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September 21, 2014

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Arias defense bills pass $2 million; taxpayers on the hook

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The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher, / AP

Jodi Arias points to her family as a reason for the jury to give her a life in prison sentence instead of the death penalty on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, during the penalty phase of her murder trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix. Arias was convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing and shooting to death of Travis Alexander, 30, in his suburban Phoenix.

PHOENIX — Jodi Arias' legal bills have topped $2 million, a tab being footed by Arizona taxpayers that will only continue to climb with a new penalty phase set for March, officials said Monday.

Arias, 33, was convicted of murder in May, but the jury couldn't reach a verdict on her sentence. Prosecutors are now pursuing a second penalty phase with a new jury in an effort to get the death penalty. Trial is set for March 17.

The former waitress and aspiring photographer has been held in jail in Maricopa County awaiting her fate while her legal bills continue to mount.

As of Monday, the county had paid $2,150,536.42 for her court-appointed attorneys, expert witnesses and other costs associated with her case, Maricopa County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick told the Associated Press.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has refused to provide a tally of how much it has cost to prosecute the case, citing a court order that attorneys not discuss Arias-related matters.

Arias admitted she killed her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008 at his suburban Phoenix home but claimed it was self-defense. He suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, had his throat slit and was shot in the forehead in what prosecutors argued was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage when Alexander wanted to end their affair.

The case captured headlines worldwide and became a cable television staple with its tales of sex, lies and a brutal killing while every minute of the trial was broadcast live. This time around, the judge will be limiting media coverage in hopes of avoiding the same publicity. There will be no live video coverage of the second penalty phase, and electronic devices will be banned, meaning reporters won't be able to provide real-time updates via Twitter as occurred during her first trial.

Under Arizona law, while her murder conviction stands, prosecutors have the option of putting on a second penalty phase with a new jury.

If the second panel fails to reach a unanimous decision, the death penalty will automatically be removed from consideration, and the judge will sentence Arias to spend her entire life behind bars or be eligible for release after 25 years.

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