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Discretion in the Criminal Justice System

      Discretion is arguably the most important tool in a criminal justice professional’s arsenal. Without it, we would be robots. Even the ...

The Slaying of Travis Alexander by Jodi Arias

       Jodi Arias took the entire country by storm when she was on trial for the alleged murder of Travis Alexander. Sitting in court, Jodi had the portrayal of a sweet and innocent young women who couldn’t have possibly championed this terrible act of cruelty. She had the complete attention of the media, practically turning the jail into a studio. She attempted an alibi, covering her tracks, and flirting her way through the system, but her ignorance and arrogance would ultimately be her unraveling. If Jodi Arias had been a male, the entire case would have been different and wouldn’t have garnered the media attention, following, and support that it did. Jodi Arias used the guise of a sweet, young, attractive female to attempt to swerve the justice system and skirt responsibility for the maiming of Travis Alexander. 
The crime scene was grisly. Alexander’s blood was strewn about the shower and bathroom. He had multiple stab wounds as well as a slit throat that border lined a complete decapitation. There was a bullet hole in his head as well as a spent .25 caliber shell casing on the floor. The entire scene was as gruesome as it was emotional. The pictures taken of Travis Alexander’s decomposing body showed the weight of disrespect that Arias left the scene. His entire body was black, blue, and bloated beyond recognition showing the extreme trauma that being stabbed, severed, and shot will cause. He was naked and powerless, adding to the romanticism that fueled her actions.

      During the interrogation, Arias attempted multiple times to avoid questions. She only attempted to speak to the male detective, as she avoided questions when placed with a female detective. This shows that she knows she can manipulate men over women. When finally placed under arrest during the interrogation, she did a handstand and sang the song “Holy night.” These are very strange behaviors for a suspect to illicit while in custody.
       Her first story centered on two individuals breaking into the house and attacking Travis Alexander while he showered. According to her account of events, they threatened her, but spared her life. She stated that she immediately got into her car and drove to Utah as fast as she could. The problem with this story, however, is that the weapon, a very strange and rare caliber, was the same caliber as one that was stolen from her grandparents’ house months before. There was also a partially destroyed digital camera in the washer which had intimate pictures from before the execution as well as a picture of his dead body on the floor with a glimpse of her foot. These pictures placed her at the scene of the crime.

        Her second story, at the beginning of the trial, changed to self-defense. Travis Alexander was not only killed and put on display in front of his entire family, but now he was getting his character assassinated. Text messages, emails, and phone calls were used to attempt to make him into a sex crazed, violent, vindictive boyfriend. They also tried to cast him as a pedophile, but lacking any hard evidence, was unsuccessful. The defensive wounds on his arms and the fact that he was stabbed to such an excessive amount also provided the prosecution with an argument against self-defense. The main thing that Juan Martinez, the district attorney in charge of putting Jodi Arias in prison, needed to prove was pre-meditation. Pre-meditating a murder perfectly cancels out self-defense as it shows steps taken by the defendant to plan out the murder. Juan Martinez got his big break in the form of a testimony from an ex-boyfriend, and the spots where cell phone towers received signals from her phone.

        She claimed that her cell phone had died during her trip to Utah but upon looking at the cell tower information, it was clear that she was hiding something. Her phone managed to lose signal just outside of Arizona, after passing through Los Angeles, California. It managed to re-gain the signal just outside of Arizona again on the northern border. While this doesn’t prove that she drove through phoenix, it is highly suspicious. When coupled with the testimony from the ex-boyfriend, it’s obvious that Jodi Arias was lying about her claim to self-defense.

        Darryl Brewer and Jodi Arias had been romantically involved before she met Travis Alexander. They remained friends throughout the years, and when she came to him for help, he didn’t turn her away. He testified on the tenth day of the trial that she had contacted him to borrow two gas cans for a trip to Arizona. He obliged, not knowing her intentions at the time. With the gas cans, she wouldn’t need to stop in Arizona for gas, ensuring that no paper trail or cameras would spot her. (EarntheNecklace) This is pre-meditation at its finest and moots the self-defense defense she attempted to hide behind.

        In Arizona, capital punishment must meet certain requirements. The murder must be in the first degree and be accompanied with mitigating circumstances. The mitigating circumstances include previous homicides on record, homicides of victims under fifteen-years-old or over seventy, whether the victim was a peace officer, or whether the offender was in the corrections system at the time of the homicide. The most important mitigating factor in Jodi Arias’ case, however, was if the crime transpired in an “…especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner.” (Findlaw) Juan Martinez was seeking the death penalty for Jodi Arias, and with the help of the brutal pictures and autopsy reports, would attempt to prove that Travis Alexander suffered tremendous agony in the final minutes of his life.

