Perhaps hoping to make themselves feel better about not reaching a verdict on the death penalty, jurors in the Arizona murder trial of Jodi Arias have been speaking out about their non-decision decision to spare Arias’ life.
When asked whether Arias being female made a difference, one juror replied, “No, it wasn’t her gender it was her age.”
When verdicts make no sense, jurors are quick to explain themselves. They want desperately to convince people that they got it right because jury duty is a serious and important civic duty. But being earnest about wanting to be right doesn’t make it so. Recall how hard the OJ Simpson jury tried to persuade us that their not guilty verdict had nothing to do with race.
Claiming Jodi Arias got a pass on the death penalty because of her age is strikingly imperceptive, though it’s hard to blame jurors for failing to see the truth. Lots of studies show that it is very difficult for people to see their own biases. Known racists, for example, will sincerely say “no” when asked whether they are, in fact, racist.
We can’t really blame the jurors who voted for life because their emotions were hijacked by a cold-blooded psychopath and her lawyers who strategically plotted to make it difficult for jurors’ brains to accept the idea that a soft-spoken woman who spent weeks testifying about sex and sexual fantasies deserves to die.
Imagining Arias slicing a man’s head off doesn’t jibe with what jurors THINK they know about how the world works. When internal narratives don’t match up with what is seen and heard in court, jurors struggle to reach the right conclusion.
Without an existing personal context within which jurors can understand the evidence, jurors process information in areas of the brain where similar information is stored. For example, if Arias resembled a juror’s sister, that juror would subconsciously connect feelings about her sister to feelings for Jodi Arias. And when Arias talked about erotic activities, jurors would process that testimony in those parts of the brain where sexual experiences are stored. In other words, testimony about oral sex would get misdirected away from the area of the brain that thinks logically, and toward the part that manages erogenous zones.
Jodi’s decision to wear glasses, a common courtroom trick among accused murderers, was particularly manipulative because glasses make killers look nerdy instead of dangerous. And while jurors may have assumed the glasses were part of an act, they couldn’t help but react emotionally, as we all do when we see a great actor in a movie and we know it’s only acting – but we cry anyway.
The four jurors who voted for life were reportedly a mix of male and female, but no matter what they say, none voted to spare Arias’ life because of her age. The more likely explanation is that female jurors identified with Arias on some level, maybe because they felt sexually exploited in their own lives, and male jurors who felt titillated when Arias talked about sex would have found it emotionally difficult to execute a woman who submitted herself to the kinds of activities most men only dream about.
The jurors who voted for life won’t admit these things for the same reasons they urgently want us to believe they were not biased in their decision: They aren’t comfortable acknowledging things about themselves that made them feel both ashamed and connected to Jodi Arias.
Arias’ attorneys know that if they tap into feelings that jurors either don’t understand or are ashamed to admit, Jodi’s life will be spared. Which means when a new death penalty hearing takes place in July, prosecutors would be wise to select jurors not based on silly things like gender, but based on whether jurors feel comfortable in their skin – warts, sexual fantasies and all.
No juror should be duped into making the wrong decision simply because they can’t handle their own secrets.