Jodi Arias Trial: Prosecutor accused of signing autographs, posing for pictures with fans outside court

Defendant Jodi Arias gets ready to take the stand to testify during her murder trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix on Feb. 20, 2013.
AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Charlie Leight, Pool
Jodi Arias during her murder trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix on Feb. 20, 2013.
Pool, Charlie Leight,AP Photo/The Arizona Republic

(AP) PHOENIX - The Jodi Arias murder trial became even more of a spectacle Thursday as defense attorneys argued that the prosecutor committed misconduct by signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans outside court.

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The argument prompted the judge to call a cable TV legal analyst to testify, and she was asked about what she has witnessed as dozens of trial watchers gather on a daily basis to see people involved in the case.

Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi argued that the interaction could taint the jury pool.

"I believe that this misconduct may very well have been seen by jurors," Nurmi told the judge.

VIDEO: Jodi Arias on her sexual relationship with Travis Alexander

VIDEO: Why is Jodi Arias smiling in her mugshot? 

The argument played out as officials revealed that the cost of Arias' defense to taxpayers has exceeded $1.4 million to date. Arias is represented by court-appointed attorneys at a rate of up to $250 per hour after she was unable to afford her own defense.

The trial has dragged on for about three months and become a cable TV and tabloid sensation with tales of sex, betrayal, religion and a bloody killing, attracting a following of thousands who can watch it streamed live via the Web.

It has become such a curiosity that people have made trips to the courthouse to see the trial, many to congratulate prosecutor Juan Martinez for his performance.

"I came here from San Antonio, Texas. I've been watching the trial. You're doing a great job," said a man who approached Martinez inside the courtroom this week.

Martinez has on at least one occasion exited the building through the front door and was surrounded by trial watchers offering him praise. He has declined to discuss the case outside court.

In a video posted on last week, Martinez is seen posing for pictures and even autographing the cane of a woman who has been watching the trial.

"There were several individuals interviewed about how great he is," Nurmi said. "It's entirely possible that more than one juror saw this."

At least one juror sometimes lingers outside the courthouse after the trial has concluded for the day while spectators mull around, cameras at the ready, waiting for Martinez and others to emerge.

On Thursday, Judge Sherry Stephens privately questioned each juror about whether they had witnessed Martinez's interactions with the crowd. Jurors in the case are not sequestered and are warned daily by the judge to avoid media coverage of the trial.

Within an hour of testimony ending Thursday, the juror who has been seen in the past outside the courthouse after trial sat eating ice cream on a bench near a group of spectators who were waiting for the prosecutor.

Martinez chose to take a different exit Thursday afternoon and avoided the scene.

"Defense counsel may not like that people have come up to the prosecutor and asked him whatever they may have asked him," Martinez told judge. "That is not misconduct."

It was unclear when Stephens would rule on the issue.

The judge called to the witness stand Jean Casarez, a legal analyst with Turner Broadcasting's In Session, who had made comments on air about the scene.

"I said I have seen a juror just sitting outside the front door of the courthouse," Casarez said. "And I said my concern would be if a juror would see that, that would be my concern."

However, she added, "I never saw it personally."

Another In Session employee is set to be questioned by the judge when the trial resumes Tuesday.

Arias faces a possible death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in the June 2008 killing of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home.

Authorities say she planned the attack on her lover in a jealous rage. Arias initially denied involvement then blamed it on two masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said it was self-defense.

Complete coverage of Jodi Arias on Crimesider