Murder of Travis Alexander
Photo of Travis Alexander
|Date||June 4, 2008|
|Location||Mesa, Arizona, U.S.|
|Inquest||Multiple stab wounds
Single gunshot to head
|Coroner||Kevin Horn, M.D.|
|Mistrial declared in penalty phase|
On June 4, 2008, salesman Travis Alexander was murdered in his house in Mesa, Arizona. He sustained multiple stab wounds, a slit throat, and a gunshot to the head. Jodi Arias, Alexander's ex-girlfriend, was charged with first-degree murder for his death. At trial, she testified that she killed Alexander in self-defense. However, she was convicted of first-degree murder on May 8, 2013. The murder and trial received widespread media attention.
Travis Victor Alexander was born on July 28, 1977, in Riverside, California. After his father's death in July 1997, Alexander and his seven siblings were taken in by their paternal grandmother, Norma Jean Preston Alexander Sarvey (1932–2012), who eventually introduced them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Alexander was a salesman for PPL - Prepaid Legal Services (later renamed LegalShield), a legal services company using multi-level marketing. He also worked as a motivational speaker for PPL.
Jodi Ann Arias was born on July 9, 1980, in Salinas, California. She and Alexander met in September 2006 at a Prepaid Legal Services conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. On November 26, 2006, Arias was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Alexander. Alexander and Arias began dating in February 2007. After the two broke up in June 2007, Arias moved to Mesa, Arizona. In April 2008, Arias moved to Yreka, California, and lived with her grandparents.
The killing of Travis Alexander occurred on June 4, 2008. On June 9, 2008, Alexander's body was discovered by his friends in a shower at his home in Mesa, Arizona. Alexander had been stabbed repeatedly, his throat had been cut and he had been shot in the head. There have been conflicting reports over the number of stab wounds; some reports state that Alexander had been stabbed 29 times, while others state 27 times. Medical examiner Kevin Horn testified that Alexander's jugular vein, common carotid artery, and windpipe had been slashed. Alexander had defensive wounds on his hands. Horn further testified that Alexander "may have" been dead at the time the gunshot was inflicted, and that the back wounds were shallow. Alexander's death was ruled a homicide. He was buried at the Olivewood Cemetery in Riverside, California.
Discovery and investigation
On May 28, 2008, a burglary occurred at the residence of Arias' grandparents, with whom she was living. Among the missing objects was a .25-caliber gun, which was never recovered. (This is significant as a spent .25 caliber round was later found near Travis Alexander's body at the murder scene.)
On June 2, Arias rented a car in Redding, California, approximately 100 miles south of her home. Arias told the rental company staff that she would only be driving the car locally, but when Arias returned the car on June 7, it had been driven about 2,800 miles. The car was missing its floor mats and had red stains on its front and rear seats. The car was cleaned before police could examine it.
On June 5, Arias called Alexander several times and left several voicemail messages for him. She also accessed Alexander's voice mail system.
Alexander missed an important conference call on the evening of June 4. On June 9, having been unable to reach Alexander, a concerned group of his friends went to his home. His roommates initially said he was out of town. After finding a key to Alexander's master bedroom, his friends entered the room and found large pools of blood in the hallway to the master bathroom, where his body was discovered in the shower. In the 9-1-1 call made to authorities (not heard by the jury), Alexander's friends mentioned an ex-girlfriend, Arias, who Alexander had said was stalking him, accessing his Facebook account, and slashing tires.
Alexander was scheduled to leave on June 10, 2008, for a work-related trip to Cancun, Mexico. In early 2008, Alexander told his company that Arias would be joining him. In April, Alexander asked to change his companion to another female friend.
While searching Alexander's home, police found Alexander's recently purchased digital camera damaged in the washing machine. Police were able to recover deleted images showing Arias and Alexander in sexually suggestive poses, taken at approximately 1:40 pm on June 4. The final photo of Alexander alive was taken at 5:29 pm that day. Alexander was in the shower when the photo was taken. Photos taken moments later show an individual believed to be Alexander "profusely bleeding" on the floor of his bathroom. A bloody palm print was discovered along the wall in the bathroom hallway; it contained DNA from both Arias and Alexander.
