An excerpt from Volume One of Behind the Words: A Logical and Satirical Guide to the Impossible Defense of Jodi Arias. Published on April 6, 2015 and available in paperback or in Kindle at Amazon.com.
The Jodi Arias murder trial. It should be called the Travis Alexander murder trial, but it isn't. Although he was the murder victim, it seems as though his name will be forever subordinate to the name of the woman who was the vehicle by which he met his untimely, torturous, and bloody death. However, you will see that this trial, this media event, was, from the beginning, all about Jodi Arias. Travis died because he didn't subscribe to the belief that everything was all about Jodi Arias.
Before this trial and before this murder, there was a young man named Travis Alexander who was living a version of the American Dream. Nobody handed it to him, and he had little in his personal arsenal to assist him in the battles he faced – save for his own sense of discipline and sheer force of will. When you look at the photographs of the child named Travis, you will want to embrace him. You will want to protect him. You can't. His story has been written, beginning to end, and the truth of that story is worth repeating. The ending, the one authored by his murderer, must be crushed under the feet of those who know the difference between a good human being and a dangerous anomaly. Yes, they lurk among us, and we seldom recognize them until they have taken what they came for. Travis had wonderful personal qualities, and those qualities are the ones he would have likely passed on to his future children – had he not been cut down in the prime of his life.
The defense will drag in its own version of a Dorian Gray portrait from the attic of his killer's mind – a portrait of Travis Alexander that has been defaced and defiled not by any secret or outrageous sins he committed, but by the hand of his justifiably rejected former girlfriend and killer, Jodi Arias. She showed no mercy as she desecrated the canvas of his life and then hauled it out for all to consider while screaming, “Behold, the monster!” Jodi Arias would have experienced her first honest moment if she were to replace that canvas with a mirror. Then she might justifiably shout, “Behold, the monster!” Remember, there is nothing to substantiate her twisted version of events or her hideous allegations of criminal offenses committed by her victim. In fact, as we dissect her words, it will become obvious that her testimony is a contrived, cruel, and desperate attempt to escape society's retribution for her crime.
The differences between Travis and Jodi were substantial. To begin with, he had friends – many friends. She had few, if any. So, when he seemed to simply vanish into thin air on June 4, 2008, his friends took notice. The atmosphere of curiosity that marked the days immediately following June 4, 2008, evolved into a search party by June 9, 2008.
A group of Travis' friends took their caravan to his home at 11428 East Queensboro in Mesa, Arizona that evening. They were determined to look through his home for clues as to his whereabouts. He stopped answering his phone in the late afternoon hours of June 4, 2008, and his voice mailbox was quickly filled with messages left by friends and colleagues who were becoming increasingly concerned as to why their extroverted friend wasn't answering his phone .
Travis was scheduled to fly to the southeastern resort city of Cancun, Mexico on June 10, 2008. This was an employer-paid vacation he had earned for his high productivity at PrePaid Legal Services. He never showed up at the resort hotel where he was scheduled to meet his friends. In fact, he never even got on the plane.
Once inside Travis's home, his friends learned that Travis's roommates knew nothing of Travis's whereabouts (something that wasn't unusual), but they were given access to the second floor of the house. They wanted to see his spacious master suite. They discovered that the door to his suite was locked, but a roommate knew where Travis had placed a spare key. In the meantime, someone in the group noticed that Travis's personal effects were sitting on the kitchen counter. With that discovery, a feeling of foreboding washed over the group. Travis would not leave home without his wallet or CTR (“Choose the Right”) ring. Was he in the house?
His blackened, bloated corpse was not discovered by professionals – the technicians and officers who had learned to separate their emotions from the sight of a crime scene that would forever haunt the uninitiated. Instead, that discovery was made by his friends. Mimi Hall, one of the friends who made the discovery, called 911 immediately. In a trembling voice, she said, “Um, one of our friends is dead in his bedroom. We haven't heard from him in a while. We think he's dead. One of his roommates is going in there, and there's lots of blood. I didn't go in there, but I can give the phone to someone who went in there”.
Next, we hear a male voice say, “He's dead. He's in his bedroom, in the shower.” When the 911 operator asked about blood, this young man said, “It's all over the place.”After the 911 operator told the entire group to get out of the house, the phone was handed to another woman. When asked if Travis had been depressed or suicidal, the young woman said, “I don't think he was thinking of suicide. He'd been really depressed because he broke up with this girl, and was upset about that. But, I don't think he'd actually kill himself over that.”.
When asked if Travis had been threatened by anyone, the young woman answered, “Yes. Yes, he has. He has an ex-girlfriend who's been bothering him – following him and slashing tires – things like that.” When asked what the ex-girlfriend's name was, she replied, “Her name is Jodi.” The phone is finally handed back to Mimi and she says, “There's a girl who's been stalking him and she might know some information.”
Travis Victor Alexander did not commit suicide. His friends would later learn the specifics -- he had been shot in the head, had sustained 27 to 29 stab and slice wounds (several of which were defensive wounds to his hands), and his throat had been slashed from ear to ear (severing his voice box and his carotid arteries). Travis Alexander was a young man, just seven weeks shy of his 31st birthday when he was murdered.
You may know everything about this case, nothing about it, or something about it. Whatever your scope of knowledge, this trial is destined to go down in legal history as one of the most convoluted, salacious, lengthy, and unprecedented spectacles on record. At the center of that spectacle sat Jodi Ann Arias.
Jodi Arias, an average looking young woman who knew how to use blond hair dye, breast implants, cosmetics, and sexual acrobatics for maximum impact, was physically unmasked as she sat at the defense table during live-streamed opening arguments on January 2, 2013.
We will go back in time as we examine the direct testimony of Jodi Arias. By the time Arias takes the stand, the opening arguments of both sides have been delivered, and expert witnesses have been examined and cross examined. This is a moment that rarely happens in a murder trial – a defendant will take the stand in their own defense. The risk, of course, is cross examination.
Let's go behind the words.
