Why the Jordan Davis murder was not a death-penalty case and update on Jodi Arias

October 2, 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Good morning:

Several readers have asked why the prosecution did not seek the death penalty in the Michael Dunn case.

It is not a death-penalty case.

The death penalty is reserved for the most egregious premeditated murders. In other words, it applies to premeditated murders with “aggravating circumstances” that are listed in the death-penalty statute.

For example, a premeditated intent to kill a witness to a crime you have committed in order to conceal the crime you have committed is an aggravating circumstance that qualifies for the death penalty. A rape murder qualifies where the purpose of the murder is to prevent the victim from reporting the rape and identifying the rapist.

Other examples are premeditated murders of certain people such as police officers, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and children under age 12.

Another example that might have applied to Dunn, if he had killed the other boys in the Dodge Durango, is multiple victims. This statutory aggravating factor also would apply to terrorist bombings, such as the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings.

The Jodi Arias case provides another example. She is charged with killing her former boyfriend, Travis Alexander, with premeditation and the aggravating factor alleged in the indictment is that she killed him in a “cruel, heinous, or depraved” manner. Wikipedia describes the killing:

The killing of Travis Alexander occurred on June 4, 2008. On June 9, 2008, Alexander’s body was discovered by his friends in a shower at his home in Mesa, Arizona. Alexander had been stabbed repeatedly, with a slit throat and a fatal gunshot wound to the head. There have been conflicting reports over the number of stab wounds; some reports state that Alexander had been stabbed 29 times, while others state 27 times. Medical examiner Kevin Horn testified that Alexander’s jugular vein, common carotid artery, and windpipe had been slashed. Alexander had defensive wounds on his hands. Horn further testified that Alexander “may have” been dead at the time the gunshot was inflicted, and that the back wounds were shallow. Alexander’s death was ruled a homicide. He was buried at the Olivewood Cemetery in Riverside, California.

Arias was convicted of premeditated murder, but the jury was unable to unanimously agree that death was the appropriate penalty.

The parties are now attempting to select a new penalty-phase jury. ABC News is reporting that more than half of the 400 prospective jurors have been dismissed because they were too familiar with the case and could not fairly and impartially evaluate the evidence in deciding whether she should be sentenced to death or life without possibility of parole.

The effort to select a jury continues today.

Unfortunately, there is no television or live-stream coverage.

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Open Thread, Monday Night

February 17, 2014

posted by Crane-Station

Here are some updates on other stories and legal cases that have been in the news:

Jodi Arias:

The sentencing phase for Jodi Arias, which was set for March, has been postponed. Judge Sherry Stephens has not set a new date, for sentencing. The court received two motions from the defense team. First, the defense wants to keep from the jury, that Arias wanted to fire her lawyer, Kirk Nurmi. In a 15-page letter to the court earlier, Arias claimed that Kirk Nurmi didn’t like her, and that she didn’t trust him and also, he has “”utter poverty of people skills.” The defense argues that if the sentencing jury sees this, they will be prejudiced.

The second motion has to do with a problematic interview that an ex-cellmate of Arias gave to HLN, in November. Phoenix New Times reports:

In an interview with Fox-10 News (KSAZ-TV) on November 26, then on Headline News Network on January 8, Collins said that while she was Arias’ cellmate before the trial, Arias told her she was considering asking a hit-man to give Martinez “a ‘mafia bowtie,’ meaning having someone slit his throat.” Collins also said Arias had no remorse for her murder of Alexander.

Arias’s defense team does not want the jury to hear of this interview because it may unfairly prejudice the jury. The defense team claims that the statements that Collins made to the press in the interview are false.

Darrin Manning:

Darrin Manning was injured in a pat-down search in Philadelphia on January 7. He is a 16-year-old high school student, who was apparently with his sports team, but for some reason was seized for running from police because he was frightened. During the pat down, the female police officer grabbed his left testicle and pulled. Manning underwent surgery the next day. A small blood clot was removed. Initial reports were that the testicle was ruptured, and although that is thankfully not the case, Philly.com reports:

The District Attorney’s Office has launched a grand-jury probe into the incident, in which the cop is alleged to have violently grabbed the boy, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said yesterday.

Marissa Alexander:

Marissa Alexander remains on home detention and on bond, awaiting retrial in her case, where she was initially convicted and sentenced to 20 years, for firing a warning shot.

Her new trial is scheduled for March 31.