On July 9, 2008, Arias was indicted by a grand jury on a first-degree murder charge. She was arrested at her home on July 15 and extradited to Arizona on September 5. Arias pleaded not guilty on September 11.
Arias gave several different accounts about her involvement in Alexander's death. She originally told police that she had not been in Mesa on the day of the murder and claimed that she last saw Alexander in April 2008. Arias later told police that two intruders had broken into Alexander's home, murdering him and attacking her. Two years after her arrest, Arias told police that she killed Alexander in self-defense, claiming that she had been a victim of domestic violence.
In March 2009, because of expressed concerns about possible violation of victim's rights by holding ex parte mitigation status conferences, it was ordered that the appointed mitigation master was relieved of further duties, with limited exceptions. In May 2009, the Court could not determine whether IQ testing and/or competency screening had been previously ordered, so it was ordered that Arias submit to IQ testing, and that she should be tested for competence.
In August 2009, Victoria Washington and Kirk Nurmi were appointed as defense counsel, replacing Maria Schaffer. In September 2009, a defense motion to extend the last day beyond March 3, 2010, was denied, but in November 2009, another motion was granted after the State did not file a response, and the last day was set to August 31, 2010.
In April 2010, a motion to disqualify the Maricopa County Attorney's Office was denied. In December 2010, after a rule of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure was amended changing the "last day" in capital cases from 18 to 24 months from arraignment, the State sought the death penalty.
In January 2011, a defense filing detailed the efforts Arias' attorneys went to obtain text messages and email. 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. Mesa police Detective Esteban Flores told 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. In March 2011, the court ruled that the office of the public defender did not have unilateral authority to dismantle the defense team.
The trial commenced on December 10, 2012, in Maricopa County Superior Court before Judge Sherry K. Stephens. During jury selection on December 20, Arias' defense attorneys argued that the prosecution was "systematically excluding" women and African-Americans; prosecutor Juan Martinez said that race and sex were irrelevant to his decisions to strike certain jurors. Judge Stephens ruled that the prosecution had shown no bias in the jury selection.
In opening arguments on January 2, 2013, prosecutor Juan Martinez sought the death penalty. Arias was represented by appointed counsel L. Kirk Nurmi and Jennifer Willmott, who argued that Alexander's death was a justifiable homicide committed in self-defense.
A man testified that Arias visited him in Utah on June 5, and that she told him she had cut her hands on broken glass while working at a restaurant called Margaritaville. A detective testified no restaurant by that name had ever existed in the Yreka area. At the time, Arias was working at a restaurant called Casa Ramos. Later, Arias testified that after she cut her finger: "I had a bazillion margaritas to make."
The prosecution argued that since a .25 caliber round was found near Alexander's body, and a week before a gun of the same caliber went missing during a burglary of the Yreka home where Arias lived with her grandparents, she had staged the burglary and used the gun to kill Alexander.
Arias took the stand in her own defense on February 4, 2013, testifying for a total of 18 days; the sheer length of time Arias spent on the stand was described by criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos in a report compiled by the Associated Press "Crimesider Staff" as "unprecedented". On the first day of her 18-day testimony, she told of being violently abused by her parents beginning when she was approximately seven years old. Arias testified that she rented a car in Redding because a budget website gave her two options, one to the north and one to the south, and her brother lived in Redding.
On her second day on the stand, Arias said that their sex life included oral sex and anal sex; she said the anal sex was painful for her the first time they experienced it together and that while she considered oral sex and anal sex to be real sex, Alexander did not and he believed these forms of sexual activity, in contrast to vaginal sex, were technically not against Mormon rules. She said that they eventually had vaginal sex, but less often. A phone sex tape was played, in which Alexander said he wanted to zip tie her to a tree while she was dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. She testified that Alexander secretly found young boys and girls sexually attractive and she tried to help him with these urges.