- Day 1 Of Direct Examination -
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
As we enter the courtroom, the trial is in the midst of its 13th day, and this is the day that Jodi Arias will take the stand in her own defense. So, who is this defendant – this Jodi Ann Arias? She is a 32 year-old former, part-time waitress from Yreka, California, and she is on trial for the especially cruel, premeditated murder of her former boyfriend, Travis Alexander. He is a man who will be 30 years old forever. Alexander, a successful motivational speaker and insurance salesman, was slaughtered and left to decompose in the master bathroom of his spacious Mesa home on June 4, 2008.
While Jodi Arias sat on the witness stand for an unprecedented 18 days, we will focus on her eight day direct examination, a procedure that was conducted by her court appointed attorney, Lawrence Kirk Nurmi, a public defender who is being paid the unconventional rate of $225 per hour (by the taxpayers) to represent Arias as his exclusive client.
He is going to attempt to do what ultimately proved to be impossible. He will try to bridge the gap between a friendless, nomadic high school dropout with chronic money problems and a very popular, successful businessman who owned a well appointed, exceptionally clean, noticeably organized, 3,800 square foot home. Her attorney will try to minimize the differences between his client and her victim. He will attempt to paint her countless religious and philosophical dabblings as evidence of her intelligence and truth seeking, while at the same time painting her victim's adherence to his Mormon faith as evidence of his hypocritical double nature.
We will hear about her childhood. We will hear about her education. We will hear about her parents, and when we do, they will be called child abusers. We will hear about every romantic relationship Jodi Arias has ever had. We will hear about a waitressing job here and a waitressing job there. We will hear about teenage break-ups. We will be bombarded with so much useless information that it may become difficult to care about this case. I urge you to hold on. There is much to be learned by listening to and dissecting both the carefully prepared and the off-script responses offered by Jodi Arias. We will learn so much about Arias that it will be easy to picture her doing exactly what she's been accused of doing.
The jury is not in the courtroom when Jodi Arias is first called to the stand. After the last defense witness is excused, the judge directed the jury to return to the jury room for three minutes. This gives the officer in charge of securing Arias the time he needs to adjust her restraints. It isn't clear whether he's removing leg irons or attaching a stun device, but whatever he is doing, it will be done outside of the jury's presence. To preserve the presumption of innocence, something our legal system requires for a defendant, any visible indicator leading a jury to believe that Arias is dangerous is deemed too prejudicial. Too prejudicial – it's a defense team's big, pink eraser, and it's used frequently to limit the amount of information, both direct and indirect, given to a jury. Law enforcement, a grand jury, and a prosecutor have all determined that Jodi Arias is a murderer. The murder indictment creates a situation in which the accused either sits in jail awaiting her trial or she raises the money for her bail and is released from jail while she awaits trial. In the case of Jodi Arias, bail was set at an impossible $2M. As she takes the stand, Jodi Arias has been incarcerated in the Estrella Jail for almost five years. That jail is run by the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As an inmate, she is subjected to the black and white horizontal striped uniform, the pink underwear, and the notoriously bad food Sheriff Arpaio is famous for serving. A jury trial will seal her fate, and if convicted and sentenced, she will be transferred to Perryville Prison in Goodyear, Arizona.
Accordingly, Arias must be given some privacy so that she and a burly officer can disappear behind a locked door to deal with the metal and technology that must be affixed to her body whenever she is outside of her cell. Jennifer Willmott, the second chair defense attorney, approaches Arias after the judge announces, for the record, that the jury is not present. There is a brief interchange between Willmott and Arias. Willmott even flashes a smile at Arias.
There is some movement in the courtroom gallery, but it is quiet movement. There is silence as we await the return of the defendant and her guard. The door is also locked from the inside. That becomes obvious as it opens and we see the officer pulling keys out of a lock on the inside of the door frame. Arias has been processed in whatever way she needed to be processed, and all visual prejudice has been erased. The stun device affixed to her thigh, hidden under her clothing, will stay in place as Arias testifies. Should she make any sudden or unapproved movements, the guard will hit a button and she will be stunned into submission.
Two minutes pass before Arias re-enters the courtroom. Those at the defense table are talking and smiling, while a shot of the prosecutor's table shows a serious, silent Juan Martinez, patiently waiting. Finally, Arias emerges with her handler. She walks freely to her chair at the defense table, but she isn't afforded an opportunity to sit down before Judge Sherry Stephens says, “Miss Arias, you may come forward and take a seat, please.” Arias complies, but she looks like the shy seventh grade student who, despite her best efforts to hide from the teacher's gaze, is still chosen to deliver her oral report to a class of students who have shunned her since the third grade.
Her dark brown hair falls below her shoulders, and she sports thin bangs, cut in a perfectly horizontal line across her forehead. The longer strands of hair are parted on the left, and the hair that is captured in a small pony tail falls down the right side of her head. This juvenile style, a questionable choice for a grown woman appearing in court, screams out for a big, ribboned bow to be tied around the elastic band. She wears over-sized, cockroach brown eyeglasses, and the outline of her face is uninterrupted as we look through the lenses. If they are prescription glasses – something she has never worn in her life – they are the weakest known to man. I believe they are a prop. Everything about her appearance is a prop.
So, this is the woman the media had branded “a bombshell”? Long gone are the banners of her past – the Marilyn Monroe bleached blond hair, the dark lip liner and lighter lip gloss, the eye make-up, and the cleavage. In their place, we see all of the physical attributes of someone who might be handing out fliers for her church's youth group retreat. She wears no jewelry or make-up, and if her eyeglasses had a piece of tape on the bridge of the nose, they could be marketed to those searching for geek Halloween costumes. All of this camouflaging is the result of a brainstorming session held in a defense attorney's conference room. The object, of course, is to force the jury to ask themselves, “How could this child, this shy, unpopular adolescent who could be waiting alone for the school bus, be a dangerous killer?” Her baggy beige pants, topped with a plain, short sleeved black sweater, constitute a costume of complete neutrality. It says nothing about her.
