A woman who planned to testify as a character witness for Jodi Arias in a bid to spare her life decided Monday that she couldn’t go through with it, saying she had received death threats and was deeply conflicted about the case.
Lawyers for Arias, who was convicted earlier this month of the frenzied murder of an ex-lover, quickly asked for a mistrial in the sentencing phase on the grounds that a witness had been intimidated. The judge denied the request.
The potential witness, Patricia Womack, is a childhood friend of Arias who planned to testify about Arias’ abusive childhood. Besides the threats, she said that her heart went out to the family of Travis Alexander, whom Arias was convicted of killing.
“I couldn’t do it,” she told NBC News in an email. “I feel there is so much good in Jodi to be saved but then also someone’s dear life was taken.”
Jury finds Jodi Arias guilty of murdering boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Convicted murderer faces possibility of death sentence. NBC News' Chris Clackum reports.
Court abruptly adjourned for the day after lawyers for Arias said they had no witnesses to call. It remained possible that jurors in the sentencing phase would hear from Arias herself, perhaps Tuesday.
Karen DeSoto, a defense lawyer and legal analyst for MSNBC, said there were ways of overcoming Womack’s feelings of intimidation.
“If she really is scared, then turn the cameras off,” she said. “There’s a lot of ways to cure whether somebody can testify. Clear the courtroom.”
After the judge, Sherry Stephens of Maricopa County Superior Court, denied the mistrial request, lawyers for Arias asked to be taken off the case. The judge denied that request as well.
Arias, 32, was found guilty May 8 of first-degree murder. She admitted to killing Alexander after a day of sex. She shot him in the face, stabbed him more than 20 times and slit his throat ear to ear. At trial, she claimed self-defense.
Jurors, after hearing tearful statements from Alexander’s brother and sister, ruled that Arias had been “especially cruel,” a finding that made her eligible for the death penalty under Arizona law. The same jury is considering whether to sentence her to death.
Arias was briefly put on suicide watch after the conviction. Hours after the verdict, she told an Arizona TV station that she would rather get death than life and that death was the “ultimate freedom.”
Sheriff’s officials said Monday that Arias had been returned to the regular population at the county women’s jail after spending five days on suicide watch in a psychiatric ward, The Arizona Republic reported.
The Arias case, with its lurid details, has been widely followed. Arias dyed her hair, turned off her phone and drove 1,000 miles from California to Alexander’s home in Arizona on June 4, 2008.
Arias and Alexander had broken up after an affair. Arias testified that she had acted out Alexander’s every fantasy and even converted to his Mormon faith, but he nonetheless broke up with her and began dating — chastely, he told her — other women.
According to the testimony of some of Alexander’s friends, Arias did not take the breakup well, and began stalking her former beau and slashed his tires. Her extreme jealousy culminated in Alexander’s gruesome murder, the prosecutor argued.
Alastair Jamieson of NBC News contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 11:48 AM EDT