The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

May 16, 2013

Arias lawyers wanted to withdraw but were denied

PHOENIX (AP) — 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.

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