As she approaches the bench, Arias drops her eyes and clasps her hands at her waist. Judge Stephens does not make eye contact with Arias. Instead, the judge closes her eyes and with her left index finger, she touches her eyelid. Once Arias has passed her, the judge looks to the right and watches the defendant. Arias drops her hands, and her arms swing back and forth as she approaches the steps to the witness stand. Mindlessly, Arias takes her right hand and swipes it against her upper lip. She shows no grace or femininity in her movements. Finally, she sits down.
In a soft and sweet voice, the judge says, “You can line the jury up. Line up the jury.” Arias looks toward her left. That is where her legal team and supporters are to be found. She looks nervous and cagey. She wants to look in front of her – that's obvious -- but she doesn't dare. If she did, she'd see Juan Martinez, the prosecutor. She'd see Esteban Flores, the detective who arrested and interrogated her. Behind them, she'd see the siblings and many friends of Travis Alexander. Instead of looking at them, she drops her eyes. She's probably been instructed by her counsel to avoid looking at them. Their contempt for her, obvious in their faces, could weaken her resolve.
Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens asks Nurmi if he is calling his client to the stand. Well, I hope he's calling his client to the stand, or Arias is about to get tazed by her handler for moving around the courtroom without permission. Arias looks confused at this point, and her head snaps back and forth between the judge and Nurmi. Nurmi makes it official as he says, “The defense calls Jodi Arias.” The judge then tells Arias to stand and be sworn in. Arias stands, pulls on the hem of her black sweater, raises her right hand, and swears, by God, to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is the first lie of many to come from her mouth during this trial. The truth is something she needs to conceal.
There is an obvious tension in the courtroom. After she is sworn in and takes her seat, we see Arias' eyes darting between the prosecutor, Juan Martinez, and her salvation, Kirk Nurmi. Martinez sits at the prosecutor's table, his hands in the steeple position. One index finger moves. The camera moves, and we see Nurmi, for the third time, reaching his right hand behind his suit jacket He is tucking in his dress shirt.
Nurmi remains fixed at the podium. As he waits for his cue to begin, he rests on its surface and laces his fingers together. Occasionally, he glances up at Arias. A shot of Martinez shows him leaning towards the large, rugged faced, dark haired man sitting to his left. That man is Detective Esteban Flores, the lead investigator on this case. His contribution to this case cannot be underestimated. With a low key, polite, but tenacious approach, he built the foundation for the prosecutor. He will remain in this seat at the prosecutor's desk for the duration of this trial. He has been on the witness stand, and he has been a target of the defense team. He did well on the stand, refusing to react to the arrows shot in his direction. The best words to describe him are strong and steady.
Martinez initiates a discussion with Flores. Nurmi's hands are now clasped behind his back as the silence is interrupted with the announcement, one issued from the woman I call Evidence Lady. In a serious tone of voice, she says, “Please stand for the jury.”
Everyone is on their feet, with the exception of the lady in the black robe, Judge Sherry Stephens. For better or worse, she will oversee this trial. She is a pleasant looking, thin, middle-aged woman with dyed blond hair. She has a soft tone and a poker face that is usually unreadable. Finally, the camera focuses on Jodi Arias. We see her interlocking her fingers. It seems to be a trend this morning. It must be a sign of anxiety.
Nurmi is told to proceed. He offers a flat, “Hi, Jodi.” She answers, “Hi.” Hi? This is the best introduction they could come up with? Okay, hi it is. It gets better. Nurmi asks, “How are you feeling right now?” How is she feeling right now? Is this a talk show or is this a trial? She does a few micro-swivels in her chair, gives a tense smile, and with all of the sincerity of a young girl about to undergo her first pelvic exam, she mumbles, “Ummm...nervous.” Juan Martinez, the prosecutor, apparently shares my disinterest in how Arias is feeling right now. He interrupts and says, “Objection, relevance.” The judge sustains the objection. Apparently she agrees with me. I don't care how Jodi Arias feels right now.
Nurmi fumbles around with his words, but finally he asks, “Well, let me ask you this – is this a position you ever thought you'd find yourself in?” No, Nurmi. She intended to get away with it. Does he not remember the “I wasn't there” story? How about the “two assassins killed him but let me go if I promised not to tell anyone what they did” story? Of course she never intended to find herself here. Even when those stories fell apart, she thought her threat to the state would seal the deal. Once the evidence came rolling in, she told the state, via legal motion, that she would accept a second-degree murder plea deal, but she was careful to add that if the state didn't accept her offer, she would destroy the reputation of her victim on the stand. She wrote that the LDS/Mormon church would be embarrassed. She claimed that marriages would be threatened by her disclosures. She said that the surviving Alexander siblings would be devastated by her trial testimony. It was a red hot threat couched in legalese, and the state ignored it. In the life of Jodi Arias, threats usually worked. This time, they didn't. She was on the stand, despite her best efforts to avoid being in this position. Again, Juan Martinez interrupts with, “Objection, relevance.” Martinez taps his desk ever so slightly as the judge says, “Approach, please.”
And so, it begins.
The camera now focuses on Sandy Allen Arias and Susan Allen Halterman (hereafter referred to as Sandy and Sue). They are identical twin sisters. Sandy is the mother of Jodi Arias. Sue is Jodi's maternal aunt. As the attorneys approach the bench, Sue, clad in a light blue sweater featuring two large white diamond patterns framed in navy blue and resting on each breast, reaches over to her sister, Sandy. Both women are middle-aged, overweight, rather homely, and are sporting two incarnations of a conventional, shoulder length, dark brown hair style. They both wear eyeglasses. Sue is wearing ear phones, and when she touches her sister, a woman clad in a black jacket worn over a black and white shirt, there is an acknowledgment by Sandy. The two women look at each other and smile. Actually, their interchange could be more accurately described as a mirror image of an anxious grin.
