do recognize there is good in those people, too. I can't help but suspect that the sheer international notoriety of Jodi Arias largely contributed to the conflict leading the witness to bow out. (As a character witness, not a material witness, she can't be compelled to testify. It's also probably really bad strategy to try to get a witness who doesn't want to testify at a penalty phase to testify. Won't go well for your client.)

As for the death threat, it should go without saying that's not a terribly normal occurrence in death penalty trials. Maybe it's not fair, but I can't help but picture one of Nancy Grace's frothing at the mouth viewers, quite possibly ready to inject the 3-drug cocktail him or herself. I don't know how we get to a death threat being made against this woman without it being related to the insane, over-the-top, hateful coverage Jodi Arias has received on cable television and gossip sites.

Now I personally would find it hilarious if this incident and the over-the-top media coverage leads to an appellate reversal. The district court declined to grant a mistrial after the witness told of receiving death threats. If Arias goes on to receive a sentence of death, that could get very interesting. Any error or problem that contributes to a death sentence should be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny on appeal than that same error would receive in a trial that resulted in a life sentence. An appellate attorney could make a lot of hay about a case where participants were receiving death threats. I know my state court would be troubled. (I also know, though, that most of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, where defense attorneys sleeping during trial aren't a problem, wouldn't be.)

This will only be an issue if Arias is sentenced to death. Here's hoping that the jury spares us the years of Nancy Grace's ranting about an appeal by just sentencing her to life. And, hey, I won't have to write about this case again, either.





*Dorky lawyer alert. Depending on how various state statutes are written, the actual best charges may be misdemeanors in some places.

1 comment:

A Voice of Sanity said...

Two cases in point: Claudine Longet and Susan Cummings.

So much for equal justice!

 
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