Wicked Deeds

Examining criminal motives and behavior

Will Convicted Sociopathic Killer Jodi Arias Be Executed?

A new sentencing jury will determine Arias’ fate.

Reuters/Charlie Leight/Arizona Republic/Pool
Jodi Arias, a 33-year-old photographer, artist and waitress, was convicted of first-degree murder last spring in the brutal 2008 slaying of her former boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in his Mesa, AZ, home. However, the same jury that found her guilty failed to reach a unanimous decision in her sentencing for the crime. The prosecution is seeking capital punishment for Arias which requires a unanimous verdict from the jury.

Therefore, a retrial is being held to determine whether Arias should be sentenced to death, life in prison without parole, or life with a chance of parole after serving 25 years.

In case you missed the high-profile trial that was carried live on HLN last year, Jodi Arias was convicted of shooting her former lover, Alexander, in the face, stabbing him 27 times, and slitting his throat—almost decapitating him. The prosecution argued that the murder was an act of overkill by any reasonable analysis of the facts. The prosecution argued that the murder met the “aggravating circumstances” standard required for a sentence of capital punishment in a first-degree murder trial.

Perhaps because the evidence against her was so powerful, the defense attorneys for Arias did not try to claim that she didn’t kill Alexander. Instead, they argued that Arias killed Alexander in self-defense, and said she was a victim of domestic violence at his hands. The jury did not buy their argument and found Arias guilty of premeditated murder.

Jodi Arias has no prior criminal record but has a history of troubled relationships. I believe she is an unstable sociopath with a lethal temper. Sociopathy is an antisocial personality disorder that is manifested by the following traits: 

  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior and emotional outbursts

It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an emotional attachment to a particular individual or group—in Arias’case, Travis Alexander—although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. Stated differently, sociopaths are capable of empathy in certain circumstances but not in others.

Throughout her trial, Arias exhibited classic sociopathic tendencies. For the most part, she demonstrated neither sadness nor remorse for killing Alexander. She also appeared emotionless and detached while describing her alleged victimization at the hands of Alexander. At other times, she would suddenly cry when describing her love for Alexander, and still other times she would lash out in anger when aggressively confronted by the prosecutor, Juan Martinez.

Jodi Arias seemed to enjoy jousting verbally with the prosecutor. During his questioning of her, Arias maintained a smug expression, including a little smile whenever she seemed to think that she got the better of an exchange. She came across as distant and self-absorbed much of the time. Her general detachment, interrupted by periodic outbursts of either anger or tears is consistent with sociopathic behavior.

Interestingly, Jodi Arias has managed to attract a global following of supporters. In less than a year, she has gained more than 79,000 Twitter followers when she used the social media platform to dispel rumors, share her views and raise money toward her defense fund. However, she recently suspended her Twitter account, at least temporarily.

In addition, Arias sold some of her jailhouse paintings and courtroom drawings to her followers on eBay last spring prior to her conviction. Now, a convicted felon, she is no longer able to benefit financially from her criminal infamy.

All that remains in question for Jodi Arias is her punishment. If I was a betting man, I would put my money on life without parole. Since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment in 1976, only 14 women have been executed, while nearly 1,400 men have been put to death during the same period.

Although the grotesque and brutal killing of Travis Alexander certainly meets the criteria required for Jodi Arias to receive capital punishment, based on historical trends the jury is very unlikely to put an attractive, well spoken, young, white woman with no prior record to death, despite her being a cold-blooded, sociopathic killer.

I discuss the motivations, fantasies and habits of notorious serial killers, including the “Son of Sam” and “Bind, Torture, Kill” based on my personal correspondence with them, in my new book “Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers.” To order it now, click: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1629144320/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_B-2Stb0D57SDB

Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University. He is available for consultation and media commentary. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website DocBonn.Com 


Scott Bonn, Ph.D., a professor of criminology at Drew University, is an expert on criminal behavior and motivations.


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