Arizona

Jun 26, 2013 9:51 PM by Associated Press

Arias' attorneys seek to vacate death penalty

PHOENIX - Jodi Arias' attorneys have asked a judge to vacate the jury's decision in her murder trial that the 2008 killing of her boyfriend was "especially cruel," a finding that allowed the panel to consider the death penalty.

Defense attorneys argue in their motion that the definition of "especially cruel" is too vague for jurors with no legal experience to determine what makes one killing more cruel or heinous than another.

The filing also appears to challenge a landmark 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found a defendant has the right to have a jury, rather than a judge, decide on the existence of an aggravating factor that makes the defendant eligible for capital punishment.

The high court determined that allowing judges to make such findings violated a defendant's constitutional right to a trial by jury.

"Given the apparent difficulties that judges faced (prior to the ruling) in applying the statute in a uniform, consistent manner, juries are understandably even less equipped to do so," defense attorney Kirk Nurmi wrote in the motion filed late last week.

Arias was convicted of first-degree murder May 8 in the stabbing and shooting death of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. About two weeks later, the same jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on whether to sentence Arias to life in prison or death.

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