PHOENIX — An appeals court on Tuesday revealed some of the reasons Jodi Arias refused to testify in an open courtroom during the penalty phase of her trial, including purported death threats she is getting in jail.
In an opinion released Tuesday about its decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals said Arias and her lawyers told the judge she was receiving threatening mail and death threats, and an open courtroom would affect her ability to think and answer questions in a manner "she truly means."
The court ordered transcripts of Arias' secret testimony be released, but it's not immediately clear when that would happen. They had earlier overruled the trial judge's surprising and highly unusual move to close the courtroom to the public as a jury decided whether Arias should get the death penalty in the murder of her on-again-off-again lover.
When Judge Sherry Stephens closed the courtroom, it wasn't even clear who the secret witness was; she simply said an unnamed witness would not testify if the proceeding was open to the public. News organizations went to court, and the appeals court agreed.
The opinion said Arias did not feel she would be "able to fully communicate what she wants to say, communicate her remorse and go through all the mitigating factors and get them out there in front of the jury with the public here," her lawyers told the judge.
The judge suggested that the public and press be moved to an overflow room, and Arias objected to that alternative despite the judge expressing concern that she was being manipulative. She objected "because of the pressure that I would feel because of these threats," according to the opinion.
Despite her reservations during the penalty phase, Arias has actively courted the spotlight since she was arrested in the death of Travis Alexander in 2008. She did interviews on "48 Hours" and "Inside Edition" after her arrest and was on the witness stand for several weeks during her original trial. She also did a series of media interviews after the jury convicted her of murder.
"A defendant who testified in open court during the guilt phase of the trial cannot decide she will only testify in the penalty phase if the press and public are excluded and her testimony is sealed until after any verdict," the appeals court wrote.
Alexander was shot and repeatedly stabbed in his Mesa home in June 2008. Arias says it was self-defense after the relationship turned abusive.
The opinion was released as the trial moved ahead Tuesday with testimony from a defense expert.
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