PHOENIX (Reuters) - The foreman of an Arizona jury that deadlocked over whether Jodi Arias should be put to death for murdering her ex-boyfriend believes she was mentally abused, but said on Friday that had not been enough to excuse her crime.
Arias, a former waitress from California, was found guilty this month of murdering Travis Alexander, whose body was found slumped in the shower of his Phoenix-area home in June 2008. He had been stabbed 27 times, had his throat slashed and been shot in the face.
The same eight-man, four-woman jury that convicted Arias of murder and quickly ruled her eligible for the death penalty failed on Thursday to reach a consensus on whether she should actually die for her crime, prompting a penalty phase mistrial.
The state of Arizona now has the option of retrying the sentencing phase of the trial, which would require a new jury be impaneled. If there is another deadlock, the death penalty would be taken off the table.
“I’m very sure in my own mind that she was mentally and verbally abused,” jury foreman William Zervakos told the ABC News “Good Morning America” program. “Now, is that an excuse? Of course not. Does it factor in the decisions that we make? It has to.”
Arias, a petite 32-year-old, has admitted killing Alexander but said it was in self-defense after he attacked her, and maintained that she had been mentally and physically abused during the pair’s on-again off-again love affair.
Zervakos’ comments shed light on the unsuccessful three-day struggle to reach consensus on her fate in which jurors had also sought clarity from the court on whether a life prison term for Arias would include any possibility of parole.
The marathon trial that began in January, and included a lurid sex tape and photographs of the bloody crime scene, captivated U.S. television audiences with its tale of a soft-spoken woman charged with an unspeakable crime.
Demure, neatly groomed and wearing glasses, Arias had pleaded with the jury to spare her life for her family’s sake.
She appeared to breathe a sigh of relief on Thursday when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens declared a sentencing phase mistrial, while Alexander’s family wept and hugged in court. A penalty phase retrial is set for July.
Juries only rarely sentence women to death in the United States. While women account for about one in eight murder arrests, less than 2 percent of U.S. death row inmates are women, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Speaking in a separate interview with an Arizona NBC affiliate, Zervakos said the jury found the responsibility of weighing the death sentence overwhelming, but were horrified when their efforts ended in a mistrial.
“By the end of it, we were mentally and emotionally exhausted,” he said. “I think we were horrified when we found out that they had actually called a mistrial, and we felt like we had failed.”
Hoping to avert a guilty verdict, Arias took the stand for 18 days to tell her side of the story, in which she said she had killed Alexander in self defense after he attacked her because she dropped his camera while taking pictures of him in the shower.
“I think 18 days hurt her ... I think she was not a good witness,” Zervakos told “Good Morning America.” “We’re charged with ... presuming innocence, right? ... But she was on the stand for so long, there were so many contradicting stories.”
Prosecutor Juan Martinez poked holes in her testimony, noting there were no police or medical reports documenting abuse, and confronted her with lies she told after the killing to deflect suspicion that she had been involved.
In the waning days of the penalty phase trial, the jury was also influenced by harrowing statements from two of Alexander’s siblings, Steven and Samantha, about the impact of the crime, which left them haunted by nightmares and intrusive thoughts.
“I’m six feet away from somebody talking about a horrendous loss, and if you can’t feel that, then you have no emotion, no soul, and yet we couldn’t allow ourselves to be emotional on the stand,” Zervakos said. “We couldn’t allow ourselves to show emotion.”
The Arizona Republic newspaper reported that eight jurors had voted for the death penalty, four for life - a detail Reuters was unable to verify. Zervakos simply called the deliberations inside the jury room “gut-wrenching.”
The state now has the option of retrying the sentencing phase of the trial, which would require that a new jury be impaneled. If there is another deadlock, the death penalty would be taken off the table.
Prosecutors also could decide to no longer seek the death penalty, which would leave the judge to hand down life term.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement following the jury’s deadlock that he would assess the next steps, but was proceeding “with the intent to retry the penalty phase.” The Alexander family has declined comment.
Legal experts have said that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find a fair and impartial jury in light of the widespread publicity surrounding the case.
Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Chris Reese and Andrew Hay