There is no pronouncement from Judge Sherry Stephens as to what was decided at the bench. Was the relevancy objection sustained or overruled? We don't know. We can surmise, and we'll do a lot of that, and we'll base our assumptions on how Nurmi proceeds after the sidebar is over. At this point, Nurmi returns to his podium and says that he wants to ask Arias a few important questions before he asks her about who she is and why she is here. There is no need to ask her why she is here, but we'd better get used to questions that are useless, if not insulting to our intelligence. They will be everywhere – but listen to the answers because that's how you're going to figure out who Jodi Arias really is. For 13 days, this jury has been totally informed as to why Jodi Arias is here. They've been a captive audience to expert after expert who have explained, in detail, and with accompanying evidence, why Jodi Arias is sitting at the defense table.
Okay, so moving on to those “important questions.” Here we go: “Did you kill Travis Alexander on June 4, 2008?” Arias pretends to steel herself for the answer. She tightens her mouth and closes her eyes before swiveling her chair towards the jury. Once faced in their direction, she drops her eyes and immediately swivels her chair back toward Nurmi. She answers this pivotal question while looking at the floor, “Yes, I did.”
Nurmi responds, “Why?”Again, she repeats the same movements and answers, “Um, the simple answer is that he attacked me." Once she's back in position and looking at Nurmi, she suddenly remembers that she forgot to add the most important part of her answer. She swivels back toward the jury, looks down, repositions her chair toward her attorney, and, as an afterthought, says, “and I defended myself.”
Nurmi will have to fix this mistake. In a gentle voice, he says, “Okay.” No, Nurmi, it's not okay. It's not okay at all.
Nurmi continues, “It was also brought up during these proceedings that you gave an interview with "Inside Edition." Do you remember seeing that tape?” Arias, somber as a widow at a wake, answers, “Yes, I do.. Nurmi continues, “And in that tape, you said that no jury would ever convict you – something to that effect. Do you remember saying that?” It wasn't something to that effect, it was worse than that. She challenged the audience to mark her words that no jury would convict her.
Looking like a guilty shoplifter caught on videotape, Arias has no choice but to confess to her arrogance. With equal parts faux contrition and humiliation, she says, “Yeah. I did say that.” Nurmi asks, “Why?” Let the show begin.
You will now see why Arias was on the stand for a record 18 days. She does not give direct answers, and that is by design. She was just asked why she said “no jury will convict me.” Instead of answering this very pointed question, she will cloud the issue by suggesting that her answer requires context to be understood. She will not say, “I said that because...” Instead, she will take us back to a period of time, and she will put a spotlight on that period of time, while hoping that we all forget what the pointed question was. She is believing that the average listener will become far more interested in the context than the answer. Almost every important question will be carefully framed with details that nobody asks her about, including her attorney.
Here's the first example: “Umm, I made that statement in September, 2008 (she pauses to display a look of indecision) – I think it was, and umm, at the time, I had plans to commit suicide, haaaah – (again with the closed eyes, swiveling chair, and the added feature of a huge exhale while looking at the ground). Um, so I was extremely confident that no jury would convict me because I didn't expect any of you to be here. I didn't expect to be here, so I could have easily said no jury would acquit me either (except she didn't say that), but I didn't say that, though, because there was an officer sitting five feet behind me, and had I told them the reason that no jury would convict me AT THAT TIME (she uses her hand to punctuate those words because they are so important), I would have been thrown into a padded cell and stripped down, and that would have been my life for a while, until I stabilized. Um, soooo, I was very confident that no jury would convict me because I planned to be dead – probably the most bitter words I'll ever eat.”
Nurmi would like that last announcement repeated. So, as he will do from time to time, he pretends that he didn't hear what Arias just said. He asks, “I'm sorry, what was that?” Arias repeats, “I said, those are probably the most bitter words I'll ever eat” Really? That's hard to believe, isn't it? Don't you think there was some discussion she had with Travis before she slaughtered him? There were probably far more bitter words uttered on June 4, 2008, but since the general public will never know what those words were, she doesn't have to eat them.
Poor suicidal Jodi. She is so depressed, so hopeless, and so on target to die that she can smile and argue her innocence during a pretrial interview. Her higher brain functions were completely intact. She wants us to believe that she was so numb that she was prepared to take her own life, but inexplicably, she was still plotting. The average potential, determined suicide no longer cares about most things, but Arias did. She not only notices the guard sitting five feet away from her, but she also knows what that guard will do to her if she doesn't hide her suicidal ideations. She's planning to die by her own hand, anticipating her final exit, yet her strategic faculties are still completely intact.
There's that odd, uncomfortable feeling that often accompanies a lie that falls flat, but Nurmi knows when the silence becomes too awkward. He breaks the silence with, “Miss Arias, I want to clarify another thing as well. You were talking here – uh, um – your name has been pronounced, through most of this trial as Arias (Ah-ree-is). Is there another way to pronounce it, or have you always pronounced it Arias?” From suicide to name pronunciation in one question. Carry on, Nurmi. How does she pronounce her last name? I would assume that after years of being her attorney, Nurmi would have this information, but what's another diversion when your goal is to skirt around the real issue?
She reaches down to rub her leg and answers, “I've heard it pronounced about seven different ways. I say Arias, as does the rest of my family.” That's it? I was expecting at least two alternate pronunciations – after all, according to Arias, there are seven. What was the point of even asking this question? Was this interchange meant to impress upon a possible Hispanic juror that Jodi would have pronounced the family name differently had her parents not preferred to dilute its ethnic quality? Make no mistake, this seemingly insignificant interchange was more than a superfluous detail. It had a purpose.
Now that we know who we're talking to, Nurmi moves on. He asks, “So, let's back up a little bit and talk about your family. Who's in your immediate family?” Where are we going to back up to? She's been on the stand for all of three minutes. Okay, this is Nurmi's show. Let's play, “Meet the Murderer”!