Arias testified that her relationship with Alexander became increasingly physically and emotionally abusive. Arias said that Alexander shook her while saying "I'm fucking sick of you", then began "screaming at me", after which he "body slammed me on the floor at the foot of his bed" and taunted her, saying "don't act like that hurts", before he called her a bitch and kicked her in the ribs. Afterward, Arias said "he went to kick me again, and I put my hand out." Arias held up her left hand in the courtroom showing that her ring finger was crooked.
According to Arias, the dysfunction of their relationship reached its climax when she killed Alexander in self-defense after he became enraged following her dropping his camera, forcing her to fight for her life. This was the third different account of how Alexander's death had occurred that Arias had offered police, which both prosecutors and observers felt severely damaged Arias' credibility as a witness, a sentiment later echoed by jurors upon the completion of the guilt phase.
Arias addressed comments she made in a September 2008 television interview that had been played earlier in the trial. In the interview, she had said: "No jury is going to convict me ... because I am innocent. You can mark my words on that." Discussing the statement during her testimony, Arias said, "At the time [of the interview], I had plans to commit suicide. So I was extremely confident that no jury would convict me, because I didn't expect any of you to be here." At the close of his cross-examination of Arias, Martinez replayed the video and prompted Arias to affirm that she had said during the interview that she would not be convicted because she was innocent.
At the end of the guilt phase, the jury's foreman, William Zervakos, expressed an opinion common to both jury members and courtroom observers when he told ABC's Good Morning America that Arias' testimony didn't do her any good. "I think 18 days hurt her. I think she was not a good witness," he said.
Starting March 14, psychologist Richard Samuels testified for the defense for nearly 6 days. He said Arias was likely suffering from acute stress at the time of the killing, sending her body into a "fight or flight" mode to defend herself, which caused her brain to stop retaining memory. In response to a juror question asking whether this scenario could occur even if this was a premeditated murder, as the prosecution contended, he responded: "Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No." Samuels also diagnosed Arias with post-traumatic stress disorder. Prosecutor Juan Martinez attacked Samuel's credibility, accusing him of forming a relationship with Arias and being biased. Samuels had previously testified he had compassion for Arias. Beginning on March 26, Alyce LaViolette, a psychotherapist who specializes in domestic violence, testified that Arias was a victim of domestic abuse, and that most victims don't tell anyone about abuse because they feel ashamed and humiliated. LaViolette summarised emails from Alexander's close friends "They have basically advised Ms. Arias to move on from the relationship .. that Mr. Alexander has been abusive to women." The jury posed nearly 160 questions to LaViolette, many of them focusing on Arias' credibility.
Clinical psychologist Janeen DeMarte testified for the prosecution that Arias did not suffer from PTSD or amnesia, and that she found no evidence Alexander had abused Arias. Instead, DeMarte said Arias suffered from borderline personality disorder, showing signs of immaturity and an "unstable sense of identity." People who suffer from such a disorder "have a terrified feeling of being abandoned by others," DeMarte told jurors.
On April 24, in response to previous testimony given by Arias about buying a five-gallon gas can from a Walmart store in Salinas, California, on June 3, 2008, that she returned on the same day, the prosecution called Amanda Webb, a Walmart employee from the only Walmart in Salinas, to the stand. The employee said she had reviewed all of the records for that store for June 3, 2008 and found no return of a five-gallon gas can; while there was a record of such a can being sold on that date, there was no record of any gas can return subsequently for over a week, according to Ms. Webb.
The final defense witness was psychologist Dr. Robert Geffner, who said that DeMarte's borderline diagnosis was "not appropriate" and that all tests taken by Arias since her arrest pointed toward an anxiety disorder stemming from trauma. He also said the tests indicated that she answered questions honestly, without lying. Following Geffner's testimony, the state recalled Dr. Horn who testified further on the gunshot wound, and called Dr. Jill Hayes, a forensic neuro-psychologist, who disputed Geffner's testimony that the MMPI test was not geared toward diagnosing borderline personality disorder, concluding a long day in court at 8:29 p.m.
