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Murderer Jodi Arias requests new venue in Arizona sentencing retrial

Jodi Arias addresses the jury during the penalty phase of her murder trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, Arizona May 21, 201
Jodi Arias addresses the jury during the penalty phase of her murder trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, Arizona May 21, 201

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Convicted killer Jodi Arias, who could face the death penalty for killing an ex-boyfriend, is seeking a change of venue for a sentencing phase retrial in her high profile murder case, saying she could not get a fair hearing in the Phoenix area, court documents showed on Wednesday.

The former waitress from California was convicted in May of killing her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, who was found dead in his shower in a Phoenix suburb in 2008, shot in the face and stabbed multiple times with his throat slashed.

But the same Maricopa County jury that found Arias guilty of murder deadlocked on whether she should be executed or sentenced to life in prison following a sensational trial that captured attention in the United States with its tale of a soft-spoken young woman accused of such a brutal crime.

The deadlock forced the judge to declare a penalty phase mistrial, and prosecutors are seeking to impanel a new jury for a sentencing retrial to determine her fate.

Lawyers for Arias, 33, said in a motion filed on Tuesday that the extensive media attention to the case in Maricopa County made it impossible for her to get a fair trial there, and asked for a change of venue to another Arizona county.

The motion described the publicity surrounding the trial, which was live-streamed on the internet, as "highly inflammatory with Ms. Arias frequently being referred to as a stalker, a liar, crazy and a seductress."

"It would be hard to argue that this publicity at issue did not create a circus-like atmosphere," attorney Kirk Nurmi argued in the brief, saying that 70 percent of the media coverage took place in Maricopa County.

According to Arizona law, prosecutors have the option of retrying the sentencing phase of the trial with a new jury to determine if Arias should be sentenced to death. If that jury deadlocks, a judge would sentence Arias to life in prison, or life with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery will continue to seek the death penalty for Arias, a spokesman said on Friday.

The judge presiding over the case, Sherry Stephens, said at a hearing last month that she hoped to start jury selection in September. But on Monday, she delayed setting a date to impanel a jury, instead setting another status hearing in the case for the middle of next month.

The initial five-month murder trial, which began in January, was packed with graphic testimony, bloody photographs and sexual situations. Arias took the stand for 18 days and maintained throughout that the killing was in self-defense despite fierce cross-examination by prosecutors.

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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