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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Murder trials, not soap operas

    In May 2013, a jury found Jodi Arias guilty for the 2008 murder in Mesa of her lover, Travis Alexander. It then decided that her crime was “cruel, heinous or depraved,” making Arias eligible for the death penalty. During the sentencing phase of the trial, however, the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision about whether to assign the death penalty or life in prison. The hung jury prompted Judge Sherry Stephens to declare a mistrial. Arias’ retrial is set for Sept. 29.

    Last week, The Arizona Republic published an article explaining that Stephens wouldn’t let Arias’ lawyer remove himself from the case after he and co-counsel Jennifer Willmott were ordered to act as legal advisers.

    Scroll down in the online version of the article and there is a timeline labeled “Jodi Arias Murder Case: 20 Top Moments,” followed by additional articles. There’s also a page on the website titled, “Killer Romance: Inside the Jodi Arias Trial,” an archive of the case from January 2013 through June 2013.

    A reader might easily mistake the page for a Law & Order SVU promotional site. It almost makes one forget that Arias is a real human being, not a character in a soap opera.

    The Arizona Republic’s coverage of the Jodi Arias trial reflects the countrywide attention that the case has generated. During the trial, Arias dominated social media and national television. The case developed a cult-like following, and passionate protestors cried out for vengeance against Arias. As the retrial date looms nearer, the general public will undoubtedly begin to rehash a favorite debate: whether or not Arias deserves to live.

    If death were not on the table, the sentencing portion of Arias’ trial would be over. Passion would have been removed from the deliberation process, and Arias would already have begun serving a life sentence. But because the prosecution refused to settle for life in prison, taxpayers must continue to fund the trial, which has already cost more than $2 million. And should the new jury reach a guilty verdict, a recent study by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center indicates that the cost of appeals in death penalty cases exceeds the price of lifetime incarceration.

    The death penalty desensitizes people to an institution that allows citizens to kill other citizens. By portraying death penalty trials as sick reality shows, the media glorifies government-sanctioned murder and trivializes the grave nature of capital cases. That it has become socially acceptable to engage in casual dinner conversation about Arias’ fundamental right to life provides evidence for this phenomenon.

    Furthermore, sensationalistic news stories about death penalty proceedings undermine the justice system by preventing defendants from receiving unbiased trials. It seems impossible that the picketers and television crews swarming Jodi Arias’ courtroom did not exert any influence on the jury. Such media attention creates an environment where public perception is more important than the search for truth.

    Regardless of Arias’ innocence or guilt, the idea that putting a person to death can be taken so lightly is abhorrent. Ultimately, so long as the death penalty is practiced in this country, we will face the continued devaluation of life at the hands of the media.

    —Elizabeth Hannah is a neuroscience & cognitive science sophomore. Follow her @ehannah10

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