PHOENIX (AP) — Jodi Arias was peppered with a wide range of questions Wednesday as jurors in her murder trial asked about everything from Mormonism to the definition of a derogatory name she says her lover called her before she killed him.
Arizona is one of just a few states where jurors are allowed to ask questions of witnesses during a criminal trial as a matter of law, meaning the judge is required to notify the panel of its right to pose queries. In most other states, the process is either banned altogether or it's left up to individual judges to determine whether jurors can question witnesses.
Judge Sherry Stephens previously said the jury had about 100 questions for Arias, but by day's end, more than 150 were asked, and additional queries continued to come in. Arias is set to take the stand Thursday for a 17th day as Stephens will continue to read questions aloud.
Arias spent Wednesday responding occasionally with calm, concise answers, as she was quizzing repeatedly over her memory lapses from the gruesome attack. Other answers meandered and were met with objections from attorneys, at times from both the prosecutor and defense lawyers simultaneously.
Many questions focused on things that just don't add up — how Arias can recall specific details of raunchy sexual encounters with Travis Alexander, yet says her memory is "scrambled" when she tries to remember events from the day she killed him.
Arias is charged with first-degree murder in the June 2008 death of Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. She says it was self-defense, but police say it was a premeditated killing. She faces the death penalty if convicted.
Arias initially told authorities she had nothing to do with Alexander's death, then blamed it on masked intruders before settling on self-defense. Her repeated lies to authorities in the days after his death, and her methodical efforts to create an alibi and avoid suspicion have been center stage throughout the weekslong trial.
Alexander had been shot in the head, stabbed and slashed nearly 30 times and had his throat slit.
Jurors' written questions prodded her over why she never called police after she says Alexander had repeatedly physically abused her in the months leading up to this death, and why she continued to see him after she said she once awoke to find him having sex with her.
"I was in love with Travis," Arias said. "I knew I was in love with him, and it didn't make a difference to me, honestly."
None of her allegations of Alexander's abuse and her claims that he had sexual desires for young boys has been corroborated by witnesses or evidence during the trial, and she has admitted to lying repeatedly before and after her arrest.
Arias also testified previously how Alexander demeaned her and called her derogatory terms like "whore" and "skank." Jurors then asked how she defined "skank." She stammered with her response and skirted the question.
The panel also asked about her commitment to Mormon teachings. She converted to the faith after meeting Alexander, also a Mormon, but the two carried on an intense sexual relationship, despite church doctrine that discourages sex outside of wedlock.
The questions provided a glimpse into the panel's thoughts after hearing her testify about practically every detail of her life.
They asked her about past relationships with other men and how it could have been so easy for her to get a gun from the victim's closet while he chased her in a fury. Jurors also wanted to know why she tried to clean the bloody scene at Alexander's home.
She has acknowledged dumping the gun in the desert, getting rid of her bloody clothes, and leaving the victim a voicemail on his mobile phone within hours of killing him in an attempt to cover her tracks.
Arias' grandparents had reported a .25-caliber handgun stolen from their Northern California home about a week before the killing — the same caliber used to shoot Alexander — but Arias says didn't take it. Authorities believe she brought it with her.
A noted attorney in California, where it's up to judges to decide whether jurors may question witnesses, doesn't think the practice is a good idea.
"It becomes too difficult, too tempting for a juror to lose their role as an impartial fact-finder and slip into the role of an advocate, and I think that's contrary to what the whole justice system is based upon," said Los Angeles-area defense attorney Mark Geragos.
"In effect, you've deputized the jurors as investigators," Geragos added.
Others, however, say the practice is a useful tool aimed at getting to the truth, and it provides attorneys a window into the deliberation room, giving them time to change strategies.
Phoenix criminal defense attorney Julio Laboy said juror questions of a witness during a case where he was representing a client charged with murder once led to prosecutors offering a deal to plead to a lesser count.
"In the end, what this is all really about is the search for truth, and any mechanism that allows jurors to get closer to the truth without prejudicing one side or the other, I think, is a good tool," Laboy said.
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