Michael Kiefer, The Arizona Republic
PHOENIX — Prosecutor Juan Martinez dances on the edge of outrage in the courtroom, and his TV following loves it.
But on Thursday it came back to haunt him when defense attorneys for accused killer Jodi Arias were able to introduce a string of emails — over his repeated objections — showing that victim Travis Alexander’s close friends had tried to warn Arias that Alexander was an abusive womanizer.
And Arias’ lead attorney, Kirk Nurmi, suggested that Martinez’s love for the TV camera was lapsing into prosecutorial misconduct. At the close of the day Thursday, the jurors were called in one-by-one to be questioned on whether they saw Martinez signing autographs and posing for cameras outside the courthouse last week.
Arias, 32, admits killing Alexander, 30, in June 2008, and if convicted, she could be sent to death row. Nurmi and his co-counsel, Jennifer Willmott, are trying to build a case that Alexander was physically and sexually abusive to Arias and that she killed him in self-defense. Arias claims she recalls shooting Alexander, but cannot remember stabbing him nearly 30 times and then slitting his throat.
The case has played out internationally on live television and live-stream computer broadcasts, and to date, Maricopa County taxpayers have paid more than $1.4 million in defense costs alone.
It is the defense’s case right now. On Thursday, domestic violence expert Alyce LaViolette and Willmott got down to specifics about the relationship between Alexander and Arias.
Arias has alleged on the witness stand that Alexander struck or “body slammed” her on a few occasions. She claimed his sexual preferences tended toward sodomy that she took part in it because she loved him and did not want to anger him. The prosecution has disputed the claims.
Willmott guided LaViolette toward an email string among Alexander and his California friends Chris and Sky Hughes. The emails were not actually shown to the jury. Upon instruction from Judge Sherrie Stephens, LaViolette was not allowed to read them, but only to characterize their content, and she did so with great difficulty given Martinez’s repeated rapid-fire objections.
The memo line, LaViolette said, was, “You crossed the Line.” Written Jan. 29, 2007, the emails expressed Alexander’s anger that the Hugheses had talked to Arias to discourage her from pursuing Alexander because he was abusive to women. He called her a “skank,” only saw her secretly and tended to treat her coldly in public, according to LaViolette.
What was not mentioned in court Thursday was the history of the emails. A defense filing from January 2011 details the efforts Arias’ attorneys went to obtain them. Initially the prosecution told the defense attorneys that there were no available text messages sent or received by Alexander and then was ordered to turn over several hundred.
Furthermore, according to the filing, the case agent, Mesa police Detective Esteban Flores, told the defense attorneys that there was nothing “out of the ordinary” among Alexander’s emails; about 8,000 were turned over to the defense in June 2010, including the Hughes emails.
The 2011 filing details the email contents, including “A response from Mr. Hughes … wherein he asserts that he believes Jodi would be his (Travis’) next victim and that Jodi was just another girl that he (Travis) was playing.” Alexander allegedly replied by saying “I am a bit of a sociopath.”
Other emails from Sky Hughes, the filing says, say that Alexander considered Arias to be a “booty call,” and said “How he, Mr. Alexander, was abusive to Jodi and … how he was beating her emotionally in part by making out with her without giving her a commitment.” And there is an email from another woman Alexander was seeing at the time “wherin she complains of Mr. Alexander’s conduct making her feel used and dirty.”
How much of those emails make it into testimony remains to be seen. Chris and Sky Hughes have already testified for the prosecution regarding an earlier allegation of misconduct by Martinez, but the topic of the emails was not discussed. They could be called back.
LaViolette will be back on the stand Tuesday, when trial resumes.
But there was another drama that framed the day in court.
In the morning, before the jury entered the court room, Nurmi called to the judge’s attention that Martinez had been filmed and photographed on the court steps posing with his fans and signing autographs. Nurmi showed a photograph that was on the front page of The Arizona Republic and talked about video shot by KPNX-TV, Phoenix, to document Martinez’s new-found celebrity.
Nurmi called to the witness stand court analyst Jean Casarez for Turner Broadcasting, who had commented on air about Martinez’s behavior and how troublesome it would be if jurors were to see it. The KPNX video accompanied her comments. In response to the witness, Martinez, talking about himself in the third person, implied that it was the only time “the prosecutor” had gone out the front door.
At the end of the day, the media and spectators were expelled from the courtroom so that the judge and attorneys could question the jurors about what they saw. They have been admonished since the beginning of the trial to avoid media reports about the proceedings. There was no indication Thursday if any of the jurors were at risk of being dismissed.