Jodi Arias' Defense Wrecked by "Outlandish Actions" of Sheriff's Office, Lawyers Say
Jodi Arias and mitigation specialist Maria De La Rosa
Image: Court pool via tamaratattles.com
Jodi Arias should not get the death penalty due to "outlandish actions" by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in targeting a member of her defense team, Arias' lawyers argue.
A motion reviewed by New Times -- filed in Superior Court Tuesday by Arias' defense team -- goes into detail about how mitigation specialist Maria De La Rosa was treated by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's shady deputies, and it states that Arias can no longer receive an adequate defense.
In a nod to the corrupt shenanigans of Arpaio's office in his former feud with county leaders, the motion recalls the sheriff's alliance with disgraced ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who was disbarred by a court panel that also found wrongdoing on the part of Arpaio.
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Arias' sensational murder trial is still being followed by millions around the globe. She was convicted last May for the 2008 mutilation and slaying of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, but the jury deadlocked on the death-penalty question, leading to a mistrial.
Tuesday's motion by Arias' defense team notes that a planned March 17 start for the new penalty-phase trial was dropped, with no replacement date yet set by Judge Sherry Stephens. (Stephens has since rescheduled the trial date for September 8.)
If Stephens agrees with lawyers Kirk Nurmi and Jennifer Willmott that Arias' defense has been compromised, as they claim in the new motion, the penalty phase could be avoided.
The problem began when De La Rosa showed up to visit Arias in jail on February 26 -- a visit that resulted in the Sheriff's Office's banning the legal expert from visiting or communicating with Arias or anyone else in the Maricopa County Jail system.
De La Rosa has served as mitigation specialist for Arias' team since January 2, 2012, working to come up with evidence that might persuade the new jury to sentence Arias only to life in prison instead of lethal injection.
Her job's been tough "due to the circus-like media attention this case received" -- (a main theme of our February 2013 feature article about Arias' trial, we'll mention) -- and "many mitigation witnesses were timid about talking to the defense team," according to the motion. De La Rosa was seen as crucial to gaining the trust of Arias' family, friends and other witnesses.
During De La Rosa's visit on February 26, Arias gave her a sealed manila envelope, addressed to Willmott, with a drawing inside that was intended to provide mitigating evidence in the penalty-phase proceedings. The fact that she's an artist, the defense argument goes, is one of several reasons she doesn't deserve execution. Initial media reports about De La Rosa's banishment from the jail described the colored-pencil drawing as that of a pinwheel.
"Here's another drawing for the mitigation case," read an Arias note accompanying the drawing in the envelope. "It should be good for allocution. Of course, I'll let you and my attorneys decide for sure. Thanks! -- Jodi Arias."
While the connection of the drawing to Arias' legal defense seems straightforward, the Sheriff's Office appears to have targeted the drawing and De La Rosa's involvement with it for "intentional and purposeful harassment," the motion says.
For sure, it would be no stretch to say the six-term sheriff, known to be the biggest publicity hound in Arizona, simply found another way to get his name in the headlines.
The drawing had been noticed by jail staff in three separate security sweeps of her cell the week before De La Rosa's visit, the motion states, but no one had cared about it then.
Arias first handed the envelope to "Officer Trojanek," who didn't open it but passed it to De La Rosa. As the mitigation specialist was leaving, she was stopped by an Officer Rasmussen, who confiscated it.
That's when De La Rosa entered the Arpaio Zone, a bizarre realm well known to many county employees where sheriff's deputies seem to act more like KGB agents.
On March 13, De La Rosa's neighbors told her that detectives were "snooping around her house, looking through windows in her garage, looking through windows of her car parked in the driveway," and speaking to them about her, Arias' lawyers state. "Ms. De La Rosa was humiliated and harassed by MCSO behavior."
The next day, a Friday, detectives knocked on De La Rosa's door and said they wanted to talk to her about her work as Arias' mitigation specialist. When she told them she'd feel more comfortable with her lawyer present, the detectives told her "it wasn't a criminal matter," the motion states.
She answered a couple of general questions, then got lawyer Dan Raynak on the phone. With her lawyer listening, the detectives read De La Rosa a letter informing her she was no longer allowed to visit the jail and that her phone number was no longer considered a "legal number," which meant she couldn't talk to her jailed clients.
If she tried to visit the jail, they warned, "she'd be trespassing." A detective reportedly told her the reason for the ban was the "non-legal document" she'd received from Arias.
A drawing of Lucille Ball by Jodi Arias.
Yet as already pointed out, jail staff had no problem with the drawing in her cell. After De La Rosa's visit, Arias was written up for a possible violation because of the incident. But, as the motion says, Arias was absolved of any wrongdoing in a hearing held at the jail a couple of days later.
The antics of the sheriff's officials are "reminiscent of times under Andrew Thomas," the lawyers wrote.
With De La Rosa "necessarily" removed from the defense team because she's banned from visiting Arias, "without a mitigation specialist, defense counsel cannot provide effective assistance," the lawyers say.
Stephens should remove the death penalty as an option at this point, they argue.
The judge had yet to rule on the motion as of Wednesday afternoon.
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