Arias says, “Um, my immediate family consists of...” The prosecutor, Juan Martinez, interrupts with an objection based on relevancy. It's overruled. Arias begins again, “Um, I'm the oldest of my parents, um, they also had another son about two years after I was born (so is she a son, too?). My, um, brother. And then I have, um, another younger sister, and I have another younger brother. I also have an older sister from a previous marriage of my father's.” Nurmi wants to see if he can remember all of that information, but before he does, he decides to get the names of all these family members. Arias tells us that her parents are Bill and Sandy Arias. Nurmi wants to know if they are still married. “Yes, about 33 years,” says Arias. What's next? Are we going to hear how many tiers were on their wedding cake? Can we move along?
Nurmi goes through the Arias family members with a fine tooth comb. As we learn the first names of the forever branded Arias siblings (Carl, Angela, and Joseph), I almost expect Nurmi to ask them to stand up, introduce themselves, and perhaps tell the audience a little something about themselves. It's getting that casual. Nurmi wants to know when the two younger siblings were born. Arias informs anyone who cares that her sister. Angela, was born when Jodi Arias was 11, and Joseph, the baby of the Arias tribe, was born when Jodi Arias was 13. Armed with information that would only interest a genealogist or a family photographer, Nurmi proceeds. He asks Arias what year she was born. She answers, “In 1980.”.He then asks, “Do you remember where you grew up?”
Arias answers, “Yeah. I grew up in a few different cities. I was born in Salinas, California, and I lived there until I was almost 12. Um (she looks at Nurmi for some direction as to whether or not she's supposed to go on with her answer or wait for another question).” Nurmi picks up the ball and asks her what life was like in Salinas. Remember what she says here. This is important and it will come into play a little later in the trial.
She answers, “For the first years of my life, it was really good. Um...” Nurmi duly interrupts and asks for some clarification: What does Arias mean by first years? She answers, “I would say until about age 7, it was a fairly ideal childhood.” Ideal childhood? That sounds pretty good to me. However, Nurmi, the keen critical thinker, sees some ambiguity in his client's statement. He reminds the jury that everyone has a different concept of ideal. Right now, the only definition that matters is the definition hiding inside the head of Jodi Arias. He asks for that definition, and he is immediately rewarded with this answer, one he probably helped script: “Um, I have predominantly positive memories of my childhood at that time. Um, my brother and I lived in – when I was about 4 years old, we moved into a house in a cul-de-sac. We had the center lot, so it was a huge back yard, and we had a lot of places to play there. Um, there were trees to climb. There were other kids in the neighborhood and in the cul-de-sac that we played with, um – we were close in age, so we were, um – my family traveled a lot. We went camping. We went to all the theme parks in California (she waves her hand from left to right). Um...”. Nurmi cuts her off and asks, “Did you go to school?” She answers, “Of course, yes, I went to school." Nurmi, she just used the word “predominantly”. They don't teach five syllable filler words at camp sites and theme parks.
Arias, looking dull and uninterested, stares at Nurmi as he asks if she went to grade school in Salinas. She answers, “Yes. I went to a private school for about three years, and a public school (she looks slightly nauseous as she nods her head once, looks at the jury, and then back toward Nurmi).” Nurmi asks her if she and her brother went to school together. While staring at the floor in front of her, she answers, “Uh, we were in school together. I was held back in kindergarten, so even though we were two years apart, he was only one grade behind me.” Arias shows a distinct discomfort in disclosing this information. Perhaps she is still adjusting to life on the witness stand, or she may not like having to admit that she failed “A is for Apple and B is for Ball.” She makes a weak gesture toward the jury with a few micro swivels of her chair, but her eyes lift to meet them only once, and it is for a second or less.
I have always found it interesting that this is the first and last time we will hear about the little girl who failed kindergarten. The fact that the Arias family lived on the center lot of a cul-de-sac tells us nothing about little Jodi Arias, but a school's justification for choosing to remediate that same child, after her first year of standardized education could be enlightening. Statistically, boys are far more likely to be held back in kindergarten than girls. Kindergarten is the genesis of formal education. Why was Jodi Arias deemed too ill equipped to move forward to the first grade? Was she not coloring in the lines? Was she not able to tell the difference between red and blue? Was there an organic disability, perhaps dyslexia, that was diagnosed? Perhaps the issue was more social than intellectual. Perhaps she was oppositional, defiant, or unable to socialize. What happened? Surely, if the issue was not behavioral, the defense would have asked that question. Whatever it was, it will remain a mystery. It will never be addressed again.
Jodi's first foray into the world of other children, a structured environment with new authority, was met with failure and a need to try it all again. However, Nurmi believes it is more important for the jury to focus on the employment history of Sandy Arias, Jodi's mother. We learn that Sandy was a server (a/k/a waitress, but Jodi won't use that word) in Jodi's father's restaurants (plural) throughout most of Jodi's childhood. She adds that her father “always” owned restaurants. Apparently, Sandy had a career change in 1992, right about the time Jodi turned 12. Sandy became a dental assistant. Yawn.
Now, Nurmi wants to know what little Jodi's interests were during childhood. She answers, “Yes, I had pets – cats, dog, fish. I had a rat. I loved animals. We had a lot of pets. My brother had frogs...things like that. Um, we played a lot of hopscotch and two square when we were younger. We went roller skating. They didn't really have rollerblades yet...or at least that we used. Um, we rode bikes a lot. We did a lot of camping. Um, I'm sorry. I kind of forgot the question.” There's an almost perceptible chuckle in Nurmi's voice as he says, “You're speaking very quietly. Are you nervous today?” Isn't this sad? A random, geeky ( 33 year old) teen is being asked to tell us how she feels – after being charged with a murder she committed. She answers, “Um, Yeah. Yes, I am, very nervous.” Nurmi interrupts in the middle of her answer to say, “What's that?” Big deal. She's nervous. I'd be nervous facing a judge for a moving violation. I'd assume I'd be paralyzed by nerves if the charge was murder one. Nurmi tries to soothe her anxiety by telling her to pull the microphone closer to her. She complies. If you knew nothing about Jodi Arias, this shy girl performance might actually be believable.
