Making Sense of the Jodi Arias Hung Jury Verdict

INITIAL THOUGHTS

I know a lot of people are angry right now. To hear that Jodi Arias won’t be going to death row because of one lone juror (Juror #17) is too much for many to handle. Many on social media have suggested that, “There is no justice,” and numerous folks are even calling for the entire criminal justice system to be revamped. Some have even called for the judge to be prosecuted. The madness must stop. For those who want to stay angry and frustrated at the system, then stop reading now. This article is solely for those who are willing to set aside emotion for a moment and are open to another point of view. More popular would be for me to keep these thoughts to myself. I cannot.

First, let me make clear that how I feel about the verdict is irrelevant to what I have to say in this article. I may believe passionately that Jodi should be on death row. I also may believe that life without parole is an appropriate sentence. What I am about to share has nothing to do with what I believe should happen to Jodi Arias.

Let’s start with potential juror misconduct. If there’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the lone hold out juror lied when she swore under oath during jury selection that she could impose the death penalty under the right circumstances when she really couldn’t, then she should be prosecuted. Additionally, if there’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt that she intentionally engaged in juror misconduct, then she should be prosecuted for that as well. That’s been my position towards all jurors who engage in misconduct, not just this one. As a trial lawyer for over two decades, having prosecuting and now defending criminal cases, I am especially passionate about the jury process being fair and free of misconduct.

After carefully listening to the post verdict press conference featuring all 11 jurors who voted for death, there’s a strong argument to be made that the lone juror did not commit any misconduct. Keep in mind that Juror #17 was not present at the press conference and thus, we didn’t hear her side of things. In the interest of fairness, I wanted to present what might have been her response to some of the allegations.

Allegation #1: “She had her mind made up before the evidence was presented.” That may be true. If so, that’s unfortunate and improper. What may also be true is that, just like all the other jurors, she kept an open mind throughout the trial. Naturally, she formed a strong opinion as to whether Jodi should live or die after hearing all the evidence. She first articulated that opinion to her fellow jurors some time after jury deliberations began. As we learned at the post trial press conference, several other jurors felt the same way she did when the initial vote was taken. Little by little, the other jurors who shared her opinion went to the other side. She was the lone hold out. It’s very possible that because she was so entrenched in her position, which is her right, that jurors felt that she had made up her mind before all the evidence was in. That’s very different than whether she actually did. Only she knows.

Allegation #2: “She wouldn’t participate at all in deliberations.” We know that isn’t true. Her fellow jurors revealed during the press conference that she did share a number of things during deliberations. In fact, they were able to provide the reasons that she gave as to why she didn’t want to impose death. They didn’t speculate as to what those reasons were. Rather, those reasons actually flowed from her lips during deliberations. It’s possible that she began to speak less when she felt that what she had to share was either not being embraced by the others and/or felt like she was being criticized and judged. It’s not uncommon for people to shut down to some extent when they feel like they are being attacked. No, I wasn’t in the jury room. However, I am very familiar with how human beings under these stressful circumstances often react. I can only imagine how heated things got in that room. All those hours of eleven vs. one would have led most people to eventually contribute less and/or shut down.

Allegation #3: “She committed jury misconduct by watching the Lifetime movie about Jodi Arias and then shared it with fellow jurors.” If she lied to the attorneys during jury selection by saying she had never seen the Lifetime movie when in fact she did, then she should be prosecuted. If, however, she wasn’t asked, or was asked and said that she could set it aside and base her decision on the evidence, then she did nothing improper. Her alleged comment, that the way Jodi was portrayed in the movie (“like a monster”) was different then how she found her in court, was simply one of many of her opinions. She may have been attempting to convey that the evidence presented in mitigation showed her in a vastly different light than the movie. While it shouldn’t have been brought up because the movie wasn’t in evidence, it didn’t adversely affect the deliberations. No juror stated that she offered that during deliberations as the reason she voted against death. Also, her statement concerning the movie didn’t influence any of the other jurors. It’s possible that the 11 jurors used her movie reference as a way to get her out of the jury room so that an alternate would take her place. Bringing in an alternate would most likely have assisted the jurors in securing the death penalty verdict they obviously were eagerly seeking.

Allegation #4: “She was just being stubborn and wasn’t following the law.” The jurors’ obligation was to determine if the aggravating circumstances in favor of the death penalty presented by the prosecution outweighed the mitigating circumstances against death, presented by the defense. There’s no sufficient evidence to suggest that the hold out juror didn’t weigh the aggravators vs. the mitigators, as required. In fact, during the post trial interview, some jurors reported that Juror #17 found the mitigator concerning the mental state of Jodi Arias very compelling. She shared that during the deliberations. Also according to jurors post trial, Juror #17 found that the Arias journal entries shed light on her state of mind, supporting another mitigator.

Allegation #5: “She allegedly stated that she believed that her fellow jurors were voting for death to seek revenge.” If, as many allege, that statement provides insight into her thought process evidencing that she never intended on voting for death under any circumstances, than she did a disservice. She should be prosecuted if she lied during jury selection when she said she could impose death if she wasn’t being truthful. However, perhaps when she made that remark during one of the many hours of heated deliberations she was merely offering her opinion, which is what is supposed to happen during deliberations. Perhaps she was attempting to get the other jurors to question their motives. It’s likely that she was attempting to illustrate to them that their verdict was based more on revenge than whether the aggravators outweighed the mitigators.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It’s possible that juror #17, like most Americans and fellow jurors, has always had strong feelings about the death penalty. It’s one of the most controversial issues around. That’s normal and is her right. It’s possible that after keeping an open mind throughout the trial, she opined that death was not appropriate as the prosecution did not carry their burden. She may have found that the mitigating circumstances were more compelling than the aggravating circumstances. It’s possible that she would agree to vote for a death sentence under the right circumstances. For her, this was not that scenario. It’s possible that not possessing the orating skills of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and/or Abraham Lincoln, she wasn’t able to clearly articulate why she found the mitigators more compelling than the aggravators. Whether you agree with her decision or not, it’s her right to have her own opinion. As long as she came by her decision honestly and lawfully, her decision should be supported, not condemned. To this day, I am still frustrated by the jurors’ decision in both the O.J. and Casey Anthony murder trials, however, I refuse to attack the jurors who worked hard to reach their decisions honestly and lawfully.

We don’t want a criminal justice system where jurors don’t feel comfortable holding on to their beliefs, even if they are unpopular. We don’t want a system where jurors forgo their lawfully reached conclusions because they want to please the other jurors, or worse, the pitchfork holding public. Regardless of whether I agree with Juror #17, I support her decision, absent any sufficient credible proof that she did anything unlawful. You have the right to continue to condemn her and the system. Having our own beliefs and being able to share them with others, or fellow jurors and/or readers of social media, is what makes this country so wonderful.