PHOENIX — The prosecutor who won a guilty verdict against Jodi Arias in the 2008 death of her former boyfriend made mistakes at trial that should be outweighed by overwhelming evidence of her guilt, state lawyers said while urging an appeals court to uphold her conviction.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office acknowledged instances in which Maricopa County prosecutor Juan Martinez was argumentative with two witnesses, responded to a claim that he was uncivil during the trial, and argued that publicity didn’t cause any prejudice against Arias.
“While the prosecutor unsurprisingly made some mistakes during Arias’s 69-day trial, those errors did not prejudice the jury in light of the court’s curative actions and the overwhelming evidence of Arias’s guilt,” wrote Terry Crist, an assistant attorney general.
The arguments made this summer in Arias’ appeal include allegations that Martinez improperly questioned witnesses and courted news coverage. Her lawyers also argued that Judge Sherry Stephens let news organizations turn the trial into a “circus-like atmosphere.”
Arias, 38, is serving a life sentence after her first-degree murder conviction in the death of Travis Alexander at his home in Mesa.
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.
The guilt phase of Arias’ trial ended in 2013 with jurors convicting her but deadlocking on punishment. A second sentencing trial stretched into early 2015, also resulting in a jury deadlock. That required Stephens to sentence Arias to prison for life.
The case turned into a media circus as salacious and violent details about Arias and Alexander were broadcast live around the world.
Arias actively courted the spotlight after she was arrested in 2008. She did interviews on TV’s “48 Hours” and “Inside Edition” and was on the witness stand for several weeks during the trial. She also did a series of media interviews after her conviction.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Arias during the trial, didn’t immediately respond Thursday afternoon to a request for comment from Martinez.
The Attorney General’s Office said Martinez was argumentative toward Arias and a psychotherapist who testified on her behalf, such as when Arias claimed that she had a memory problem. “If it benefits you, you have a memory issue?” Martinez responded.
Crist said many of the people who testified on Arias’ behalf were difficult and not adequately responding to questions.
The Attorney General’s Office also pointed out that when issues of publicity popped up during the trial, jurors repeatedly said they hadn’t seen news coverage of the case and could remain fair and impartial.
Crist said Arias generated publicity by giving TV interviews before the trial and spoke on camera to a reporter on the day of her guilty verdict, even though her attorneys didn’t want her to do so.
Arias’ attorneys complained that Martinez signed autographs and posed for photos outside the courthouse during the trial, but Crist said the judge found no evidence that autographs and photos would affect the verdict, because no jurors saw those exchanges.
Mike Black, a Phoenix defense attorney who isn’t involved in the Arias case, said he believes Arias’ conviction will be upheld. Overturning a case on a publicity argument is “an extraordinarily high bar,” he said.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.