PHOENIX (AP) — The judge in the Jodi Arias trial took the highly unusual step Thursday of barring the public from watching the first witness called by the convicted murderer's legal team as she fights to be spared the death penalty.
The day began with dramatic statements from the victim's family members about the emotional and physical trauma they have suffered since Travis Alexander was murdered by Arias in 2008.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens and lawyers then met behind closed doors about the start of Arias' case. They made a decision to keep the public out of the courtroom because a skittish defense witness wanted to testify in private.
An attorney for the Arizona Republic objected, but the judge closed the courtroom anyway.
"This was not an easy decision," said Stephens, who declined to reveal the witness' identity.
The public and reporters were then asked to leave and the trial continued behind closed doors.
The judge said her decision to close the courtroom and seal the witness' testimony until the sentencing trial's conclusion is necessary for "the administration of justice." Stephens allowed the family of victim Travis Alexander to remain in the courtroom.
Chris Moeser, an attorney for the Arizona Republic, argued that the First Amendment allows reporters to attend the hearing and demanded a transcript of the testimony and to identify the witness. The judge refused. Media lawyers are considering additional legal action in response to the judge's actions.
Arias was convicted of murder last year in Alexander's death, but jurors deadlocked on whether she should be sentenced to life in prison or death. A new jury has been picked to decide her sentence.
The case has been marked by secrecy ever since the conclusion of the first trial, which turned in to a media circus as salacious and violent details about Arias and Alexander were broadcast live for people around the world.
Since then, the judge has held one secret hearing after another and barred the broadcast of footage from the sentencing retrial until after a verdict is reached. Arias' lawyers had argued that daily broadcasts of the trial would lead to defense witnesses backing out for fear of being harassed or threatened.
In addition, prosecutors have refused to provide details about what it has cost to twice put Arias on trial, saying the judge forbids them from discussing the case outside court. County officials, however, have reported that Arias' defense bill has topped $2.5 million, all being paid for by taxpayers.
Prosecutors said Arias attacked Alexander in a jealous rage after he wanted to end their affair and planned a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias has acknowledged killing Alexander but claimed it was self-defense after he attacked her.
Earlier on Thursday, two of Alexander's siblings tearfully described to the jury the devastating effect that their brother's death has had on them.
Steven Alexander described nightmares, ulcers and constant trauma from losing his older brother, including locking the doors when he showers.
"When I lay down at night, all I can think about is my brother's murder," Steven Alexander said as family members could be heard crying in the gallery.