Writer to Writer: A Conversation With Jane Velez-Mitchell on Exposed: <i>The Secret Life of Jodi Arias</i>

Jane Velez-Mitchell is a two-time Emmy award winning television journalist, a bestselling author, and the host of her own program on HLN.
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Jane Velez-Mitchell is a two-time Emmy award winning television journalist, a bestselling author, and the host of her own program on HLN. She is featured frequently in the media as an expert on high-profile court cases, appearing on CNN, MSNBC HLN, TRU TV and other national television outlets.

In 2010, her HLN show garnered a third Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States. Ms. Velez-Mitchell has won two other awards for her program, Celebrity Justice.

She is the author of non-fiction books including: Secrets Can Be Murder: What America's Most Sensational Crimes Tell Us About Ourselves; Addict Nation; and I Want: My Journey From Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler Honest Life, which became a New York Times best seller.

Her fourth book, which has just been released, is Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias. It's a compelling narrative with inside views of the trial itself, and fully developed profiles of Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander, presenting views from people who knew them both very well.

Exposed must have been a great challenge to write.
It was because at the very heart of this case is a pathological liar. She was the ultimate unreliable narrator.

Did you have a chance to interview Jodi Arias in person?
No, she had only some journalists she was willing to talk to during the trial; and now, after her conviction, while she awaits the sentencing trial. She picked out her favorites like Troy Hayden, a Phoenix reporter who had done several interviews with her. He's a very handsome guy. She likes men, but she also talked to Amy Murphy, a local reporter. I certainly don't think I'm going to be on her list because I've been critical of her.

When and how did you become aware that this case would become a national fascination?

You don't really know when a case is going to resonate with the public. But all of a sudden, it just coalesces -- at one particular moment. It coalesced when she took the witness stand. She stayed on the stand in a nationally televised trial for 18 days. In my opinion -- and I outline this in Exposed -- she lied for 18 days. She presented herself as a meek, submissive woman who was forced and pressured into very kinky sexual activities: oral sex, anal sex. She alleged this was forced on her by this deviant who had a very dark side. She basically described him as a pedophile, and as a man who committed domestic violence against her.

It just wasn't true. Unfortunately, Travis Alexander, the victim, was not alive to speak for himself. But I did speak to many of his friend who spent a great deal of time with Jodi Arias. They knew her quite well and said he was a totally different person than the one she depicted at trial. That's why on the cover of Exposed there's a picture of a mousy librarian wearing glasses and a Catholic schoolgirl's outfit; and in reality, there's the real Jodi Arias photo: the blonde with fake breasts and the alluring look.

I learned she was the sexual aggressor. She had sexual experience. She taught Travis Alexander about these sex games. She was sexually obsessed. Travis told one of his very best friends that Jodi was a nymphomaniac who was capable of eight, nine or probably up to thirteen orgasms in a row. Some people might joke that maybe she was faking it, but it's a lot of work to fake it that extensively. The trial was essentially all about sex. It was drenched in sex. What she did was take consensual adult sex games that people sometimes play -- S & M games, dominance and submission games -- look at Fifty Shades of Grey -- and she tried to turn that into domestic violence. The result was that real victims of domestic violence became outraged because there are women who are brutally beaten by their husbands and boyfriends. These women go to the police for help and they don't want to be doubted. What she did by making a claim of domestic violence was make it tougher for real victims to come forward.

The details of the proceedings in the book were extraordinary. Were you in the courtroom during the entire trial?

I watched every day on television. I went to Phoenix at a certain point and stood outside the courtroom and did interviews with people coming in and out of the courtroom. That was how I got the interviews for the book. Travis' family was not talking, but his friends talked freely. They all had stories about Jodi Arias. One woman, Clancy Talbot, a friend, told me Jodi was "crazy." She told me several stories about Jodi, one in particular where Jodi took a completely benign incident and confronted Clancy in a ladies' room. There were many stories about how disturbed Jodi Arias really was.

