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On death row, Jodi Arias would be the rare woman

Rob Schumacher / Arizona Republic via Reuters

Jodi Arias stands as the jury enters the courtroom during the penalty phase of her murder trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, Ariz., May 22, 2013.

If an Arizona jury decides she deserves the death penalty for the brutal murder of her former boyfriend, Jodi Arias will join 63 women currently on death row nationally – a small group representing only about 2 percent of all death row inmates.

As of Jan. 1, there were 3,125 total inmates on death row in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

“About 10 percent of the murders in the United States are committed by women,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, “but only about 2 percent of the people on death row are women, and slightly less than 1 percent of those executed are women.”

Earlier this month, Arias, 32, was convicted of the brutal murder of ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander, who was stabbed 27 times, shot in the face and had his throat slashed.

In the immediate aftermath of the trial, she told a local radio station: "I said years ago that I'd rather get death than life, and that is still true today."

But in an interview last week with NBC’s Diana Alvear, Arias said she deserves life in prison instead of the death penalty because she still has a lot to contribute to society.

Eva Dugan

“What I receive will be what I deserve, I believe,’’ she told Alvear only hours after she begged the jury to spare her life.

The jurors failed to reach an agreement over whether she should receive the death penalty for killing Alexander.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens has called for a retrial in the penalty phase. The new jury will be impaneled on July 18, unless the prosecutor decides to no longer seek the death penalty and agrees to a life sentence.

Under Arizona law, if the new jury is seated and also cannot come to an agreement on sentencing, the judge would then decide whether Arias will spend life in prison or have the eligibility of parole after 25 years. A judge cannot sentence Arias to death.

Arizona is one of 32 U.S. states that have the death penalty. Two women and 122 men are currently on death row there. The only woman ever to be executed in the state was Eva Dugan, a convicted murderer who was executed by hanging in 1930.

"Juries are a little more reluctant to mete out the death penalty to a woman than a man," Andy Silverman, a law professor at the University of Arizona and a member of the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty, told Reuters.

"We don't look at women as being as violent ... We don't think of death row as a place for them," he added.

Nationally, more than 1,300 inmates have been executed since 1976 – only 12 of these were women.

“It’s not necessarily [just] a gender bias,” Dieter said. “Even though women commit murder, they rarely commit torture murder, or serial killings, or kidnap murders, or multiple murders in their life.”

But, he said, women’s cases are more often overturned or granted clemency.

Jodi Arias sits down with Diana Alvear after her day in court, in which she attempted to persuade a jury for a life sentence rather than the death penalty. In this extended interview, she talks about her comments in court and her thoughts of suicide.

Debra Milke, who was convicted of the murder of her son and sentenced to death in Arizona, had her conviction overturned in March after being on death row for 18 years.

Even if Arias gets the death penalty, it could take many years for her case to travel through the appeals process.

“It’s rarer and rarer that a woman gets executed for murder, but it could be, as I say, the extenuating circumstances rather than the gender,” Dieter said.

“There’s the crime and then there’s the whole life history of a person that a skillful lawyer will make sure gets into the jury’s consideration,” he added.

Arias’ lawyer Kirk Nurmi argued in court that Alexander subjected Arias to physical and emotional abuse, which could play big in her potential appeals.

"I am expecting that it will be at least 20 years before her case is final," Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who represents death row prisoners' appeals told Reuters.

"There may be a better understanding of the post-traumatic stress. Politically there may be a change in the governor's office, or in the legislature, or the clemency board," he added.


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