In closing arguments on May 4, Arias' defense argued that the premeditation theory didn't make sense. "What happened in that moment in time? The relationship, the relationship of chaos, that ended in chaos as well. There is nothing about what happened on June 4th in that bathroom that looks planned ... Couldn't it also be that after everything they went through in that relationship, that she simply snapped? ... Ultimately, if Miss Arias is guilty of any crime at all, it is the crime of manslaughter and nothing more." In rebuttal, prosecutor Martinez described the extent and variety of Alexander's wounds. "There is no evidence that he ever laid a hand on her, ever. Nothing indicates that this is anything less than a slaughter. There was no way to appease this woman who just wouldn't leave him alone," he said.
Arias' 18-day testimony added to a very long defense portion of the guilt phase of the trial, which led to problems with retention of jury members. On April 3, a member of the jury was dismissed for "misconduct". The defense team asked for a mistrial, which the judge denied. On April 12, another juror was excused for health reasons. A third juror was dismissed on April 25 after being arrested for a DUI offense.
On May 8, 2013, after 15 hours of deliberation, Arias was found guilty of first-degree murder. Out of twelve jurors, five jurors found her guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, and seven jurors found her guilty of both first-degree premeditated murder and felony murder. As the guilty verdict was read, Arias struggled to repress tears as Alexander's family smiled and hugged each other. Several people who had gathered outside the courtroom began celebrating by cheering and chanting.
Following the first-degree murder conviction, the prosecution was required to convince the jury that the murder was "cruel, heinous, or depraved" in order for them to determine that Arias was eligible for the death penalty. The aggravation phase of the trial started on May 15, 2013. The only witness was the medical examiner who performed the autopsy. Arias' attorneys, who had repeatedly asked to step down from the case, gave only brief opening statements and closing arguments, in which they said the adrenaline rushing through Alexander's body may have prevented him from feeling much pain during his death. Prosecutor Martinez showed photos of the corpse and crime scene to the jury, then paused for two minutes of silence to illustrate how long he said it took for Alexander to die at Arias' hands. After less than three hours of consideration, the jury determined that Arias was eligible for the death penalty.
The penalty phase began on May 16, 2013, when prosecutors called Alexander's family members to offer victim impact statements, in an effort to convince the jury that Arias's crime merited a death sentence.
On May 21, 2013, Arias offered an allocution, during which she pleaded for a life sentence. Arias acknowledged that her plea for life was a reversal of remarks she made to a TV reporter shortly after her conviction, when she said she preferred the death penalty. "Each time I said that, I meant it, but I lacked perspective," the former waitress said. "Until very recently, I could not imagine standing before you and asking you to give me life." She said she changed her mind to avoid bringing more pain to members of her family, who were in the courtroom. At one point, she held up a white T-shirt with the word "survivor" written across it, telling the jurors that she would sell the clothing and donate all proceeds to victims of domestic abuse. She also said she would donate her hair to Locks of Love while in prison, and had already done so three times while in jail.
That evening, in a joint jailhouse interview with The Arizona Republic, 12 News and NBC's Today show, Arias said she didn't know whether the jury would come back with life or death. "Whatever they come back with I will have to deal with it, I have no other choice." Regarding the verdict she said "It felt like a huge sense of unreality, I felt betrayed, actually, by the jury. I was hoping they would see things for what they are. I felt really awful for my family and what they were thinking." 
After the mistrial was declared and the jury discharged, the jury foreman stated that he believed Arias was mentally abused, but that had not been enough to excuse her crime. He also said, "I think 18 days hurt her, I think she was not a good witness. We're charged with presuming innocence, right? But she was on the stand for so long, there were so many contradicting stories." He 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."
On May 30, 2013, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery discussed the next steps at a news conference. He said he was confident an impartial jury could be seated, but it was possible that lawyers and the victim's family could agree to scrap the trial in favor of a life sentence with no parole. Arias had said "I don't think there is an untainted jury pool anywhere in the world right now. That's what it feels like. But I still believe in the system to a degree, so we'll just go through that if that happens." Defense attorneys responded "If the diagnosis made by the State's psychologist is correct, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office is seeking to impose the death penalty upon a mentally ill woman who has no prior criminal history. It is not incumbent upon Ms. Arias' defense counsel to resolve this case."
