Appeals Court rules county judge can't bar public from watching witnesses during Arias trial

An Arizona appeals court ruled Monday that the public should be able to watch testimony in the Jodi Arias trial, overruling a judge's unusual decision to allow a witness to testify in private as jurors weigh whether to give the convicted murderer the death penalty.

A three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of news organizations that were fighting Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens' surprise decision last Thursday to close the courtroom as the defense began its case.

Lawyers for The Arizona Republic and three Phoenix TV stations — KPNX, KPHO and KTVK — wanted the testimony halted while they appealed Stephens' ruling allowing an unidentified defense witness to testify in private.

However, the decision doesn't reveal the identity of the mystery witness who testified last week at the start of the defense case.

It also said that the appeals court "will address the merits of the special action petition in due course and after receiving any response or reply filed," so it's unclear how long the stay will last.

Arias was convicted last year of killing ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander at his home in suburban Phoenix on June 2008, but jurors deadlocked on her punishment. A new jury will decide whether she'll be sentenced to life imprisonment or death.

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.

Alexander was stabbed and slashed nearly 30 times, his throat was slit so deeply that he was nearly decapitated and he also was shot in the forehead. His body in left in a shower where friends found him about five days later.

Arias has acknowledged killing Alexander but claimed it was self-defense after he attacked her.

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.