        In 2004, Juan Martinez prosecuted the first female to receive capital punishment in Arizona. Wendi Andriano, who did not want to be married any longer to her terminally ill husband, poisoned him with Sodium Azide, an ingredient used for airbag deployment. She was having multiple affairs, and when she was broken up with by a lover because of her familial and wifely responsibilities, she decided that her husband had to be removed from the picture. (AZCentral)

        On October 8, 2000, a call was placed from Wendi to 9-1-1 to report her husband having a heart attack. When paramedics showed up on the scene, they were greeted by a locked door and had to call dispatch to ensure that there was in fact, an emergency at the residence. They turned away, unknowingly leaving Joe Andriano, the husband, dying on the floor inside of the house. Several hours later she called 9-1-1 again and stated that she had beaten and stabbed Joe Andriano to death in an act of self-defense. Juan Martinez would go on to prosecute her in court and she was handed the first ever death penalty for a female in the state of Arizona. (Martinez, Conviction: The Untold Story  of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars)

        The way that Martinez was successful in attaining the death row conviction against Wendi Andriano lied in the prolonged agony that Joe Andriano suffered before succumbing to death. In the State of Arizona, the death penalty can be handed down if the suspect caused unreasonable pain and agony to the victim before the homicide. Martinez needed to prove this in front of a jury so that the execution of Jodi Arias could transpire.

      One of the most interesting things about the differences in gender and crime lie in the way that the media handles the case. Unless someone reads the news daily, they may not hear of every single case involving a first-degree murder charge, especially if it lacks the death row punishment. This is, of course, unless the assailant is a female. According to a quarterly report by the Criminal Justice Project of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. from 2017 shows that of all 1,455 executions that have taken place in the United States since 1976, only 16 of them were female. That’s only 1% of the entire executions which means that any time the death penalty is being sought against a female, the media is going to showcase it. (Fins, Death Row U.S.A.)

       When it comes to sentencing, class, gender, and socio-economic status absolutely has something to do with the incarceration rate or how likely someone is to be incarcerated. Just with the way that our bail system is laid out, the rich have all of the power. If I were to be arrested today, I would have to dip into my savings to post bail, assuming I have enough, which would cause major financial strain on my family. It might be worth it to actually just stay in jail instead. This means that the rich are automatically at an advantage as they can just immediately post bail and leave. Also, according to an article written by Jeanne Kuang, “In the Cook County study, based on court data from 2011 to 2013, those held in custody on the lowest class of felony charges are not only more likely to end up with convictions; they also are ten times as likely to be sentenced to state prison as those with the same charges who are released on bond before trial.” (Injustice Watch) This means essentially that if you are released on bail, and can afford it, you probably won’t get convicted in this county where the research was conducted.

       Women are also a lot less likely to be sentenced to prison than a man in the same situation for the same crime. According to another article “Women were less likely to be detained before trial. They were 46 percent less likely than men to held in jail prior to a trial,” and, “Women who were released on bond were given lower bond amounts. Their bonds were set at amounts that were 54 percent lower than what men were required to pay.” They were also “58 percent less likely to be sentenced to prison.” (Journalist's Resources) This means that yes, being a woman does help in the criminal justice system, especially if you’re white. From the same study, “Black women were assigned higher bond amounts and were more likely to be sent to prison than white women.” (Journalist's Resources)

       Jodi Arias showed a multitude of similarities to Ted Bundy in the handling of the media and her case. Although she never represented herself, she still took the stand and testified, which is rare for the defendant do. Ted Bundy was treated a certain way because of his good looks, which is something that Jodi Arias used to her advantage as well. She also used her looks to try and sway any male counterparts that got in her way as well, even freezing up when placed in front of a female detective. Ted Bundy used the opposite gender by placing a female on the stand to give his character credibility and even proposed to her during his cross examination. They later married and had a child together.

       The way they handled the media was shockingly similar as well. Both attempted to grab the media’s attention (a feat not particularly difficult for either of them.) A lot of their actions during the trials were out-of-the-ordinary, such as the wedding proposal by Ted Bundy as well as Jodi Arias’ use of the “Survivor” shirt to the jury and claiming that she was a domestic abuse victim as well. Ted Bundy attempted to show himself as a kind, good-hearted man when in reality he brutally massacred women before and after having sex with them. Jodi Arias had sex with Travis Alexander, as well as having illicit recording of their sexual escapades together read aloud in the court. She also brutally massacred him just after they finished having sex. The similarities between these cases is proof that pretty faces and sexual homicides fuels the media and grabs the attention of the country like nothing else. It makes people question whether or not the pretty face and smooth talker is capable of what they’re being tried for.
       The single biggest similarity in their case and trial, however, was the fact that neither of them believed they would be caught and tried. The last few years of Bundies’ life was filled with his own misunderstanding about the consequences he faced. He truly didn’t think he was going to be executed when everything was said and done. This is essentially the same way Jodi Arias acted after the sentencing, even doing a media interview proclaiming her innocence directly after the trial. For both of them, they never truly weighed the risk of their actions before committing them. 