Let's get back to her answer, the one preceded by the forgotten question. Without even addressing the issue of a fish as a pet, can we talk about the dog? Arias said, during her interrogation in 2008, that she had a dog. That dog, Doggy Boy, was a pet she mentioned to Detective Esteban Flores after her indictment (which coincidentally occurred without her knowledge on her 28th birthday) and arrest. When Flores asked her if she had anger issues, Arias initially denied the suggestion. She quickly changed her mind and offered a sad story about Doggy Boy. Detailing the events of an afternoon in which an adolescent Jodi was saddled with the care of her younger siblings, Arias said that Doggy Boy, a pet she claimed the family failed to take care of properly, got into some garbage bags and dragged discarded diapers all over the back yard of the family home. Arias's reaction was to kick Doggy Boy in anger. She said he “only moved a couple of feet,” but he ran, and they never saw him again. But yes, she loved animals. She subsequently cried and said she needed to ask Doggy Boy for his forgiveness. Then she spent two days denying the murder of Travis Alexander. She still hasn't asked for his forgiveness.
So, to sum up, we have a child who enjoyed a rather routine, status quo childhood in middleclass suburbia. Seriously? A cul-de-sac? It doesn't get more clichéd than that. In her own monotone, barely audible words, we heard her say that her childhood was almost ideal -- a blend of California theme parks, camping trips, private school, and public school. This sounds like a good life for a child, until....the beatings began.
What beatings, you ask? Keep reading. The beatings are coming. The stage is being set now. In fact, Bill and Sandy Arias will morph into child abusers right before your eyes (and it will be before your eyes because Sandy is in the gallery staring at her daughter. Jodi's father is hit and miss with trial attendance, and today, it's miss). The parents who indulged their young children with day trips, vacations, toys, and the expense of private school, will become nothing more or less than sentient mitigating factors meant to spare Jodi Arias from the death penalty. In fact, they will be nothing more than implications connected to the mitigator, “Jodi suffered abuse and neglect as a child”.
Back in the courtroom, Nurmi asks, “Jodi, one of the things that you said a couple of questions ago when we were speaking is that, um, your life was pretty ideal up until about age 7. Was there something different after age 7, or...” Arias answers, “Um, it just seemed like our parents would spank us, or just hit us.” Arias says something changed when she reached the age of 7. What might that something be? Was there something, either pivotal or progressive, that made its presence known in 1987? A starting point might shed some light on her parents' transformation from guardians and caretakers to abusive dictators. How did that happen? Did 1987 mark the year that her parents began to drink just a little too much? Were their bills burying them in a grave of hopelessness and frustration? Did they face the death of an immediate family member? Did one of them introduce recreational drugs to the marriage? What happened? We are offered nothing to explain her parents' transformation from the providers of an ideal childhood to the instigators of emotional and mental distress in their oldest child. Nothing. I will concede that a 7 year old might not be able to articulate the reasons for such a change, but I do not believe that this same child, having reached the age of 33, has not gained some clarity as to what marked the genesis of this change. The follow-up questions prove that Kirk Nurmi is not interested or prepared to explore those possibilities. Instead, he simply wants his witness to tell us about the result of the alleged change.
Nurmi's sentimental tone of voice is overplayed as he asks Arias to explain the change. Referring to the spankings, she replies, "Well, I was spanked before, on occasion. It just seemed like the frequency and intensity of it increased around that age." Nurmi asks her what that means. I speak English, so I know what that means, but apparently, Arias is having a little trouble comprehending the question. She looks unsure of herself as she answers, “Uhh, well just, (there's a lengthy pause here as she looks at Nurmi pleadingly. Her affect is questionable) I think that's the first year my dad started using the belt. Umm, (she pauses, looks down, licks her lips, rubs her leg, and finally, with her voice sounding like it's about to break, she continues), my mom began to carry a wooden spoon in her purse (now she's just about to cry).” Juan Martinez interrupts with, “Objection, relevance”, and the judge sustains the objection. While watching her, I can almost see Arias thinking “Oh shit, and I was just about to push out a tear! Why did Martinez interrupt my performance?”
Nurmi doesn't like to be interrupted. He likes it even less when his client's Oscar worthy performance is aborted, so he does something he will do many times during this direct examination. He looks at the judge and asks, “May we approach?”Judge Sherry Stephens, as she will do with only several exceptions in this trail, grants the request. “May we approach” is not the same as on objection. “May we approach” is exactly what it sounds like. The attorneys from both sides – one side strutting and the other side shuffling (depending on which side wants to approach), stand in front of the judge's bench and argue their positions. The judge always turns on a white noise machine to prevent anyone outside of the inner circle from hearing the arguments going on at the bench. These bench conferences can be as quick as a minute, or they can last up to 10 minutes or more. The majority of them – as in 90 percent – come from the defense, and they are often requested when the judge overrules their objection. Many times, the argument the defense articulates at the bench causes the judge to give more latitude to the defense than her original decision allowed. Many judges don't allow them at all, some judges allow them in extreme situations, but this judge will allow them upon request. There will be more “may we approach” bench conferences than you can count in this trial.
While the secret arguments play out, the camera focuses on Sandy, Jodi's mother, and her twin sister, Sue. Sandy sits in the gallery with no expression on her face. Just before the camera leaves the sisters, we see Sue making a physical gesture of comfort. It appears as though she is either touching her sister's right leg or her right hand.
In this silent timeout, the camera next focuses on Jodi Arias. She is red-faced. She looks down, breathes noticeably, and then looks towards her left. This is where her attorneys and the prosecutor are arguing their positions before the judge as to the relevance of the portable wooden spoon Sandy carried in her purse, circa 1987.
The camera catches Arias as she is watching her attorneys at the bench, and her lips have retracted into her mouth. She turns her head from her attorneys and looks down. This is an uncomfortably long side bar – a foreshadowing of things to come. The camera then focuses on Tanisha Alexander Sorenson and Samantha Alexander, sisters of the victim. Both bear the features of their brother, Travis Alexander, but Samantha is the female version of her brother. Tanisha stares at the lawyers congregated before Judge Stephen's bench. Samantha looks at Jodi Arias.
