WHY NOT KILL HER
#TravisAlexander & the Jodi Arias Retrial: A Juror’s Perspective
It was my first verdict watch. The public overflow room had been closed so the trial watchers joined the media upstairs on the fifth floor outside the locked doors of the courtroom. There was a great irony in it for me, as a year prior I had held the admonishment of being a juror on the DeVault trial, so to be in the company of a multitude of reporters was still foreign. I could not help thinking that these were the faces of the media that Kirk Nurmi had gone to great lengths to show they should be feared. Unwittingly, I had become part of the media conversation and learned that this could not be further from the truth. I had met some amazing people throughout the process of the trial and it was refreshing to see the faces behind the names.
The sea of reporters and Travis Alexander supporters filled the entirety of three two-sided wire mesh painted benches centered on either side of the fifth floor. Almost every reporter was seen with an open laptop and a iPhone in the other hand. Some had pens working while others tapped away on their computers. Voices were very hushed but one could feel the energy in the air. There was anticipation and a lot of speculation. Most reporters suggested that Tuesday, tomorrow, would be the day that the verdict was reached.
I went against the tide suggesting that Thursday would be the earliest possible day and I would not have been surprised should deliberations continue into next week.
Simply, the third phase of the trial is the most difficult phase for a juror. Its difficulty is enhanced by reviewing evidence that is not that which a jury can see, touch and feel. It is not as simple, speaking relatively, as the first and second phase where decision making is made on the evidence that juries love. The first two phases require a jury to be collective and unified in the thought process of making a decision. For example, all the jurors must agree on each step that makes a murder premediated. Each juror in the second phase of the cruel and heinous nature must accept every stab wound and bullet wound as those things that make it so.
The third phase is a decision making process based on each juror’s life experience and the reasons they were selected are rooted somewhere in a voir dire questionnaire answered many months ago. The jurors must be unanimous in a decision for death for the defendant. However, they can reach the decision without collectively agreeing on why they made the decision for death. Within the confines of the law, each juror has the right to count evidence as well as not count it. One juror may find for death because he or she believes the cruel and heinous nature of it qualifies that decision. Another juror may find for death based on the premeditation.
That path is just as undefinable should the jury consider life for the defendant.
It is unquestionably the most difficult and heart-wrenching phase for a jury.
We sat outside the locked courtroom doors while reporters and followers tweeted their speculations on the verdict.
Since I cannot take you into the Arias jury room, I am forced to take you into the DeVault deliberation room. The similarities define themselves in the deliberation room. To understand the Arias jury, we must walk into the DeVault trial and within the four walls that hold the secrets of twelve jurors.
Everything changes for a juror once he or she goes into the deliberation phase. You arrive as you have the prior four months. Many of our jurors arrived a half or forty-five minutes early. Every jury has a juror who arrives in the last two minutes and I expect the jury in Arias has the same.
Sydney was our Bailiff. She reminded me of a schoolteacher in the way she would corral us and make sure all were in attendance. At exactly 9:30, she would open the door and do a quick head count.
She was always friendly and almost bubbly within the lines of professionalism. We always felt that she worked for us, a role reversal from the prior months in court. We had been lambs to the law following the procedures of the court in and out of the jury box. We showed up on time, we took notes and we went home according to the court schedule. Suddenly, we defined the court schedule and Sydney was at our beck and call with the simple press of a private buzzer.
“I need your evidence list,” Sidney would say after exchanging her brief morning pleasantries.
“Come back in fifteen minutes and we’ll have that list for you,” Cherie, the foreperson would say.
Sydney would leave the room and shut the door. One could hear the sign on the door being turned around on the outside. The sign notified everyone that a jury was deliberating. The moment that door closed, we were free to speak without any interruption until Sydney returned.
A deliberating juror has very few tools to work with. Each has an individual three-ring binder with their juror number on the top. The binder is the first thing a juror picks up before they find their seat in the morning, as they enter the jury room. The notebook has two pockets on the inside cover. The notes a juror has taken are self-punched in the center. It was too hard to have multiple notepads to fumble through. To that regard, throughout the trial, jurors would three-hole punch their notes and enclose them chronologically.
Included in this numbered folder was a packet with the law written word for word on one side and the juror instructions on the other. Additionally, blank evidence lists were in a pocket and meant to be completed as evidence was presented during the trial. Blank juror questions were on the bookshelf above the notebooks in a tray. There was another folder in the tray that contains verdict forms.
One of the reasons we chose Cherie as the foreperson was her remarkable sense of organization. I was a good note-taker but she was a tremendous one, in that she was fastidious about keeping her evidence lists organized. There is no one to tell a juror how to be a juror and the responsibility comes with no warning. Some realize quickly that intricate note taking is critical. The Dale Harrell murder trial had over four hundred and fifty pieces of evidence. The Travis Alexander murder trial featured double that amount.