       Jodi Arias suffered from poor self-control as well. According to the interviews between the detective and her parents, she was used to always getting away with things and “freaking out” when she could not. (Associated Press) This behavior shows a pattern of lack of self-control, and when she could not have Travis Alexander, she decided that nobody could.

       In 2004, Travis Hirschi, one of the original writers of A General Theory of Crime, redefined self-control theory from meaning “the tendency to avoid acts whose long-term costs exceed their momentary advantages” to “the tendency to consider the full range of potential costs of a particular act…[and] to its broader and often contemporaneous implications,” which incorporates rational choice theory as well. (Jo, International  Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 51-67.) Both of these theories can explain why Jodi Arias acted the way she did. She failed to completely understand the consequences of her actions, and in doing so, ended up being sentenced to prison for the rest of her life.

       Rational choice theory defines the occurrence of a crime by the motivation of the offender. The offender weighs the risk versus the reward in their head and thinking that the outcome would be different than what actually happens. According to the renowned psychologist Alfred Adler, “…the intent to do harm through premeditated means to compensate for what has been lacking in their lives is what differentiates the logic of criminals from neurotics, drunks, and other deviant individuals.” (Shona & Barton-Bellessa, Aggressions and Violent Behavior, 95-103.) This is important because Jodi Arias was a seemingly normal person before the murder. She was not a drunk, and she was never diagnosed with a mental illness. The act of premeditating the trip to Arizona and faking the break-in to steal the gun falls in line with exactly what Adler was stating. Jodi Arias wanted Travis Alexander in her life or nobody could have him.

       Adler goes on to state that “…criminals will choose crime because it represents the easier and less strenuous route. That is, rather than obtaining the desirable outcomes (e.g., wealth, love, friendship) through effort, criminals choose shortcuts (i.e., through murder, theft, and rape) as ways of circumventing ordinary procedures for achievement—precisely the cognitive signature of a neurotic claim turned into an entitlement.” (Shona & Barton-Bellessa, Aggressions and Violent Behavior, 95-103.) Jodi Arias, at one time, rationalized executing Travis Alexander as opposed to getting over him. She felt that the path of least resistance was to take the life of the person she was in love with rather than let him go.

       Because of the structure of the criminal justice system, Jodi Arias was not able use the guise of a sweet, innocent female to the extent that she wanted to. She attempted to use it against the detective during the interrogation, even going so far as to not talk to his female counterpart. The jury did not fall for the gender bias she was putting forth, nor did the judge and prosecution. The brutality of the murder was also something that people were taken aback by as well. Weapons level the playing field for both genders when it comes to physical combat. Jodi Arias would not have been able to accomplish the homicide if she didn’t use his vulnerability in the shower and the knife and gun. Jodi Arias attempted to use her gender and sexuality to get away with first degree homicide, but because of the structure of our penal system, was not successful and received life in prison.

Works Cited

Associated Press. (2013, April 5). Parents of Jodi  Arias said in police interview that their 'daughter had mental problems and  would freak out' as ousted juror turns up to watch murder trial .  Retrieved from Daily Mail:

AZCentral. (2006, March 2). Death Row.  Retrieved from AZCentral:

Bagga, A. (2018, January 17). Jodi Arias’  Ex-Boyfriend, Darryl Brewer: His Testimony and Relationship with Jodi Arias.  Retrieved from EarnTheNecklace:

Findlaw Attorneys. (2019). Arizona Capital  Punishment Laws. Retrieved from Findlaw:

Fins, D. (2017). Death Row U.S.A. Criminal  Justice Project.

Jo, Y. (2015). Stability of Self-Control. International  Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 51-67.

Kelsh, C. (2015). Are criminal courts more lenient  on women? Retrieved from Journalist's Resource:

Kuang, J. (2016, November 2nd). Study: If you  can’t make bail in Cook County, you’re more likely convicted. Retrieved  from Injustice Watch:

Martinez, J. (2016). Conviction: The Untold Story  of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars. Phoenix: William Morrow.

Shona, P. C., & Barton-Bellessa, S. (2015). The  assumption of rational choice theory in Alfred Adler's theory of crime:  Unraveling and reconciling the contradiction in Adlerian theory through  synthesis and critique. Aggressions and Violent Behavior, 95-103. Photo by kat wilcox from Pexels