As the camera comes back to Jodi Arias, it becomes obvious that she knows who is in her direct line of vision: Tanisha and Samantha. She keeps her head down. She does not want to meet their eyes in this still, formal silence. Still, she continues to turn her head to the left to steal a look at what is happening at the bench. After two minutes and 30 seconds, the judge finally breaks the uneasy silence with her ruling. Whatever was discussed at the bench, in the judge's estimation, it is not irrelevant to discuss the wooden spoon Sandy Arias allegedly carried in her purse 26 years ago. Arias' reaction to the ruling is crass -- she wipes her mouth with her hand. Then, she focuses on Kirk Nurmi, who has now returned to the podium.
Nurmi is now faced with the task of getting Arias back into character. He begins, “Jodi, first of all, do us all a favor, and I know it's difficult, and I know you're nervous, you told us before, but if you could just speak up a little louder and make sure everybody can hear ya, okay?” Translation: We can move beyond the shy, frightened act. You've made your first impression. Let's take it to that Level 2 voice we talked about, okay?” Arias agrees to speak up.
Nurmi continues, “You were just now telling us that your mother carried a spoon with her. What did she do with that spoon?” Arias answers, “Um, it was a wooden kitchen spoon that she would keep in her purse.” You would think, judging from Arias's countenance and embarrassed tone, that she's talking about a canister of pepper spray or a stun gun that Sandy Arias used on her children.
Moving along, Arias continues, “And, um, if we were misbehaving, my brother and I – this was before Angela and Joseph were born – um, although it continued through that point -- if we were misbehaving, she would use it on us (she flips her right hand quickly). Sometimes, she would pull the car over, and, you know, or if we were just being brats or something.” She swivels back towards Nurmi just in time to meet his next question: “What do you mean by use it on you?” Well, what could she mean, Mr. Nurmi? Did Sandy stir them up as if they were ingredients in a mixing bowl? She beat them with it, of course. Let's get all of the ugly details, and let's pretend that she is actually answering questions that aren't in the script he authored and she rehearsed.
Arias replies, “She would hit us with it.”Nurmi, completely ignoring that a kitchen spoon is nowhere near as lethal as a knife or a gun, asks, “Did she hit you hard?” Arias, the 9 year old on the stand, says, “It left welts.” Nurmi, channeling a social worker, asks, “It left welts on your body?” No, Nurmi, it left welts on the car. Oh, how tragic this is. I think Travis Alexander, had he been given a choice, would have selected Sandy and her spoon as opposed to Jodi and her knife. Arias looks traumatized as she answers, “Uh-huh, yes.” Nurmi pretends to care as he asks, “When your dad hit you with the belt, did that leave welts on your body?” Juan Martinez interrupts and says, “Objection. Lack of foundation.” Nurmi does his best “Huh, are you kidding me?” expression as he stares at the judge and moves his left hand up and down for emphasis. Nurmi is told to rephrase his question.
He rephrases, “You told us that you dad hit you with the belt." Arias answers, “Yes.” Nurmi continues, “After age 7?”.She answers, “Yes.” Nurmi asks, “Did he leave welts?” Arias answers, “Um, he didn't leave welts as often as my mom. She also used a belt. My dad was very intimidating, so I don't think he needed to hit us quite as hard to get the point across. My mom didn't carry that fear factor with her, so I think she used more force. So, her blows felt a lot worse, actually.”
The camera pans to Sandy and Aunt Sue. Sandy is stone faced, staring straight ahead. Aunt Sue seems to be stifling a grin. Neither woman is remotely attractive, but Sandy is the more haggard of the two middle-aged women. She's more bloated than her sister, more affected, I suppose, by the fact that she gave birth to someone who is a human butcher. As if that isn't enough weight to carry in this world, that butcher, the woman who tortured and slaughtered a man, is now going to point a bony finger of accusation in her direction. I'm sorry, but as a mother, I would not be here.
So, what are we dealing with? Are we supposed to invest our emotions into this story? Are we supposed to picture Sandy Arias, circa 1987, pulling her car over, dramatically slamming on the brakes as the gravel flies on some dusty shoulder of the road? Are we supposed to see Sandy reaching into her purse to retrieve her weapon of choice? Are we supposed to cry when envisioning her reaching over her seat to start whacking at her children? If that's the case, Nurmi is out of luck. There's already a movie playing on the screen in my head, and it shows a man being stabbed, sliced, and shot.
Realizing that puddles of blood will always trump welts, Nurmi ask Arias “to discern for us how many times a week your mother would beat her with this spoon.” Arias replies, “Um, I don't recall how many times, particularly, but it seemed like it could go anywhere from four times a week to once every two weeks. It just depended.” Instead of asking the obvious, “It depended on what?” Nurmi says, “Okay”.
I find it interesting that Arias can remember the schedule of spoon beatings from 26 years ago, but she draws a complete blank when she's asked what she and Travis Alexander argued about when she was circling his block in her U-Haul when pulling out of Mesa. She just couldn't seem to come up with anything on that subject. Oh wait, there was something she remembered about that event. She remembers mean old Travis standing in front of his house giving her a very rude gesture. With both middle fingers extended in the air, Travis gave Arias her final goodbye as she carted her crap out of Mesa for the last time. I'm getting way ahead of the testimony, but try and remember the level of detail she can recall about 1987 when we finally get to 2008. Ask her about the decades old beatings that will become mitigating factors and she's a human video camera. Ask her why her victim cursed her as he finally cut the cord that bound them together and she can't remember anything.
Now we turn a corner. We're going to be regaled with details of second grade extracurricular activities. In a cottony soft tone of voice that will eventually have the same effect as razor blades assaulting your ears, Arias recalls her lessons in piano, flute, and karate. Her interests, she says, were art and reading books. This must be the ideal part of her childhood, unless her parents were beating her with her flute and she was defending herself with Karate moves.