Were you actually in the courtroom during the trial?
Yes. And the atmosphere in the courtroom was agonizing. Travis Alexander's family was there, often crying. There were horrific crime scene photos -- blood everywhere; his throat cut six inches across from ear to ear; and you had the family of Jodi Arias there as well. Her family was a very nice one, but she also threw them under the bus. She accused her mother of beating her with a wooden spoon, and claimed her father pushed her into furniture. She painted a picture of abusive parents. Yes, they were strict; but I talked with her best friend from her childhood -- who spent many days and nights in their home and never saw any evidence of violence in the house. So Jodi Arias played the domestic violence card with Travis Alexander and with her own family. It wouldn't surprise me if she'd seen Casey Anthony play that card and throw her dad under the bus, and figured she could play that card as well. So she claimed Travis committed violence; she alleged he was also a pedophile. This was pretty diabolical. There was something doubtful and questionable about every one of her stories.

Yes, she and Travis had sex. Yes, he broke his vows. But you know what? To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin from an episode of The Newsroom, Nobody's life is going to stand the kind of scrutiny one gets in a trial or lawsuit...but especially the way the defense scrutinized every e-mail Travis Alexander sent. He had 82,000 communications with her and they found a dozen nasty words he called her. And she was doing things to provoke him. She slashed his car tires; she sent anonymous e-mails to his girlfriend.

You provided so much background information about Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander. What kind of research did you do?
I talked to people who knew Jodi Arias as a child and then as an adult. The stories had a common theme. She would become obsessed with someone. I found out through sources that she stalked another man many years earlier and did the same thing. She became very suspicious; looked at his e-mails; confronted him; accused him of cheating; and they broke up. He moved far away to get away from her. She crossed state lines, moved near him and started dating his former roommate. And that's pretty much what she did to Travis. She became suspicious; checked his cell phone; saw texts from some girls; decided he was cheating; confronted him and they broke up. She'd been living in the Palm Springs area of California. After they broke up, she moved to Mesa and ended up in an apartment right near his home. And in her telling of these events, she claimed she broke up with him. I think it's more likely that he broke up with her. And she ended up stalking him. And, when a young, beautiful woman is offering sex, it can be difficult to resist. I described it as a "sexual fire sale."

Tell us what made her testimony so unbelievable.
Let me give you an example. She claimed the first time they had intercourse they were sleeping together on the bed. She was wearing shorts and a shirt. She said she woke up and he had penetrated her, was having sex with her. But if you think about it, this description loses credibility. You're asleep and someone takes off your shorts and shirt and penetrates you and you don't wake up until it's over. It's just the old-fashioned common sense test.

It was the same with her accusation he was a pedophile. She walked into the bedroom and saw him on the bed and he's masturbating. Suddenly a photo flies off the bed, goes through the air and lands at her feet, face up. That may happen in the movies, but not in real life. There was a certain theatricality to her stories. That's why people were so upset with the domestic violence expert, Alyce LaViolette. She just accepted these stories as being fact.

As was the case with Dr. Samuels, the psychologist.
Yes. For instance, he was told by Jodi that Travis had photos of women's breasts on his computer and he believed that. When the police checked, there were no such photos or pornography on his computer. The idea that a so-called pedophile would have no pornography on his computer was not believable. None of her stories were believable when you really thought about them or when they were checked.

As a reporter so well-versed in the trial, is it your feeling that Jodi Arias has a true emotional understanding of her situation now, or do you feel she's acting out some grandiose role or fantasy and doesn't have a sense of what the stakes are for her?

I think she goes in and out of clarity. There are moments when she seems to realize the horror of her situation. Then, there are moments where she's living her life as though she's a script writer and this is a movie. She seemed disassociated from what was going on. There was a part of her not really grounded in reality; and that's the Borderline Personality Disorder. She latches on to people, and what better way to merge with someone else's identity than through the act of sex? I feel there are moments when she realizes she'll be locked up, if she's lucky, for the rest of her life. But there are other moments where she enjoys the attention; likes the power of being able to pick certain media to grant interviews and where she feels she's famous. Of course, there's a big difference between infamy and fame.

