Today Jodi Arias’ defense attorneys, Kirk Nurmi and Jennifer Willmott issued a joint statement in an exclusive to The Arizona Republic.
“If the diagnosis made by the State’s psychologist is correct, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is seeking to impose the death penalty upon a mentally ill woman who has no prior criminal history,” they wrote. “Despite Mr. Montgomery’s recent statements to the media, it is not incumbent upon Ms. Arias’ defense counsel to resolve this case. Instead, the choice to end this case sits squarely with Mr. Montgomery and his office.
“It is solely for them to determine if continuing to pursue a death sentence upon Ms. Arias, who is already facing a mandatory life sentence, is a good and proper use of taxpayer resources.”
The decision will indeed be up to Montgomery. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens has set a tentative court date of July 18 to seat a new jury just to consider the death penalty, but Willmott has already indicated that she has a scheduling conflict then.
Montgomery’s statement that he would consider “offers” from the defense indicates he might consider concessions from Arias, such as not pursuing appeals. But courthouse regulars suggest that Arias, 32, could just as easily take her chances going back to trial. And in the event she gets death, she would have 20 years or so to do battle in state and federal appeals court to try to get a lesser sentence or a new trial.
Ultimately, however, offers have to come from Montgomery. His office, not the judge, makes the decision to seek the death penalty. And at this point, because Arias is already convicted of first-degree murder, there is no need to reach a settlement with Arias in order for her to be sentenced to life in prison. Montgomery only has to lift the intent to seek the death penalty and she would receive a mandatory life sentence.
Judge Sherry Stephens would then choose between life in prison or natural life in prison. The former is frequently referred to as “life with chance of parole after 25 years,” but that is a misnomer often used even during court proceedings.
Arizona discontinued parole for first-degree murderers in 1994. Anyone sentenced since then might be sentenced to life with possibility of release after 25 years. Parole is only available for those who committed murders before 1994.
“Now the only chance of release is commutation from the governor through the Board of Executive Clemency,” a more difficult process, said Ron Reinstein, a retired Superior Court judge who chairs the Arizona Supreme Court’s capital case oversight committee.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
And given the fact that the jury found an aggravating factor in Arias’ case, it’s unlikely Stephens would impose that sentence.
If she had committed the murder after 2012, release after 25 years would not even be an option, because the Arizona State Legislature has abolished the sentence for premeditated first-degree murder. It is still a possibility for juveniles convicted of murder or adults convicted of first-degree felony murder, which means that someone was killed during the commission of another felony.”