The activist site Free Marissa issued the following statement, regarding the verdicts in Dunn:

Yet again, we believe that Angela Corey has failed the constituents of Florida and a pattern of institutional racism in Florida’s justice system continues to devastate. Corey has once again proven incapable of obtaining a murder conviction against a white man who took the life of a black teenager. Yet, Corey somehow continues the unjust prosecution of Marissa Alexander, an African American woman from Jacksonville, FL who defended her life from a violent act of rage and power from her estranged husband, and who caused no injuries.

We are outraged that once again a white man’s fear is judged more worthy than a black youth’s life, while a black woman’s fear was rendered invisible or impossible, as was the case in Marissa Alexander’s Stand Your Ground hearing. We continue to advocate for justice for Jordan and his family, and call for immediate and transformative responses to the racism woven throughout the US criminal justice system.

Theodore Wafer:

The Final Call reports that Theodore Wafer will go to trial in June, to face a murder charge for the killing of Renisha McBride:

DETROIT – A June trial is scheduled for a Detroit-area man charged with second-degree murder after shooting a young woman on his porch.

Unrelated to court cases, here is a couple breaking up, using 154 movie titles:

This is an open thread. What upcoming legal situations or court cases would you like to follow, or hear more about? Or not!

Updates on Chism, Arias and Thomas cases

December 4, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good evening:

Philip Chism was arraigned today in Superior Court and pled not guilty.

I also have updates on Arias and Thomas.

Judge Sherry Stephens issued an order today in the Jodi Arias case denying a defense motion to compel jurors in her penalty phase retrial to reveal their social media and Twitter account information. The defense wanted to monitor the accounts to make sure jurors do not use them to obtain or disseminate information about the case.

Two weeks ago she issued an order banning live television coverage of the penalty phase.

Adolpho Flores reported today for the LA Times that the prosecution played an audio recording yesterday in which defendant Jay Cicinelli could be heard proclaiming that he hit Kelly Thomas 20 times in the face with his stun gun. Cicinelli’s statement was picked up by a body microphone worn by Officer John Ema. Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force.

Flores reports that Cicinelli’s lawyer, Michael Schwartz, told reporters after court that his client did not really mean what he said.

“That’s not what happened,” Schwartz said outside the Santa Ana courtroom. “What he’s saying is driven by his heightened state of anxiety, stress and disbelief.”

In his opening statements Monday, Schwartz said his client encountered a combative, uncontrollable suspect who grabbed his Taser.

At times what appears to be Cicinelli striking Thomas in the face is him actually hitting the homeless man’s hand to push it away from the stun gun, Schwartz said.

“An officer is trained in the state of California to never relinquish the weapon to a suspect,” Schwartz said.

Yeah, sure. You betcha.

Flores also summarized the videotape of the encounter between police and Thomas.

Jurors on Tuesday were also shown security footage of the encounter between Thomas and police outside a Fullerton bus depot. The 33-minute video is a compilation of cameras from the bus depot and audio from recording devices worn by police officers.

The grainy black and white video is a key piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case and captured the Fullerton police officers hitting Thomas with batons and a Taser, in addition to shocking him with the device. Several people, including Thomas’ mother, cried as the tape played.

Thomas was in a coma after the incident and died five days later.

The footage begins with Ramos approaching Thomas after receiving a 911 call of someone attempting to break into cars.

To read the remainder of his vivid and sickening description, please go here.

News about the site, jury selection process and latest news in Zimmerman and Arias cases

May 23, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Good afternoon:

Crane-Station and I are combining our websites, so you will be seeing her articles on a regular basis.

We are putting together a plan to live-blog each morning and afternoon session of GZ’s trial similar to the way we covered the last motion hearing. We will do the same for the hearing on May 28th.

I will post an article 30 minutes before each session to preview it and update everyone. The article will have a link to livestream coverage.

We are soliciting your comments and recommendations, so please let us know what you would like us to do.

We will use the hearing next Tuesday, May 28th, to fine tune our approach.

I do not yet know whether jury selection will be livestreamed. Hopefully, it will so that we can share our thoughts regarding each juror.

I have much to teach regarding the art of jury selection.

I hope the Court permits the public to link to the juror questionnaires for easy reference during individual voir dire, but privacy concerns may prevail over our desire to know as much as possible about each juror and make informed choices about cause and peremptory challenges. This also would allow us to more accurately evaluate the performance of the lawyers.

