PHOENIX – Ticket scalping is nothing new in the sports and music world, but for a murder trial?
Dozens of people flock to court each day for a chance to score one of a handful of seats open to the public in Jodi Arias’ ongoing murder trial in Arizona. The seats are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis, and nearly four months into the trial, the crowds are growing.
This week, one trial regular sold her spot to another person for $200 – and both got reprimands from the court Tuesday.
Desiree Lee, a regular attendee, said another woman had traveled from Michigan to see the trial but couldn’t get a seat because she was too far back in line.
“She was asking a couple of people ahead of me if they wanted to sell their seats,” Lee, who lives in the area, told ABC15 in Phoenix. “I said yes because I can come every day if I wanted to ... I seriously didn’t know I was going to get in trouble.
“I’m a little embarrassed more than anything,” Lee said.
She was told to return the money. The purchaser kept her seat for free.
Court officials confirmed the incident. The court’s rules prohibit saving spots in line, and that’s why the woman was asked to give the money back, although she doesn’t face any sort of charges.
The message played for callers to the judge’s courtroom explains that seats are indeed limited.
“This is a public trial, but it’s likely you will not get a seat,” the message says.
Arias faces a potential death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in the June 2008 killing of her one-time boyfriend at his suburban Phoenix home. Authorities say she planned the attack on Travis Alexander in a jealous rage. Arias initially denied involvement then later blamed it on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said it was self-defense.
The trial, which has included lurid details of the couple’s sex life and other personal information, continued Wednesday afternoon as the prosecution called additional witnesses ahead of closing arguments next week.
While there is no specific law preventing the public from selling their spot in line to get into the trial, Phoenix criminal defense lawyer Julio Laboy called it distasteful and said it undermines the seriousness of the case.
“I think this particular trial has brought out so many salacious facts and sordid details that what happens is people lose sight of how very real this is,” Laboy said Wednesday. “Whether you like Jodi Arias or not, whether you side with Travis Alexander or not, for these families, it’s very real.”
One person is dead and another is on trial for her life, Laboy said.
“It’s extremely disheartening, as if people were bartering to get into a Yankees game,” he said. “For Jodi Arias, this is her life on the line.”
Others said the antics aren’t unusual, and even occur at the nation’s highest court in Washington.
“As distasteful as it is to most people, it happens at the U.S. Supreme Court each time there’s a big case,” said San Francisco criminal defense lawyer Michael Cardoza. “It’s distasteful, but it’s not unusual.”
In fact, during the highly publicized Scott Peterson murder trial in 2004 in the San Francisco area, where Peterson was convicted and sentenced to death in the killing of his pregnant wife, Laci, hundreds of trial enthusiasts would show up at the courthouse each day for a chance to score one of just about 28 seats open to the public.
Court officials there operated a lottery system, not first-come first-serve, drawing random numbers and calling them out to the applause of each individual winner. The tickets in that case could not be transferred or sold.
The entire Arias case has devolved into a spectacle unlike many other high-profile trials in recent years.
Arias is profiting from her notoriety by selling drawings from jail on a website operated by a third party, her mother, Sandra Arias, has said. According to the site, some pieces are fetching more than a $1,000, and Sandra Arias said the money is being used to help pay for family expenses while attending the trial. Nothing prevents Arias from profiting from her notoriety given she hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
A woman in the gallery who attends the trial regularly also says she is operating a Twitter account on Arias’ behalf, gathering comments from the defendant via jail phone calls. Some of the Tweets have consisted of religious quotes, while others attack the prosecutor and TV pundits who expound on the case daily.
The Associated Press cannot confirm, aside from with family and friends, whether the Twitter account or website are actually her words or her artwork.
Brian Skoloff can be followed at https://twitter.com/bskoloff