While all of us completed our evidence lists by hand in the order it was presented, Cherie was smart enough to get it in close numerical order as we went along. Evidence is not presented in order. A juror did not know how much evidence they were going to receive in a trial. In that, as each item was presented, jurors made the mistake of listing it line by line in the order it was given to them. Since jurors were in the jury box, having been admonished not to speak with one another, most fell into the same trap. Cherie, however, counted and numbered the lines ahead of time and, as the evidence was presented, was able to juxtapose the numbers so they eventually completed in chronological order.
Cherie would put the court submitted evidence list in the center of the table. Next to her, she had a separate sheet to request items by number. She also had her hand-written record, which clarified the description of the items. For instance, the evidence list would state an exhibit number with the description line saying it was a photo. Cherie’s notes would state a brief description of the photo.
The first fifteen-minutes of the day, was used by our jury to discuss what we wanted to see. It became the framework for the day. Itbecomes the foundation of the search for truth. She would match the court evidence sheet to her list of evidence that had a specific description and this served to facilitate the process of the search.
“All cell-phones are off and notepads put away, right?” she would ask us as she made the final notations on the evidence list. This was something Cherie was used to reminding us every day since the beginning of the trial because you did not want to be the juror with a cell-phone going off. The embarrassment would be that of running through Times Square naked. I don’t think anyone thought it could be an issue in a deliberation room, but it rears its ugly head when subjects get stalled. If a juror is bored, they get lost in their cell-phone or iPad. We policed ourselves when anyone broke that rule.
Once we had our list assembled, we would ring the buzzer. Moments later, Sydney would take our evidence list. Usually, our list took no longer than fifteen minutes.
The evidence list that the jury is given from the court has information that is minimalistic at best. Each page has a typewritten list on a basic Excel worksheet. These pages have approximately seventy-five listed pieces of evidence, listed by exhibit number, and property identification number. A third column is the description list. This is certainly the most difficult for a juror to understand unless they have kept a record throughout the trial because the description column is usually no more specific than stating it to be a photo, document or name of item such as gun.
The DeVault trial had a list of four hundred and sixty-seven items mostly comprised of photos or documents. The Arias trial has nine hundred and sixty-two pieces completing their evidence list.
Cherie did the same thing every day. We established some rules as a jury and under the direction of our foreperson, during our deliberation periods everyone was encouraged to give their thoughts, as long as each juror spoke one at a time. We had also decided that whatever thought or opinion it may have been, it was free from any kind of ridicule. Further, it was decided that we wouldn’t have a limited time to talk as long as it was moving us forward. We agreed that Cherie always had the option to get us back on track. She would kindly interrupt and we would move along. The most important thing we agreed upon was that each juror was to have freedom of thought. No juror would push another to change opinions, and we would communicate and do a round table with each task.
“While we are waiting for the evidence to come back, does anyone have any thoughts from last night?” Cherie would ask us every morning at the opening of deliberations.
Each of us took the opportunity to talk about what they had thought of over the prior night. Many of us spoke of our thoughts for the victim, Dale Harrell and the cruel way in which he died. Some of us spoke of nightmares while others spoke of forensics. There were questions that would come up in a juror’s mind and it was a great idea to voice these things at the beginning of the day. I would expect the Arias jury has a similar conversation while they were waiting for the requested evidence to come back from the court.
Sometimes it took fifteen minutes to return with evidence, and other times it took an hour before Sydney would tap politely at the door. A juror would open the door and Sydney would come in with the judicial assistant. Usually, it was a two-tiered cart. Brown accordion folders were on the bottom while actual items were on the top. None of us will forget the day that one of those items was a bloodied hammer in a sealed box with a transparent top.
“I know we’ve heard this before,” Sydney would say, “let me explain the rules with the evidence.”
The twelve of us sat around a long table and listened as Sydney spoke and put the items in the center of the table.
“You may only look at one item at a time,” she explained. “You may look at the item but you are not to damage it in any way. If the item is in a sealed package, you may not open the item. Should you find that you need to open and inspect the evidence further, you must fill out a jury question form and submit it to me, and then I will submit it to the court. The court will decide if you may open sealed evidence,” she would say as she put a stack of accordion folders on the table. The pockets were filled with the evidence documents and photos we had requested.
She pulled out a plastic wrapped exhibit. “For example, there is a tag on each exhibit. This tag has the exhibit number and the property ID number. We inventory the complete evidence before you leave so make sure each item only comes out one at a time and it is returned to the exact spot it is filed in. You may request additional evidence but this evidence has to be returned. Should you request the gun, you will not receive it with bullets. If you want the bullets, it may not be in the same room as the gun,” Sydney explained.
“Do you have any questions?” she asked us.
