What Was Maria Delarosa’s Job on the Jodi Arias Trial?

JodiDeLaRosaFor the past several months, we watched the Jodi Arias trial and saw a women sitting at the second defense table. While it was constantly pointed out that she was the Mitigation Specialist for the defense team, some still seemed to be confused as to her function. She is not an attorney. She has nothing to do with delving into the minds and mannerisms of the jury to find a sneaky way to get the defendant off. Her job is to determine the mitagators that the defense team can best use during the penalty phase of a death penalty case well in advance of the trial beginning. She is also a handler for the defendant. Part of her job is to build a trusting relationship with the defense and keep her as calm, cool and collected as possible. See below for an elaborate outline of her duties.

What is a Mitigation Specialist in a Death Penalty Case?

By Terrance M. Lenamon

6-3-2010 According to the American Bar Association [ABA] Guidelines for the

Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty

Cases (Rev. Ed. Feb. 2003), a mitigation specialist (if not more than

one) is a mandatory part of the defense in any capital case.

In fact, the ABA Guidelines require every criminal defense team facing a capital punishment sentence have at the minimum two attorneys, a private investigator, and a mitigation specialist.

Failure to include a mitigation specialist in a death case is arguably

per se  ineffective assistance of counsel, violating the defendant’s rights

under both the Sixth and Eighth Constitution according to the United

States Supreme Court. Therefore, part of the expense of today’s indigent defense in a

death penalty case mandates the expenditure of hiring a competent and capable

mitigation specialist. It’s more than a suggestion by the national

bar association; it is the law of the land. A mitigation specialist is not another

attorney, death-qualified or not, on the defense team.  Investigators and

attorneys are easily understood – their roles are wellknown, their backgrounds,

education, and expertise understood. But exactly what is a “mitigation specialist” –

does the public at large know who these professionals are, how much they cost, and

why they are needed?

The ABA Guidelines detail the vital and imperative role of a mitigation specialist in the

criminal defense team’s fight against the State’s desire to seek the death penalty,

should a defendant be found guilty and his or her trial reach the penalty phase:

A mitigation specialist is also an indispensable member of the defense team throughout all capital


Mitigation specialists possess clinical and information-gathering skills and
training that most lawyers simply do not have. They have the time and ability to elicit  sensitive, embarrassing and often humiliating evidence (e.g. family sexual abuse) that the defendant may have never disclosed. They have the clinical skills to recognize such things as congenital, mental, or neurological conditions, to understand how these conditions may have affected the defendant’s development and behavior, and to identify on his behalf. Moreover, they may be critical to assuring that the client obtains therapeutic services that render him cognitively and emotionally competent to make sound decisions concerning his case.

Perhaps most critically, having a qualified mitigation specialist assigned to every

capital case as an integral part of the defense team insures that the presentation

to be made at the penalty phase is integral into the overall preparation of the

case rather than being hurriedly thrown together by defense counsel still

in shock at the guilty verdict. The mitigation specialist compiles a comprehensive

and well-documented psycho-social history of the client based on an exhaustive

investigation; analyzes the significance of the information in terms of impact

on development, including effect on personality and behavior; finds mitigating

themes in the client’s life history; identifies the need for expert assistance; assists

in locating appropriate experts; provides social history information to experts to

enable them to conduct competent and reliable evaluations; and works with the

defense team and experts to develop a comprehensive and cohesive case in


Mitigation specialists usually have advanced education in the form of graduate

degrees in a form of social work or psychology as well as a background in criminal

justice, particularly capital defense matters. Within their skill set, they have an ability

to gather and analyze voluminous amounts of psychological, psychiatric, and other

mental health documentation and records, as well as police records, school records,

and family histories. Mitigation specialists arealso expert at dealing with people in a

non-confrontational manner. They interview and

discuss the defendant with his family, friends, former employers, teachers, physicians,

counselors, and psychiatrists. Their ability to work with people in difficult situations

and in discussing often painful or embarrassing situations requires a particular finesse.

The Size of the Task Performed by the Death Penalty Mitigation Specialist

Consider the enormity of the job. Each mitigation specialist on a death penalty case

must identify, locate, and retrieve all the records ever generated about the defendant,

along with all the records that have been generated about their immediate and

extended family members. These include but are not limited to (for the defendant as

well as family members):

1.birth certificates

2. hospital birth records

3. medical records, including private physicians, clinics and hospitals.

4. school records

5. social service records

6. records from agencies and foster homes

7. juvenile records

8. adult criminal records

9. probation and parole records

10. employment records

11. psychological and psychiatric records

12. military records

The job does not end with gathering boxes and boxes of documents. The mitigation specialist

undertakes comprehensive, lengthy, and sensitive interviews that often deal with

personal, private issues with the client and as many individuals as possible who have

known the client, such as:

1. family members

2. friends

3. neighbors

4. teachers

5. counselors

6. church members

7. Sunday School teachers

8. co-workers

9. employers

10. spouses, ex-spouses

11. boyfriends/girlfriends and ex-boyfriends/girlfriends

12. physicians

13. nurses

14. mental health providers (psychiatrists, psychologists)

15. social services personnel

16. military peers

17. probation officers

18. parole officers

19. attorneys

20. guards

21. police officers.

Once they have the documentation collected and the interviews completed, and with

this a detailed, coordinated investigation into the defendant’s life history, the mitigation

specialists must take all they have learned and report to the trial lawyers the issues that

may need additional exploration by other professionals. Doctors may need to assess I.Q.

Investigators may need to delve into new facts of the case. Psychiatrists may need to

determine the impact of childhood abuse.