The penalty phase of the trial is ongoing. A tweet sent on Arias' behalf indicated she may be considering a plea deal. On October 22, 2013, Arias filed a motion requesting that Nurmi be replaced as her lead counsel. Arias met with the prosecution to discuss a settlement on October 24, 2013. A planned March 2014 re-trial was postponed due to a scheduling conflict due to prosecutor Juan Martinez will be prosecuting a different murder case.
Arias' lawyers argued in January that Detective Esteban Flores, the lead Mesa police detective on the case, perjured himself during a 2009 pretrial hearing aimed at determining whether the death penalty should be considered an option for jurors. Flores testified at the 2009 hearing that based on his own review of the scene, and a discussion with the medical examiner, it was apparent that Alexander had been shot in the forehead first. Contrary to Flores' testimony at the 2009 hearing, the medical examiner told jurors the gunshot probably would have incapacitated Alexander; given his extensive defense wounds, including stab marks and slashes to his hands, arms and legs, it was not likely the shot came first. Flores denied perjury and said during his trial testimony that he just misunderstood what the medical examiner told him.
In April, the defense claimed the prosecutor had acted inappropriately and said the case resembled a modern-day equivalent to the Salem witch trials. In the motion the defense team contended "the prosecutorial misconduct has infested these proceedings with a level of unfairness that cannot be cured by any others means." The motion also stated there is a "circus-like atmosphere inside the courtroom" and prosecutor Juan Martinez had yelled at witnesses, attacked witnesses on a personal level, and had thrown evidence. The motion also alleged that Martinez chose to release evidence and to pose for pictures with his fans on the steps of the courthouse. The attorneys claimed Arias was in a position where she could not present a complete defense and the only constitutional course was to declare a mistrial.
On May 20, 2013, defense attorneys again filed for mistrial. The motion alleged that a defense witness who had been due to testify Friday began receiving threats, threats that included threats on her life if she were to testify on Ms. Arias' behalf, and that on May 19, 2013, the witness contacted counsel for Ms. Arias stating that she was no longer willing to testify due to these threats. The motion continued, "It should also be noted that these threats follow those made to Alyce LaViolette, a record of which was made ex-parte and under seal." The motion was denied, as was a motion for a stay in the proceedings that had been sought to give time to appeal the decisions to the Arizona Supreme Court.
On May 29, 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed three months earlier, also refused by the mid-level Arizona Court of Appeals. Nurmi had asked the high court to throw out the aggravating factor of cruelty because the judge had allowed it to go forward based on a different theory of how the murder occurred. The state had originally claimed that Arias first shot Alexander; based on that theory, Stephens ruled there was probable cause to find the crime had been committed in an especially cruel manner, an aggravating factor under state law. Right before trial, prosecutor Martinez revealed his new theory that Arias had shot Alexander after he was already dead.
The case featured on an episode of 48 Hours Mystery: Picture Perfect in 2008, an interview which, for the first time in the history of 48 Hours, was used as evidence in a death penalty trial. On September 24, 2008, Inside Edition interviewed Arias at the Maricopa County Jail where she stated, "No jury is going to convict me ... because I am innocent and you can mark my words on that. No jury is going to convict me."
The Huffington Post reported that the Arias case "instantly commanded headlines around the world". The Associated Press said the case was a "circus", a "runaway train" and said the case "grew into a worldwide sensation as thousands followed the trial via a live, unedited Web feed". They added that the trial garnered "daily coverage from cable news networks and spawned a virtual cottage industry for talk shows" and, at the courthouse, "the entire case devolved into a circus-like spectacle attracting dozens of enthusiasts each day to the courthouse as they lined up for a chance to score just a few open public seats in the gallery"; "For its fans, the Arias trial became a live daytime soap opera." The Toronto Star stated, "With its mix of jealousy, religion, murder, and sex, the Jodi Arias case shows what happens when the justice system becomes entertainment."