You've written about crimes and criminal cases before. Did you ever want to become an attorney?
I think about it. Sometimes I think I could be one because I've spent so much time on these cases. Actually, I think it's an advantage not to be an attorney. I sometimes watch a trial and I see prosecutors who are very well-versed in the specifics of a case, but they forget to tell the story. They know the story so well that they get bogged down in the minutiae. I want to scream at them, Tell the story! It's a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. At the end of the day, the prosecutor has to paint a picture for the jury. The story must be told so the jury can visualize the prosecution's case as opposed to what the defendant says. In the case of Jodi Arias, Juan Martinez did a brilliant job of outlining what he said happened, and what I personally believe did happen: namely, she didn't shoot him in self-defense. She premeditated a murder; got there; wanted to have sex with him one last time; and afterward, lured him into the shower. When he was in a vulnerable position, naked, wet and slippery, she stabbed him in the chest. When he staggered over to the sink, she stabbed him in the back. And when he staggered down the hallway, she slit his throat. And then, she dragged him back to the bathroom and shot him.

Juan Martinez helped the jury visualize all that. And then, he kept the courtroom completely silent for two minutes which was the length of time it took to kill him. He stood there motionless for two minutes. It was very powerful.

You make clear that every trial is a narrative, a story that must be told. In that context, I'd like to ask if you've ever considered writing fiction.
I did write a novel that I threw away. I have a lot of respect for novelists and screenwriters. It's very hard. I wrote one really bad screenplay. The plot was very good, but the execution was terrible. Every single word must have a purpose and a meaning. I think non-fiction is very easy by comparison. I would aspire to write a novel one day, but I have to work on that. That's one of my goals as a fun thing to do -- someday.

What's next for you?
I'm very busy with my show. I'm very involved in animal causes. I'm a vegan. I try to get people to consider alternatives to eating meat. When you consider that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, that becomes important. When you think about addiction, you usually think of drugs and alcohol, but food addiction is one of the primary addictions in America today. Many of us should take a cue from former president Bill Clinton and the change in lifestyle he's embraced. I couldn't help but notice how incredible he looked at the Martin Luther King service. He just looked slim and fabulous. And that benefit can happen if we change our lifestyles. There's no guilt in eating fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Americans need to know there's more than just carrots, broccoli, corn and potatoes. Shopping in the right kind of stores and looking for healthier foods can be a wonderful adventure to health.

In my animal rights work, I try to warn people about the horrors of factory farming. You know, most people are animal lovers, and they think dogs and cats -- I love them, too -- but the vast majority of animals in this country are farm animals. There are nine billion farm animals raised and killed for food every year. Most of them are raised in enormous institutional facilities that are very cruel. It boils down to being a consumer issue. The way to change it is not to buy products you feel are not produced in an ethical fashion. It dovetails with health and with saving the environment when you think of the methane gas released on these huge cattle ranches. And it's all in the service of eating in ways that aren't healthy.

Speaking of eating, if you could have dinner with any five people living or dead, from any time in history, who would they be?
I think I would love to have dinner with Gandhi; Jesus Christ; Mother Theresa; Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA, and Madonna.

What would you be talking about?
We would definitely be talking about veganism if I had any choice in the conversation. I say peace begins on your plate. After all, if we want to talk about peace and a better world, then the pre-requisite for peace is not killing. So if you can go to sleep each night knowing you haven't been responsible for an animal being slaughtered, it's a great feeling. And you can wake up feeling the same way. It kind of puts a whole new spin on existence. And...it's better for your health.

To hear a podcast of this entire interview, please visit author Mark Rubinstein's
"Writer to Writer" on booktrib.com

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