We would usually shake our heads and she would leave us to our task. She would always clarify the number of rings when we were to call her. Our jury went through three phases of deliberations and our normal signal was changed from one buzz to two buzzes because Judge Roland Steinle had other trials with other juries while our trial was going on.
The first thing we would do once Sydney left the first time in the morning was to unfurl all of our handwritten three foot by five foot outlines we had written the day before. Each night, the lists were methodically taken off the walls and rolled up to protect the secrecy of our deliberations when we were not in the jury room. The rubber bands would pop as we wallpapered the walls in big sheets of paper before we got started daily. Over four hundred pieces of evidence yielded us lots of lists from mitigation and aggravating factors to the lists of items that made up premeditation. The handwritten wallpapered walls kept us from going down rehash highway.
The first day we deliberated as a jury, we had not been dispatched until the afternoon. We picked our foreperson, Cherie, and made our schedule. We barely gave her a chance to accept as we all had picked her that quickly. Plus, we were united in wanting to talk about the trial and our multitude of feelings.
Cherie’s first decision after submitting our schedule was to poll the jury taking a poll. It yielded an even split. As a jury, that did not bother us because we had not been able to talk to any one for months so the first time in deliberations was an explosion of feelings. We expressed what we felt about the defense team as well as what we felt about the prosecution. We spoke at great length about a victim whom we only knew in death. We spoke of all the feelings we had kept inside. Having our two assigned tasks done was a victory in itself. For the moment, we put away the question of time and spoke freely as human beings.
The most important thing a juror realizes in those first few hours is that his or her moral compass of honesty was going to be tested like it never had been before. It was the eleven people around you that you became responsible to as well as they to you. The unwritten words of honesty flow and, somewhere, it would come from the soul.
The first full day in jury deliberations in Arias would be similar to our first full day together in a jury room on DeVault. The difference was that my jury went through two phases to get to the decision of life or death for Marissa DeVault. We thought we were veterans and knew each other well by the third phase. We had war wounds and had strength in the decisions we had made.
This jury has not walked that path as they have been told it was paved by another jury’s decision. They are also facing a mountain of evidence lists and it would be difficult to determine what came first.
If I were to speculate on the jurors activities today, I suspect they will go directly to the murder. They would realize that the murder and the circumstances thereof qualify as aggravating factors. It would be natural that a human being wanted to know what happened to Travis Alexander and how it happened to Travis Alexander.
This jury requested their evidence and the evidence was all about the night of the murder. Before they can look outward, they have to start at the moment of the crime. Before a juror can levy life or death honestly, they need to see the victim.
I am sure this jury saw Travis Alexander today.
I will not forget the second or third day of deliberations as our jury took a walk down the path of murder and looked at the final pictures of Dale Harrell. There was not one of us in the room who wanted to look at the pictures but we knew we had to. It did not matter how many forensic pathologists or experts on the stand told us their version of events, we had to discover ourselves. To discover the crime, we had to look at the victim. The jury is told never to allow sympathy or empathy a role in our decision, but that does not take away from the human frailty of compassion that takes over. It was not uncommon for one or a number of us to show tears.
It began with those first pictures that a juror looked at, pictures that would scar a juror’s memory for the rest of their lives. I remember Dale Harrell by those pictures at the most random of times. It is never pleasant and it rips at the heart. He will always be in my heart along with his family. I expect that Travis Alexander will forever be in the Arias juror’s hearts.
This jury had to request their pieces of evidence similar to the way our jury did. While our trial had a library of four hundred and sixty-three pieces, these jurors have nine hundred and sixty-two items of evidence. These exhibits are of the crime scene. The last moments of Travis Alexander are held in that crime scene. Each juror would have looked at each picture of Travis Alexander. To understand the crime, they had to look at the victim. In looking at the victim, the great weight of responsibility intensifies as if everything prior had been akin to fairy tale. It is the reality of what a juror must do to begin the search. The path begins at the victim.
For the jury to understand the crime, they have to understand the mechanics of the murder.
I suspect that these jurors would begin with the murder and work outward. Despite a prior jury deciding first-degree murder and deciding it was done in a cruel and heinous manner, this jury has to figure it out for themselves.
his jury will go through the process of recreating the murder. They may use a dry erase board and they may even have a map of theupstairs of Travis’ home. They will put the pictures together one by one. They will know that the process of the attack began in the shower. They will walk with Travis as he goes to the sink. They will see the blood spatter on the mirror as well as the blood pooled on the counter. They will question whether he coughed or what he said as he looked at himself for the last time. The pictures will take Travis’ journey down a hallway as he fought for his life.
In all of this time, it will be discussion of Jodi Arias and what she was doing each moment. It was not a question of who did it. It was a question of how it was done and the series of steps she took to complete this execution.