During the trial, public figures freely expressed their opinions. "Jodi Arias has stated that she follows me on Twitter so I really hate to be saying that she is guilty but sadly, she is as guilty as it gets," Donald Trump wrote. He also offered Arias legal advice on how she could avoid the maximum sentence. "Jodi should try but the govt. should not make a deal – no jury could be dumb enough to let her off (but you never know, look at OJ & others)," Trump suggested. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer told reporters after an unrelated press event that she believed Arias to be guilty. She sidestepped a question about whether she believed the one-time waitress guilty of manslaughter, second-degree murder or first-degree murder, but said “I don't have all the information, but I think she's guilty.”
HLN staff and their commentators compared the case to the Casey Anthony case for the perceived similarities between Anthony and Arias and the emotions that the cases incited in the general public. Additionally, HLN aired a daily show covering the trial called HLN After Dark: The Jodi Arias Trial. The cable network sent out a press release titled "HLN No. 1 Among Ad-Supported Cable as Arias Pleads for Her Life", bragging that they led in the ratings. The release stated: “HLN continues to be the ratings leader and complete source for coverage of the Jodi Arias Trial. On Tuesday May 21, HLN ranked No.1 among ad-supported cable networks from 1:56p to 2:15p (ET) as Jodi Arias took the stand to plead for her life in front of the jury that found her guilty of Travis Alexander's murder. During that time period, HLN out-delivered the competition among both total viewers (2,540,000 million) and 25–54 demo viewers (691,000). HLN also ranked No.1 among ad-supported cable networks for the 2p hour delivering 2,227,000 million total viewers and 620,000 25–54 viewers.”
Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret, a made for television movie, stars Lost actress Tania Raymonde as Arias and Jesse Lee Soffer, of The Mob Doctor, as Travis Alexander. Prosecutor Juan Martinez was played by Ugly Betty actor Tony Plana and David Zayas, of Dexter, portrays detective Esteban Flores. Created for and distributed by the Lifetime Network, the film premiered June 22, 2013.
In late January 2013, artwork drawn by Arias began selling on eBay. The seller was her brother; he claimed that the profits went towards covering the family's travel expenses to the trial and "better food" for Arias while she was in jail.
On April 11, USA Today reported that during the testimony of defense witness Alyce LaViolette, tweets and other social media posts attacked her reputation. "You can show your disgust with LaViolette," they posted her office phone number and her website, and they suggested that people write negative reviews of her bestselling book on Amazon.com. There were more than 500 of them, panning the book and calling LaViolette a fraud and a disgrace. "It's the electronic version of a lynch mob," said retired Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields. Attorney Anne Bremner, who said she received death threats after she provided legal counsel in the Amanda Knox case, told The Huffington Post that the kind of online ridicule LaViolette received could affect attorneys and witnesses in high-profile trials. "It's something to take into account," Bremner said. "If I had kids I would consider it even more so."
On May 9, The Republic commented: "The Jodi Arias trial has been a social-media magnet. And when Arias was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder, Twitter and Facebook exploded with reaction. Much of it was aimed at Arias, though plenty of people tweeted at the media coverage, such as the antics of HLN host Nancy Grace. During the trial, hardcore followers of the proceedings were accused of trying to use social media to intimidate witnesses, or otherwise influence the outcome. Whether it had any effect is questionable, but it's a notable development."
On May 24, Victoria Washington, who was one of Arias' attorneys until she had to resign in 2011 because of a conflict, said “Arias' lead attorney, Nurmi, was pilloried in social media. At one point, Internet denizen photoshopped his face onto a crime-scene photo of Alexander dead in the shower of his Mesa home. I know people were aggravated with him constantly filing for mistrial, but you have to make and preserve the record for federal review (on appeal). If you don't file for mistrial, the appeals courts will say you waived it.”
On May 28, Radar Online reported the jury foreman had been receiving threats ever since the panel deadlocked on the sentencing phase, and now his son was claiming he's receiving death threats. “Today I read hate mail my dad had gotten. Some person had sent him a threatening message complete with his email address, full name, and phone number (which at the very least means that this guy should retake Hate Mail 101). I also read some comments on an article online about my dad. Surreal. They say my dad was fooled by the defendant, that he was taken with her, that he hated the prosecutor” his son wrote on his public blog.
- Capital punishment in Arizona
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- Timeline CBS News