Ruling clears way for second Arias penalty phase

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PHOENIX (AP) - Convicted murderer Jodi Arias will again face a potential death sentence after a judge’s ruling cleared the way for a second penalty phase in the case.

Defense attorneys had argued that the Arizona law allowing a retrial of the penalty phase is unconstitutional and should be considered cruel and unusual punishment, while amounting to double jeopardy.

In her ruling made public Friday, Judge Sherry Stephens denied the defense motion.

“Arizona’s capital scheme has been found to be constitutional by the United States Supreme Court and the Arizona Supreme Court,” Stephens wrote.

Arias‘ retrial is set for March 17. Arias, 33, was convicted of first-degree murder in May, but the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on her sentence.

Under Arizona law, while her murder conviction stands, prosecutors have the option of putting on a second penalty phase with a new jury.

If the second panel fails to reach a unanimous decision, the death penalty will automatically be removed from consideration, and the judge will sentence Arias to spend her entire life behind bars or to be eligible for release after 25 years.

“Defendant has not been ‘acquitted’ of the death sentence by the jury’s failure to reach a verdict, and thus there is no constitutional bar to retrying the penalty phase,” Stephens wrote in her ruling.

Defense attorneys did not return a telephone message seeking comment Friday. Prosecutors declined comment.

Arias admitted that she killed her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008 at his suburban Phoenix home but claimed it was self-defense. He suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, had his throat slit and was shot in the forehead. Prosecutors argued it was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage when Alexander wanted to end their affair.

Arias‘ legal bills for her court-appointed attorneys, expert witnesses and other fees have cost taxpayers about $2.2 million, according to Maricopa County officials. Prosecutors have declined to provide a tally of how much it has cost to prosecute the case, citing a court order that attorneys not discuss Arias-related matters.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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