PHOENIX – Convicted murderer Jodi Arias was spared the death penalty Thursday after jurors deadlocked on whether she should be executed or sent to prison for life for killing her lover in 2008.
It marked the second time a jury was unable to reach a decision on her punishment — a disappointment for prosecutors who argued for the death penalty during a nearly seven-year legal battle. It means the judge will sentence Arias on April 13 to either life in prison or a life term with the possibility of release after 25 years.
Family members of victim Travis Alexander wept when the judge announced that jurors couldn’t reach a decision after deliberating for about 26 hours over five days. The family sobbed as they left the courtroom, with one covering her eyes as she walked out. Arias’ mother, Sandra, received a hug from a friend moments after the verdict was read.
Attorney Jay Beckstead issued a statement from Alexander’s brothers and sisters saying they “are saddened by the jury’s inability to reach a decision on the death penalty, however, we understand the difficulty of the decision, and have nothing but respect for the jury’s time.”
The siblings said they appreciated the outpouring of support from the public but requested privacy.
Arias’ 2013 trial became a sensation with its tawdry revelations about her relationship with Alexander and that she shot him in the head and slit his throat so deeply that he was nearly decapitated.
It was broadcast live and TV audiences heard how Arias had stabbed and slashed Alexander nearly 30 times then left his body in his shower at his suburban Phoenix home, where friends found him about five days later.
The jury convicted her of first-degree murder but deadlocked on punishment, prompting the sentencing retrial that began in October.
Prosecutors say they don’t regret trying again to send Arias to death row. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who decided to seek the death penalty a second time, told reporters that “regret is a place in the past I can’t afford to live in.”
Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi said Thursday that the killing was a “tragedy” and “no verdict ultimately could repair that sadness.” He said he hoped the outcome could allow Alexander’s family and friends to begin to reach closure.
Prosecutors say Arias killed Alexander as revenge because he wanted to date other women and was planning a trip to Mexico with his latest love interest.
During closing arguments in the penalty retrial, prosecutor Juan Martinez repeatedly showed jurors gruesome crime scene photos of the victim’s slit throat.
The images were a counterpoint to the happy photos of Arias that her attorney displayed in arguing there was more to her life than her actions in the 2008 killing.
Martinez called Arias dishonest, questioned her claim that she’s remorseful for having killed her boyfriend, and tried to minimize the role her psychological problems played in the case.
“It doesn’t provide an excuse,” he told the jury of four men and eight women.
Nurmi told jurors that Arias deserves a second chance because she was the victim of verbal and physical abuse throughout her life. He also showed them pictures of Arias from happy moments in her life, such as an image of her resting her chin on Alexander’s shoulder.
Nurmi said Arias’ problems stem from a personality disorder in which she tries to mold herself to the wishes of the men she dates.
Nurmi portrayed Alexander as a man divided between his Mormon faith and sexual desires that led him to have relationships with several women. Alexander used Arias to quench his sexual urges, called her demeaning names and told her she was soulless, the lawyer said.
Martinez said Arias and her lawyers had falsely attacked Alexander’s character to draw attention from her actions.
Arias initially courted the spotlight after her arrest, granting interviews to “48 Hours” and “Inside Edition.”
She testified for 18 days at her first trial, describing her abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, relationship with Alexander and her contention that he was physically abusive.
She did more media interviews after the jury convicted her of murder.
Spectators lined up in the middle of the night to get a coveted seat in the courtroom for the first trial. However, attention was dampened during the penalty retrial after the judge ruled cameras could record the proceedings but nothing could be broadcast until after the verdict.
The proceedings revealed few new details about the crime and dragged on months longer than expected amid a series of expert witnesses and a surprising late October decision by Judge Sherry Stephens to remove reporters and spectators from the courtroom so Arias could testify in private. A higher court halted the testimony on its second day after complaints from news organizations.
At the end of the retrial, Arias passed up a chance to address the jury. She said she wanted to make such comments but refused to do so unless the courtroom was cleared. She cited potential personal safety threats in declining to speak in the open courtroom.