Jodi Arias Vs. Gavin Macfarlane: Tale of Two Death Penalty Cases

Something's wrong with Jodi Arias, that much anyone can tell.

Her lack of emotion combined with the brutality of her crime -- stabbing, slashing and shooting her victim -- have led some to call her a sociopath, or psychopath. Not that most people could give a medical definition of the terms. But by legal definitions, she's as sane as the judge and prosecutor she now stands before.

Gavin Macfarlane also caused deep pain and suffering in the Phoenix metro area; he shot and killed two people and severely wounded a third at a local strip club, the Great Alaskan Bush Company. Like Arias, he is accused of premeditated murder. But Macfarlane's no longer facing the possibility of execution.

A couple of weeks ago, Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, quietly withdrew the death penalty notice against Macfarlane. The office has not returned phone calls about the matter. In a February 25 guest column in the Arizona Republic by Montgomery about the death penalty, the elected prosecutor states that such decisions are his responsibility.

See also: Gavin Macfarlane, Strip-Club Shooter, Won't Get Death Penalty Because He's Insane; Bond Raised After Tearful Plea by Victim's Family

After the state filed its notice to withdraw the death penalty, a bail hearing was held on February 21 before Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens' courtroom, just prior to the day's Jodi Arias proceedings held in the same courtroom.

Family members of one victim, Adam Cooley, told New Times on February 21 that they would have preferred the death penalty for Macfarlane. They say he was found to be insane. A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbids the execution of insane or mentally incompetent people. The ruling has influenced numerous high-profile cases, such as the one against Tucson shooter Jared Loughner.

Arias is accused of plotting her ex-boyfriend's murder, stealing a gun from her grandparent's home and driving to Mesa on June 4, 2008, with several gas cans in her car to avoid leaving any record of being in Arizona. Then, after having sex with the 30-year-old victim, Travis Alexander, evidence shows she attacked him in the shower, stabbing him 27 times, slashing his throat from ear to ear and finally shooting him with the gun.

Macfarlane, who has a history of mental illness, is accused of plotting to shoot people just to "test" himself -- to see if he could do it, testimony on February 21 revealed. He went to the strip club, watched the show for a while, then went to his car, got a handgun, and started shooting people indiscriminately. Cooley, 34, a well-liked bouncer who'd worked for the club for 10 years, was killed. So was 20-year-old Antonio Garcia. A third victim was rendered a paraplegic by a bullet. A fourth was left with non-critical injuries.

The anguished voice of Cooley's father while reading a statement to Judge Stephens was as emotional as any of the testimony in the Arias case, the suffering by Macfarlane's victims and their family members no less than that in the much more high-profile Arias case.

But the rules say that Arizona can execute one, and not the other.

The main difference is that Macfarlane, theoretically, didn't know what he was doing.

Arias did, and so deserves to die, according to Montgomery's office -- and, apparently, millions of trial watchers.

Last week, the state Supreme Court affirmed Arias' eligibility for the death penalty based on the idea that the murder of Alexander was "cruel" and that he suffered -- a short news tidbit that was covered by news media across the country.

The canceling of Macfarlane's death penalty wasn't covered by any news media, (except for our short blog post on the 21st). True, it's a violent town and there are many murder cases going on, but family members openly wondered during our brief interview with them about the difference in news coverage between the Arias and Macfarlane cases. One timely aspect of the case is the fact that Macfarlane, despite years of documented mental issues, was able to come into the possession of a handgun.

We promised the family we'd write more about it.

But, we have to admit, the Arias case will take precedence for at least a few more days. Arias is expected to discuss the day of Alexander's murder starting this morning, in her fifth day of intense cross-examination.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.