Individual voir dire, as the name implies, involves questioning prospective jurors individually out of the presence of the others in order to prevent their answers from potentially influencing or poisoning the minds of other jurors. For example, this is the only way to effectively question prospective jurors regarding what information about the case they have been exposed to, from what sources, and whether they have formed an opinion about the case, the guilt or innocence of the accused, and the lawyers representing each side.

Personal questions regarding whether anyone has been a victim of a crime or accused of a crime also should be asked out of the presence of other jurors. Whether we will be permitted to observe that process remains to be seen.

Keep in mind that there is no limit to the number of challenges for cause that each side may assert. A challenge for cause is a formal request to the Court to excuse a prospective juror on the ground that they cannot or will not follow the jury instructions, which will be the law of the case. For example, a prospective juror who says she cannot presume the defendant innocent, given what she knows about the case, would be challenged for cause by the defense and excused for cause by the judge. The same result would happen to a prospective juror challenged for cause by the State, if he said that he had already decided that the defendant was innocent because TM was the aggressor and he had a right to kill him.

On the other hand, if either or both prospective jurors expressed less certainty and said they could put aside their personal beliefs and base their verdict only on the evidence admitted by the Court, the challenge for cause would be denied.

This unhappy result for the party that lost the challenge for cause would probably result in the use of a peremptory challenge to excuse the prospective juror. With three important exceptions, the party exercising a peremptory challenge does not have to give a reason to support or justify the challenge. The three exceptions are race, gender and religion.

You can reasonably expect the State will object to the defense using a peremptory challenge against a Black prospective juror. To survive the challenge, the defense will have to convince Judge Nelson that they have a reason independent of the prospective juror’s race to support the challenge.

Unless Judge Nelson increases the number of peremptory challenges, each side will get 3. A 6-person jury will decide the case.

For more information, click on Jury Selection in the Categories column on the right side of the web page or click here.

Finally, here’s a link to the latest from the Orlando Sentinel: New evidence in George Zimmerman case: Trayvon texted about being a fighter.

Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner breathlessly write:

The text messages about fighting may be the most damaging to the state.

Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense when he shot Trayvon, an unarmed black 17-year-old, in Sanford, Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman described Trayvon to police as an aggressive young man who punched him, knocking him to the ground then climbed on top and began hammering his head onto a sidewalk.

In one text message Trayvon sent Nov. 22, 2011, he wrote about his unnamed opponent, “he got mo hits cause in da 1st round he had me on da ground an I couldn’t do ntn.”

In another text send Dec. 12 he acknowledged earning a reputation in the neighborhood – although because words were blacked out, it’s not clear what his reputation was. His reputation came, he wrote, because of “Duh way I fight nd duh golds (teeth) I had last year.”

Trayvon’s text messages also show that he was interested in guns. A few days before the shooting, he wrote an unidentified friend, “U wanna share a .380”

And about a week before that, he texted a young Miami woman who’s been described as his girlfriend, “U gotta gun?”

Her response: yes, although she did not have possession of it. “It my mommy but she buy for me,” the young woman wrote.

On November 22, 2011, three months before he was killed, he wrote a friend that his mother had ordered him to move out and that he had gotten in trouble for cutting classes.

“I promise my mom just told me I gotta move,” he wrote. Two minutes later, he wrote, “Da police caught me outta school.”

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson must now decide whether to allow jurors to learn about the text messages and photos. In paperwork filed earlier this month, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda asked her to ban them, describing them as irrelevant.

Latest word on Jodi Arias: Jurors resumed deliberations this morning after reporting yesterday that they were deadlocked.


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Stop building a mountain of the dead

May 22, 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Good morning:

Searching Mind inspired this post from an old and tired voice for the damned.

Let him who is without sin hurl the first stone.

Your passionate voice for simple nonjudgmental human decency does not go unheard,

as the inexorable tinkering with the machinery of death continues

in this latest sad chapter,


She does not fit,

She is mentally ill, abhorred and damned,

but not legally insane.

Vengeance serves no relief to anyone.

A mouth full of sawdust cannot spit out the venom from a fresh kill.

No satisfaction will be found today

in the halls of the Maricopa County Courthouse.


emptiness shall reign

as it always has and always will,


Until at last

people listen

and stop building

a mountain of the dead.