They will spend time at the bloodstain outside the bedroom door and they will look at the moldings where the transfer is seen. They will be with Arias as she drags his body back to the shower and places him inside. They will see the lack of blood on the shower floor and will take note of a plastic glass that lies where the white tiled wall meets the floor.
It will take time to figure why the glass was there. It will also take time to go through the inadvertent pictures taken by a camera as it cascaded across the floor. They will wonder if she took a shower while Travis’ body lay tucked against the wall. The pictures of the diluted blood on the file boxes will make them wonder.
One picture at a time will formulate a story of two minutes that each juror had to relive as a group of twelve. Many jurors have never seen the brutality of murder true to life as displayed in crime scene photos. It is impactful and yields emotion oftentimes displayed in tears. There are jurors who will come close to feeling the stab wounds. Tears would flow as a manifestation of honesty among peers.
We were in the waiting area outside the courtroom when eight or nine jurors marched out quite unexpectedly. I thought it curious because our jury only left the deliberation room during the lunch period. We never left during the fifteen minute breaks choosing to stretch in the jury room instead. The jury marched past us with their hard heeled shoes echoing down the tiled hallway. I listened and tried not to look. I know what it is like to be a juror and have a lot of questioning eyes looking toward you expecting you to reveal something.
As a former juror, I have empathy for this jury and the early stage they are at in deliberations. I cannot look at a juror because I feel like my eyes might give something away. I also do not want to witness their pain. Our jury experienced the same sort of pain.
It occurred to me when the jury came back fifteen minutes later what most certainly had happened. The four walls of a jury room had been claustrophobic in the discovery of the brutality of the murder. This jury knows it was premeditated but had to take the journey to the heart of the crime. It would have been in that journey that one or more jurors would have needed to step outside for a breath of fresh air. There was no other place this group would have gone and I find it unlikely that eight were searching for a soda machine. A juror was seen with flushed eyes that most likely came from crying.
They would have gone back into the jury room and began setting up their plans for the next day after making sure the evidence was organized and accounted for. The jury foreman would have turned in the evidence list along with the evidence and waited until it was inventoried before they left for the day. It would not be a surprise if the foreman began the conversation of deciding what they would look at the next day.
All paths outward for a jury begin at the scene of the crime. The next path would be a reaffirmation of premeditation. As time goes on, Travis Alexander will stand as a defining force in the deliberation room. It is against his standard that the journey of evidence will continue. The camera will move away from him and toward Jodi Arias. They have seen Travis and now they will begin the journey of finding out where Jodi Arias was before the murder. They will start at the trail of evidence in premeditation. The moment they get to the gas cans, the camera will turn to the defendant, its premeditation undeniable.
There comes a point in a juror’s mind, that when a defendant does not appear on the stand, the juror is forced to look for any evidence that comes directly from the defendant. Marissa DeVault did not appear except for her statement of allocution. We had to hear from the defendant through recordings of her and chose to look at everything that came directly from the killer as it was given to witnesses.
We did not minimize any evidence, but before we could look at the details of evidence, we needed to see the killer. More importantly, what we really wanted to see were the interrogation tapes.
The interrogation tapes were the voice of the killer. It is the human being that committed a brutal attack. If the defendant chooses not to talk to a jury, the jury will find everything they can where the defendant did talk.
Marissa DeVault’s interrogation tapes were seven hours long of infuriating testimony to us. We discovered lies and manipulation. We saw two faces of a killer. There was the face and affect when the police were present in interrogation room but the more revealing was her behavior outside the presence of the authorities.
These jurors want to hear from Arias and they have an evidence list filled with ways to search her down. They will play the interviews and they will dissect many of them line by line. It is during this time that they are finding the aggravating factors. Simultaneously, they would search for the mitigating factors. It is the mountain they have climb before they search for the reasons not to kill her.
It will take time and jurors care more about getting to the right results rather than worrying about how long it took to get there.
There were times that we would assemble in the deliberation room after taking our short lunch outside the building. Many of us would comment how many news channel trucks we saw in front of the courthouse. Other times, we would see them waiting casually down a hallway as we went back to the jury room. It was a curiosity to us how many people were waiting.
Cherie would always tell us as a jury. “Don’t worry about them and what they are doing. Worry about us, and our task at hand. It will take us as long as it takes and that’s that.”
Each one of us wanted to make a decision that would ensure that we would never have second thoughts. We wanted justice for the family of the victim. We wanted the defendant to pay for her crime.
Most of all, in the end, we just wanted to be able to sleep at night for the rest of our lives.
This jury wanted the same thing and it would just take some time…
Photograph: 2.28.15 Paul Sanders with Cathy of Court Chatter.
“Every good relationship that has developed as a result of this trial is the manifestation of the Spirit of Travis Alexander.”
Justice 4 Travis Alexander…
Justice for Dale Harrell…
Paul A. Sanders, Jr.