PHOENIX — Attorneys for Jodi Arias asked to step down from the case after their client was convicted of first-degree murder, but a judge denied the request, according to court minutes obtained Thursday.
Details about the motion were sealed, but legal experts said Arias complicated efforts for her defense when she gave an interview to Fox affiliate KSAZ minutes after her conviction last week saying she preferred death over life in prison.
"I believe death is the ultimate freedom, and I'd rather have my freedom as soon as I can get it," Arias said.
Arias will return to court Thursday for the final phase of her trial as the same jury that convicted her weighs whether the former waitress should be sentenced to life in prison or death.
Her attorneys must convince jurors she shouldn't be executed. But during a closed-door meeting with the judge on Tuesday, Kirk Nurmi and Jennifer Willmott sought permission to withdraw from the case, the minutes state.
Los Angeles-area criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos said Arias' attorneys have a conflict of interest with their efforts to keep their client off death row and Arias' assertion that she'd rather die for her crime.
"It's not highly unusual," he said. "There are cases where defendants make decisions that they're better off on death row, but that puts the lawyer in a conflicted position. You've got a duty as a lawyer to bring the conflict of interest to the courts and disclose it."
Added Phoenix criminal defense lawyer Julio Laboy: "It would be something I would do in my major felony cases if I found that a client was actually working against me and not working with her defense."
Arias cannot choose the death penalty. It's up to the jury to recommend a sentence.
On Wednesday, the panel took less than three hours to determine that Arias should be eligible for death in the killing of her one-time lover after prosecutors proved the murder was especially cruel and heinous.
Arias, 32, acknowledged killing Travis Alexander on June 4, 2008, at his suburban Phoenix home after a day of sex. She initially denied any involvement then later blamed the attack on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she settled on self-defense.
On Thursday, the penalty phase of her trial begins. Prosecutors will call Alexander's family and others to testify in an effort to convince the panel that Arias should face the ultimate punishment.
Arias' defense lawyers will have her family members testify, and likely others who have known her over the years, in an attempt to gain sympathy from jurors to save her life. It's not yet known if Arias will testify.
Arias showed no emotion Wednesday after the jury returned a decision that was widely expected given the violent nature of the killing. She slashed Alexander's throat, stabbed him in the heart and shot him in the forehead.
The victim suffered nearly 30 knife wounds in what prosecutors described as an attack fueled by jealous rage after Alexander wanted to end his affair with Arias and prepared to take a trip to Mexico with another woman.