Proof of premeditation requires proof of reflection on decision to kill and discussion of the Arias allocution

May 21, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Good afternoon:

To prove premeditation, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to kill the victim and, upon reflecting on the decision to kill, decided to go ahead and kill the victim. This process can occur quickly and only requires more than a moment in time to take place. Therefore, time is not particularly important to proving premeditation.

A prosecutor must rely on circumstantial evidence to prove premeditation, unless the defendant has admitted that he or she premeditated the murder. The most powerful circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s intent is the defendant’s conduct. The greater the length of time between formation of intent to kill and the act that causes death, the more likely the defendant reflected on the decision to kill and decided to complete the act.

Many of us, including me, have speculated that GZ premeditated the death of Trayvon Martin. However, a prosecutor must restrict himself to charging what he believes he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why GZ is charged with second degree murder. It is a conservative charging decision based on the uncertainty of convincing all of the jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that GZ reflected on a decision to kill Trayvon Martin and decided to go ahead and do it.

Now consider the Jodi Arias case. Seems to me that there is overwhelming evidence of careful planning before the murder, and the use of two weapons (knife and gun) to carry it out, including a coup de grâce, eliminates any doubt in my mind that she had opportunities to reflect on her decision to kill and decided to complete the act.

Jodi Arias just finished addressing the jury (her right to allocution) and the Court is now instructing the jury.

What did you all think about her allocution and what do you think the sentence will be?

Keep in mind during the jury deliberation that any mental illness qualifies as a potential mitigating factor. Insanity is a legal definition that requires proof that, due to a mental illness, a defendant could not distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the act. Any effort to conceal the commission of the crime and/or the person’s role in committing the crime normally defeats the insanity defense. Arias is not claiming insanity.

Closing arguments will begin at 1:30 pm PDT.


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Writing articles every day and maintaining the integrity and safety of this site from people who would like nothing better than to silence us forever is a tough job requiring many hours of work.

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Judge denies motion for mistrial in Arias penalty phase

May 20, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Maricopa County Judge Sherry Alexander denied a defense motion for a mistrial today during the penalty phase in the Jodi Arias case. Court recessed for the day and will resume tomorrow with Ms. Arias presenting her plea to the jury.

The defense moved for a mistrial when its only mitigation witness, Patricia Womack, refused to testify claiming that she had received death threats and was conflicted about the case.

I couldn’t do it,” she told NBC News in an email. “I feel there is so much good in Jodi to be saved but then also someone’s dear life was taken.

Defense attorney, Kirk Nurmi also alleged a separate ground. He accused the prosecutor of intimidating Ms. Womack by threatening to charge her with a crime. However, the Tribune reports that

Prosecutor Juan Martinez told the court on Monday that, in a prior interview with Womack, she had refused to answer questions about her drug use. He said that her refusal to incriminate herself would have precluded her from testifying.

Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi claimed that Womack’s absence would deny the jury a full picture of Arias’ life prior to meeting Alexander in 2006.

Maricopa County Judge Sherry Stephens ruled there was no basis for a mistrial. She also denied a subsequent request by Nurmi to withdraw from the case, and adjourned the court for the day.

This is an interesting issue because prosecutors are not permitted to intimidate defense witnesses into not testifying for a defendant. Unfortunately for the defense, Ms. Womack appears to have been more concerned about her conflicted feelings and if that is the case, I believe this issue will not get Ms Arias a new penalty phase, assuming the jury sentences her to death.


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Questions for readers about Jodi Arias penalty phase

May 16, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Good afternoon:

The jury in the Jodi Arias case unanimously agreed yesterday that the prosecution proved the aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e., excessive cruelty).

Meanwhile, defense counsel apparently moved to withdraw from the case after they found out that their client had decided to volunteer for the death penalty.

The judge denied their motion.

The case resumed today with the penalty phase.

Defense counsel are in a difficult situation.

Do they ask the jury to grant her request and sentence her to death, or do they ask the jury to disregard her request and sentence her to life without parole?

What would you do, if you were in their situation?

Now, I will up the ante and ask a tougher question. Let us suppose that they have powerful mitigation evidence to present that would likely persuade jurors to reject the death penalty and sentence her to life without parole. If you were representing her, would you present that evidence despite her objections?


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Arias verdict today

May 8, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: The jury has reached a verdict in the Jodi Arias case after deliberating for 15 hours, and 5 minutes. Court will convene at 4:30 pm EDT.

Livestream Link


Writing articles every day and maintaining the integrity and safety of this site from people who would like nothing better than to silence us forever is a tough job requiring many hours of work.

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