In Arias trial, TV cameras never far behind
PHOENIX (AP) – The Jodi Arias trial had all the ingredients of a circus the minute it started: sex and violence, a defendant more than willing to seek the spotlight, a judge who extended leniency in allowing lengthy testimony and cameras in court – and a media-savvy sheriff ready and willing to set up jailhouse interviews with his most famous inmate.
The spectacle surrounding the case reached new levels in the minutes after Arias was convicted of murder two weeks ago when she told the local Fox affiliate in a stunning interview that she wanted the death penalty. But the frenzy didn’t stop there.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose office runs the county jail system, later gave reporters a tour of Arias’ cell. And on Tuesday night, his office allowed Arias to do a series of jailhouse interviews just hours after the jury began deliberating whether she should get the death penalty.
The sheriff and defendant’s self-promotion added to a trial that many, including Arias’ own attorneys, argue is a runaway train. Fans flock to the courthouse, seeking autographs from the prosecutor and bartering for seats in the gallery. There have been death threats against witnesses.
It’s extremely rare for murder defendants to give interviews to reporters during a trial, or for jail officials to allow them. But this particular trial is different because it has willing participants: Arpaio and Arias.
“The media wanted to talk to her,” Arpaio told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday explaining his decision. “She wanted to talk to them.”
The jury on Tuesday began deliberating whether Arias should get a life sentence or the death penalty for murdering her lover Travis Alexander by stabbing and slashing him nearly 30 times in June 2008. Jurors indicated Wednesday that they were at odds in attempting to reach a unanimous decision, so the judge sent them back to continue deliberating. They left for the day without reaching a decision and plan to reconvene on Thursday.
Arpaio is no stranger to inserting himself into the news when a big story beckons, especially when it comes to celebrities and his jail system.
In 2007, he offered to house Paris Hilton in one of his jails after the hotel heiress and socialite was released early from a California lockup for a probation violation connected to her no contest plea to alcohol-related reckless driving. His offer was declined. He allowed country singer Glen Campbell to put on a concert for inmates after he was jailed on a drunken driving charge. And he made NASCAR star Kurt Busch an honorary deputy a year after the professional driver was pulled over on a reckless driving allegation in 2005.
Arpaio has made headlines for jail interviews in other capital murder cases, as well.
In 2006, his office arranged a jailhouse interview of a janitor who was later convicted of killing six people in a serial shooting spree. The interview ended minutes after it started when Dale Hausner’s court-appointed attorney walked into the room and suggested he pull the plug.
A similar scenario occurred when Arias did her post-conviction interview. She said her court-appointed attorneys felt “betrayed” by the move. They allowed her to do the second round of interviews, but told her to be careful and not say anything that could complicate her appeals.
Arpaio defended the decision to make Arias available for interviews, saying he has regularly let reporters into his jails over the past 20 years to speak with inmates. The sheriff said he kept his mouth shut about the Arias case until questions were raised about the conditions Arias faces in jail. He said he felt he had to defend his get-tough jail policies, so he let reporters in to see her cell.
Arpaio rejected criticism that he inserts himself into cases to gain publicity.
“I don’t need this for publicity. I go to the toilet, I can get publicity,” Arpaio said.
Arias sought out the spotlight from the start.
As she sat in an interrogation room the day she was arrested in July 2008, she fretted about how she wasn’t wearing makeup and asked a detective if she could fix herself up before being booked into the system. Arias later spoke to “48 Hours” and “Inside Edition” from jail in interviews that brought national attention to her case.
She also beat out several inmates to win an “American Idol”-style Christmas singing contest that was judged by Arpaio himself.
Arias sent out dozens of Tweets during her trial, did her now-famous post-conviction interview and spoke to reporters again Tuesday, hours after she pleaded with the jury to spare her life.
In an interview with the AP, Arias claimed she doesn’t want public attention and would have preferred a trial with no news coverage whatsoever.
“The prosecutor has accused me of wanting to be famous, which is not true,” Arias said.
As the trial began, Judge Sherry Stephens rejected a defense request to forbid cameras in the courtroom and sequester the jury. Arias said Tuesday she believes the jury should have been sequestered.
Loyola Law School professor Stanley Goldman said Arias’ decision to provide interviews as the jury deliberates her fate is strange, but that she has a First Amendment right to speak if she chooses.
“Odd would probably be quite the understatement for Jodi Arias’ behavior,” Goldman said. “Normal people keep their mouths shut in these situations.”
BRIAN SKOLOFF and JACQUES BILLEAUD
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