Nation

Denied mistrial, lawyers try to quit murder case

Jodi Arias will be the only defense witness in the penalty phase of her Phoenix murder trial.
Arizona Republic/Reuters/Pool
Jodi Arias will be the only defense witness in the penalty phase of her Phoenix murder trial.

PHOENIX — Complaining that Jodi Arias’s sensational murder case has become a modern-day ‘‘witch trial,’’ her lawyers tried to quit in the middle of the death-penalty phase Monday, then said they will call only one witness: Arias.

When Arias addresses the jury on Tuesday, the big question will be whether she pleads for mercy or repeats what she told a TV reporter minutes after she was convicted: that she would rather be executed than spend her life in prison.

The courtroom fireworks came as the jury that found Arias guilty of murder in the 2008 shooting and stabbing death of boyfriend Travis Alexander was hearing evidence on whether the former waitress should get the death penalty or a life sentence.

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The defense had planned to call a female friend and an ex-boyfriend of Aria as witnesses.

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But Kirk Nurmi told the court Monday the woman refused to testify after receiving threats, and he asked the judge to declare a mistrial in the penalty phase. The defense lawyer also renewed arguments that the judge should have sequestered the jury during the nearly five-month trial. ‘‘The court had a duty to protect Ms. Arias’s right to a fair trial and failed to do so,’’ he said. ‘‘This cannot be a modern-day version of . . . a witch trial.’’

Judge Sherry Stephens denied the mistrial request. Nurmi then asked that he and cocounsel Jennifer Willmott be allowed to withdraw, saying they could not effectively represent Arias. The judge turned down that request too.

Arias, 32, initially claimed she knew nothing about the slaying, then blamed masked intruders, then claimed self-defense.