Should Her Guilty Verdict Be Tossed? Judges Grapple Over Jodi Arias Trial Misconduct Claims

Jodi Arias' lawyer claims that prosecutor Juan Martinez acted improperly during her well publicized murder trial for the death of ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander.

By Gina Tron
Digital Original
The Jodi Arias Case, Explained

Appellate judges who will decide whether to reverse Jodi Arias’ murder conviction in the gruesome 2008 killing of her former boyfriend grappled Thursday with who was responsible for whipping up publicity during the salacious trial and whether alleged misconduct by a prosecutor should cause the verdict to be tossed.

A lawyer for Arias told the Arizona Court of Appeals that prosecutor Juan Martinez improperly questioned witnesses, ignored rulings on evidence, courted publicity and made an unfounded accusation that an expert on her defense team had an inappropriate relationship with Arias.

“The theme of the (prosecutor’s) case was: Everybody else you should ignore, but me,” said Arias attorney Cory Engle.

Terry Crist, a lawyer for the Arizona attorney general’s office, told the judges that he believes Martinez may have occasionally violated court rules, but none of his actions should lead to a reversal of the conviction.

“The evidence of guilt is very strong in this case,” Crist said.

Arias was found guilty in 2013 of first-degree premeditated murder of her ex-boyfriend, 30-year-old Travis Alexander. He was discovered dead in his shower with nearly 30 stab wounds and a bullet in his head at his home in Mesa, Arizona; prosecutors said Arias planned the killing after Alexander broke up with her and planned a trip to Mexico with another woman.

Arias has acknowledged killing Alexander but claimed she acted in self-defense after he attacked her.

The guilt phase of Arias’ trial ended in 2013 with jurors convicting her of murder but deadlocking on punishment. A second sentencing trial ended in early 2015 ended with another jury deadlock, leading a judge to sentence Arias to life.

The case turned into a media circus as salacious and violent details about Arias and Alexander were broadcast around the world.

Arias had actively courted the spotlight since her 2008 arrest. 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.

Arias and Martinez were not in the courtroom for Thursday’s hearing.

Engle said Martinez capitalized on publicity and went so far as to sign autographs and take pictures with fans outside the courthouse. She also denied her client courted publicity.

“It doesn’t appear she ever gave up her desire to get her story out,” Judge Jennifer Campbell said.

Campbell asked what judges should do when a prosecutor “becomes an actor on stage loving publicity?”

Crist said the judges could uphold convictions in such cases and still refer the prosecutor to the State Bar of Arizona for possible discipline.

Campbell brought up a sidebar conversation among lawyers and the trial judge during the Arias trial in which Martinez profanely told one of the defense attorneys that if he was married to her, he’d kill himself. The prosecutor apologized after an objection was made.

Crist noted the encounter happened outside of the presence of the jury.

Judge Kenton Jones asked if such behavior by a prosecutor is acceptable if jurors don’t witness it. “It’s not OK at all,” Crist responded.

The judges didn’t say when they would issue a ruling.

After Arias’ attorney filed the appeal, new complaints were made against Martinez, though none of those have been raised in this case.

A judge who handles disciplinary cases against attorneys this summer threw out allegations that Martinez made sexually inappropriate comments to female law clerks in his office and had inappropriate contact with a woman who had been dismissed from Arias’ jury and later texted nude photos of herself to the prosecutor.

The remaining allegations against Martinez in the attorney disciplinary case included claims that Martinez leaked information to a blogger, with whom he was having an intimate relationship, during the Arias trial, KNXV-TV in Phoenix reported in August. That blogger allegedly helped Martinez look up unfavorable information about a juror who had refused to vote for the death sentence, according to the Arizona Republic. After a mistrial was declared, that juror’s name was leaked to the public, though it was never determined conclusively who was the source of the leak. 

Martinez was reprimanded by the county prosecutor’s office in 2018 for inappropriate and unprofessional conduct toward female law clerks. He’s had multiple ethics complaints made against him for behavior during other criminal cases and has had at least seven bar complaints filed against him in the past four years, according to the Phoenix New Times. In addition, multiple women have accused him of inappropriate conduct dating as far back as 1990, according to another KNXV-TV report. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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