PHOENIX — The wildly ranging questions came in rapid succession, read aloud by a judge in a calm, monotone voice.
Why didn't Jodi Arias ever report accusations of abuse by her lover? How could she so easily grab a gun to shoot him as he attacked her in a fury? Why can she remember so much minutia of her life, yet recall so little from the day she savagely stabbed and shot the victim, then methodically went about covering her tracks?
The unusual spectacle played out during Arias' murder trial in Arizona where an uncommon law allows jurors to pose their own questions to witnesses in criminal cases.
The queries ranged from Mormonism to the definition of "skank," specific details from the day she killed Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home and her contention that she suffers from memory lapses that leave huge gaps in her recollection of the gruesome attack.
Arizona is one of just a few states where jurors are allowed to ask questions of witnesses during a criminal trial as a matter of law, meaning the judge is required to notify the panel of its right to pose queries. In most other states, the process is either banned altogether or it's left up to individual judges to determine whether jurors in criminal cases may ask questions of witnesses.
Judge Sherry Stephens posed more than 150 questions to Arias from jurors who had listened to her testify for 15 days about her abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, dead-end jobs and her contention that Alexander had grown physically abusive in the months leading up to this death, once even choking her into unconsciousness.
None of her allegations of Alexander's violence and her claims that he had sexual desires for young boys have been corroborated by witnesses or evidence during the trial, and she has admitted to lying repeatedly but insists she is telling the truth now.
Arias is set to take the stand Thursday for a 17th day as Stephens will continue to read even more juror questions.
Arias is charged with first-degree murder in Alexander's June 2008 death. She says it was self-defense when he attacked her after a day of raunchy sex, but police say it was a premeditated killing. She faces the death penalty if convicted.
Arias initially told authorities she had nothing to do with Alexander's death then blamed it on masked intruders before settling on self-defense. Her repeated lies to authorities in the days after his death, and her methodical efforts to create an alibi and avoid suspicion have been center stage throughout the weekslong trial.
Alexander had been shot in the head, stabbed and slashed nearly 30 times and had his throat slit.
Arias spent Wednesday responding occasionally with calm, concise answers, while others meandered and were met with objections from attorneys.
Many questions focused on things that just don't add up — how Arias can recall specific details of raunchy sexual encounters with Alexander, yet says her memory is "scrambled" when she tries to recall events from the day she killed him.
Jurors prodded her over why she never called police after she says Alexander had repeatedly physically abused her, and why she continued to see him after she said she once awoke to find him having sex with her.
"I was in love with Travis," Arias said. "I knew I was in love with him, and it didn't make a difference to me, honestly."
Arias also testified previously how Alexander called her derogatory terms like "skank." Jurors asked how she defined the word. Arias stammered with her response and skirted the question.
The panel also asked about her commitment to Mormon teachings. She converted to the faith after meeting Alexander, also a Mormon, but the two carried on an intense sexual relationship, despite church doctrine that discourages sex outside of wedlock.
They asked her about past relationships with other men, why she tried to clean the bloody scene at Alexander's home after she killed him and why she didn't just come clean sooner.
She has acknowledged dumping the gun in the desert, getting rid of her bloody clothes, and leaving the victim a voicemail on his mobile phone within hours of killing him in an attempt to cover her tracks. She says she was too scared and ashamed to tell the truth.
Arias' grandparents had reported a .25 caliber handgun stolen from their Northern California home about a week before the killing — the same caliber used to shoot Alexander — but Arias says didn't take it. Authorities believe she brought it with her. Arias says she shot Alexander with his own gun she found in his closet as they tussled.
A noted attorney in California, where it's up to judges to decide whether jurors may question witnesses, doesn't think the practice is a good idea.2 comments on this story
"It becomes too difficult, too tempting for a juror to lose their role as an impartial fact-finder," said Los Angeles-area defense attorney Mark Geragos. "In effect, you've deputized the jurors as investigators."
Others, however, say the practice is a useful tool aimed at getting to the truth.
"Any mechanism that allows jurors to get closer to the truth without prejudicing one side or the other, I think, is a good tool," said Phoenix criminal defense attorney Julio Laboy. "And it really is a window into the juror's mindset."