Arias say that her pets "were central" to her life, but Nurmi does not ask her to explain that. Instead, Nurmi pounces on the art comment. He wants details. He wants to know what areas of the "art world" appealed to the second grader. Perhaps Nurmi is expecting a sophisticated answer from Arias – something like Impressionism or Surrealism, but I think he should temper his expectations. I think we're heading into the genre of the glitter, glue, paint, and poster board art. Still, he presses on.
Arias responds, and I'm not sure if I should laugh or roll my eyes. In total seriousness, she answers, “Yeah. I liked, well, when I was younger. I liked to color, just with Crayolas, and my older sister and I would color, and we – there were a lot of colors – just – she had the big box with all of the Crayolas, and so we would just draw pictures and watch cartoons, and that sort of thing. And, so, I would have coloring books, and I just began to take an interest in that because I wasn't able to draw what I saw, but I would see the art and it would fascinate me, so I slowly began to practice doing that.”.What did she just say? She liked to color? She just invoked the name, “Crayola” twice, and she seems to have little else to say about her early interest in the “art world.” So, summing up, we're left to marvel at, “there were lots of colors.”
What just happened? We were in the wonderful world of color, and now Nurmi is going to drag everyone back to – gasp – the beatings. He asks, “At this point in time, did the beatings from your mother and father, did they continue?” Arias looks at Nurmi and says simply, “Yes.” If we had to talk about the number of crayons she wanted, I'm assuming we're going to have to get some beating details.
Right on cue, Nurmi asks, “Did they increase in nature?” She answers, “They began to increase, I'd say, all the way through my teenage years (she waves her finger as she finishes her sentence).” That's a rather large span of time, isn't it? Is that why she waved her finger as she finished answering? Was she telling the jury that the beatings covered the entire seven years of her teenaged life? She will contradict this statement shortly, but for now, this is what Arias and her lawyer would like the jury to believe. I find it interesting that Nurmi, a lawyer who seems intent on eliciting as much banality as possible from every answer, skips over details that are far more important than coloring books and crayons. Don't worry. We won't skip over anything.
He pushes further and asks, “Did the level of the brutality increase?” Arias sighs before answering, “Yes, my brother and I would – we didn't like being hit – I know I didn't. So we would squirm around a little and the more we squirmed, the more, the harder they would try to whack us. So, just as that progressed, we...things would increase. At one point, I don't think she meant to, but my mom broke my brother's vein in his wrist. He was putting his hands behind his back to block one of her blows, and you know. Ever since I became a teenager, my dad would get rougher and rougher.”
This sounds familiar. Where have I heard this before? Oh, yes, that's right. I read this excerpt from a manuscript authored by Travis Alexander, her victim. Writing about his desperately sad and horrific childhood in his book Raising You, Travis wrote: “I learned how to turn so that when she (his mother) hit me, she would strike my back and arms. The pain was less there”.
Focusing on Arias's testimony, try to remember what she just said – her father became “rougher and rougher” when she became a teenager. She will contradict that statement as well. For the moment, I'm wondering who is on trial here? Are Bill and Sandy Arias being pulled into Family Court 20 years too late to answer for crimes against their children, or is their daughter, Jodi Arias, in Superior Court fighting charges of premeditated, first-degree murder? It is also interesting to note that Arias shows no emotion or embarrassment as she recalls being “whacked” and “beaten” by her parents, despite the fact that her mother, now branded a child abuser, is sitting in the front row of the gallery, stone faced and staring at her daughter.
Before Nurmi gets to “rougher and rougher,” which he said he intends to do, he asks, “How did you feel? How did it feel when your own mother was beating you?” It's a rhetorical question, of course. It was formulated to inject the jury with a healthy dose of contempt for Sandy Arias. It was also designed to paint Jodi Arias as a victim, not a perpetrator, as the state's evidence strongly suggests. Arias answers, “When I was younger, I remember feeling – I didn't have a word for it then, but I can describe it as betrayed. And confused. As I got older, it would really make me mad because, I just didn't, I didn't get why, I don't know. I understood that I was being punished, but I would just be mad at her – a lot. Because it hurt.” Oddly enough, there is an almost imperceptible grin on her face.
Now that the jury has heard about the physical and emotional pain that allegedly marred Arias's childhood, Nurmi decides that this is the perfect climate in which to introduce the qualities of benevolence and forgiveness that are inherent in his client – the woman accused of a brutal murder. Referring to Sandy Arias, Nurmi asks, “But you still loved her.” This is a declaration, not a question, and Arias replies, “Yeah, I loved my mom.” Nurmi interrupts and says, “Even though she was still beating you, you still loved her.” Another declarative statement rather than a question. Again, there is nothing to answer, but Arias says, “It put a strain on our relationship, but I still loved her, of course.”
Arias has an odd affect. Her tone is flat and any sign of emotion is missing. Aside from that one almost-grin, there is nothing to read in her vocal inflections, facial expressions, or body language. To recount crippling childhood brutality with such a consistent attitude of indifference, to maintain direct eye contact with the individual digging into the traumatic memories of an abused individual, and to recite those descriptions of abuse with such boredom, makes Arias seem disingenuous or heavily medicated. Frankly, her demeanor makes it difficult to believe that she was the victim of a raised voice, let alone chronic physical abuse.
Nurmi is trying desperately to paint an ugly picture of bruised and frightened children. If he is to be believed – rather, if his client is to be believed – there was a dark secret in the Arias home, and that secret was that the parents assaulted their children with frequency.
Nurmi asks Arias to repeat the last thing she said, which was, “I still loved her.” As I said, that is a tactic he uses when he wants Arias to look better than the grand jury indictment permits her to look. He'll also use this tactic when he wants Travis Alexander, the true victim in this trial, to look like a demon covered in happy flesh. Not surprisingly, Nurmi will not use this “would you repeat that” tactic during any testimony he elicits from his client that relates to the way in which she planned and carried out this brutal murder.