Mr. Nurmi begins his newest motion to spare Jodi Arias from the death penalty, by asking Judge Sherry Stevens to “vacate the jury’s finding the aggravating factor that the murder of Mr. Alexander was “especially cruel…” After Jodi Arias was convicted of premeditated murder, the jury found that the “cruelty aggravator” was proven.
Her lawyers argue that the definition of “especially cruel,” as applied to murder, is unconstitutionally vague and therefore “legally meaningless.” They also believe that jurors, with no legal experience, can’t properly determine what makes one killing more cruel or heinous than another.
Citing two different definitions of cruelty from former cases, her attorney’s believe that “the dramatic difference and degree in the language in just these two examples cannot be said to help a layperson jury make a sound, principled decision on whether to impose the ultimate punishment, or not…”
The first definition they cite comes from the State v. Velazquez case:
“Cruelty involves the infliction of physical pain and/or mental anguish on a victim before death. A crime is committed in an especially cruel manner when a defendant either intended to inflict mental anguish or physical pain upon the victim, or reasonably foresaw that there was a substantial likelihood that the manner in which the crime was committed would cause the victim to experience mental anguish and/or physical pain before death.”
“The victim must be conscious for at least some portion of the time when the pain and/or anguish was inflicted.”
The second definition cited by Arias’ attorneys, comes from the State v. Ellison case, in which the trial court defined “especially cruel” as follows:
“In order to find that the especially cruel aggravating circumstance is present as to either murder, you must find that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was especially cruel due to the infliction of either extreme physical pain or extreme mental anguish upon the victim.”
Elements of the definition of “cruel” and “especially cruel,” seem to involve factors which include the victim being conscious and experiencing extreme physical pain and/or mental anguish.
Arias’ attorneys ultimately believe that:
“In Arizona…2013, in one Arizona trial court, in order to be sentenced to death a defendant must inflict extreme physical pain or extreme mental anguish, while in another Arizona trial court, inflict mere physical pain or mental anguish in order to face the death penalty. Moreover, there is no definition of what constitutes “extreme” physical pain or mental anguish over “run-of-the-mill” physical pain or mental anguish. That problem is left to the untrained in the law layperson jurors to muddle through. Yet the death penalty lies in the balance.”
In other words, since a consistent judicial definition of cruelty is lacking, the judge should vacate the jury’s decision which found that Jodi Arias killed Mr. Alexander in a “especially cruel” manner.
This is obviously a technical argument. When asked for a comment, Bill Montgomery, of Maricopa County, called the motion a “standard procedural move.” “Those are defense attorneys doing their job advocating for their client,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, we disagree.”
Jodi Arias’ attorneys have not returned calls from the press regarding this new motion.
You do not need legal experience to know that any murder that involves a victim having their throat sliced from ear-to-ear, nearly being decapitated, is not “run-of-the-mill.” The manner in which Jodi Arias killed Travis Alexander constitutes exceptional cruelty of the highest order.