Working together with the rest of the team, the mitigation specialist works to find and

fully understand the factual circumstances of the defendant’s life that allow the mitigation

factors (“mitigators”) under state or federal law to apply in the case. In doing so, the

importance of the mitigation specialist cannot be underestimated.

Mitigation specialists take the enormous amount of information they obtain – both in

interviews and in documents – and compile a final, detailed mitigation investigation

which opines on “family history and social history to explain its impact on the

defendant’s current functioning.”

Oftentimes, they may be asked to take the witness stand to explain their actions, define

their conclusions, and defend their opinions against State challenge.

Defense lawyers rely upon the mitigation specialist to find and flesh out the mitigation

fact patterns that will be presented at trial. The failure of the mitigation specialist to

perform their stressful, expansive, and detailed tasks can mean the difference between

life and death.

[SOURCE: Terrance M. Lenamon]


Filed under jodi arias, News

52 responses to “What Was Maria Delarosa’s Job on the Jodi Arias Trial?

  1. tleigh

    Thanks so much for posting that information. I have meant to research the term several times and appreciate you doing the leg work. I was unaware of the term or position prior to this trial. I have to say I find it fascinating and that’swhat I want to be when I grow up.

    • Me too. I have always wanted to mix psychology with the law. The older I get the less patience I have, so my time for that career has likely passed. Also, I won’t even do CASA because of the time commitment for long cases. I get antsy when I can’t leave town for new surroundings for a bit.

      • Dawn

        Me too. When I was in grad social work school, I explored a joint law degree, very common for social workers. A mitigation specialist work is putting a human puzzle together…& not let it go to pieces again. Ms. Delarosa was in court every day. By law needed to be. Also to contain Arias, just in case, with the bailiff’s help.

  2. steve

    TT thanks for that. So it was her job to flesh the facts of jodis life like the abuse and all of the stuff jodi told us but had no proof?

  3. Seriously....

    How interesting and informative. I would love to see her case notes. After all that work and time put in, those were the best mitigating factors she could come with for Jodi, yikes. Jodi must be really something if she had this lady AND Jennifer W. working on keeping her composed and we saw all those antics in court

    • I think Maria’s best work came when she was able to convince Jodi not to ask for the death penalty. She played the family angle with her. It was clear from her allocution. She basically said, I would have asked for the death penalty but I didn’t want to do that to my family.

      In other news. I just saw the Travis neck autopsy photo against my will. Alyce Laviolette’s twitter was hacked and retweeting spoof accounts. I’m physically ill.

      • Puravidacostarica

        So the unnamed cousin (who Jodi refused to name) was really Maria?? Good catch.

      • Jane

        Excellent, ‘Rica!

      • Tango

        TT just curious, after you saw the neck photo do you feel any differently towards Arias? For me, that was the point I set aside trying to listen to Jodi and give her any benefit of the doubt, so to speak. I agree that hacking accounts and harrassment of defense people or experts is just crude.

      • Mainly I just wish I could unsee it. But that would sway me more towards death. It is an amazing amount of physical strength involved in that. I am starting to wonder if maybe she had an axe. It just seems like so much for one person to due in such a short amount of time. That sort of damage is not done with one swift swipe of a kitchen knife. Okay I am going to have nightmares if we don’t stop talking about it. Sorry.

      • Tango

        Sorry TT to make you have to dwell on it, I completely understand. This is the part that causes my anger towards Jodi, thus my posts that I found her indefensible. I hope if you have been rolling your eyes at my posts you see now why I say the things I do, as someone greatly bothered by the pics.

      • Jane

        Same experience, Tango. Without question, on the day I saw those particular photos, my mind ratcheted a few hard fast clicks & never went back. I’ve made specific comments w/ precisely those photos in mind. I feel these particular photos, above all, say something definitive, irrevocable about the person, who performed the act. Arias’ courtroom behavior, her interview persona, her verbal & physical fastidiousness, her whole twisted kit & kaboodle are absolutely intolerable in view of what her cadaverous finger actually accomplished in the end. This is why I haven’t commented on however she was able as a so-called “slight” woman to perform the full event. She is a freak of nature & compensated for size & strength w/ evil drive & cunning?

        Dr. Drew said that, as traumatic as it may be, we must look at these particular photos to begin to grasp on a visceral level what really happened here. i tend to agree. Imagine what those siblings are going through.

  4. steve

    TT I think the attacks on alyce really suck. Its one thing to snark on her biased words but the personal stuff i dont understand.

    • I agree. I fully believe that she deserves a perjury charge or twelve. She may have gotten them and we just don’t know. But these people sending her death threats and hacking into her accounts and calling her employer are worse than she is.

  5. Jane

    Incredible read. Thanks so much for taking the time to compile this. Again, I come to the site and – whoosh – new, real, relevant information (that helps me revise my ideas. Sorry for ignorance of earlier remarks were ignorant.)

    Mitigation specialist – what an extraordinary role to play in a capitol case.

    What a job Ms. Delarosa had. What she must have had to contend w/ re: the pathological lying & manipulation. What a solid core & equanimity she must possess to do the work. And love of psychological/legal puzzles.

    (Was that the first time you’d ever seen those particular photos, TT? Or did you just see them inadvertently after having decided never to “go there,” again?)

    • Jane

      Sorry if sentence above re: ignorance sounds ignorant.

      • Bobbi

        Jane…….I, personally, have never found you to be ignorant – you have been very insightful & have also spoken your mind. I also find that you have a great sense of humor……that being said………your comments regarding ignorance/ignorant made me think of the old Saturday Night Live sketches with Jane Curtin & Dan Ackroyd. Perhaps you remember them?……….Dan would say to Jane, “JANE, YOU IGNORANT SLUT”!……..no offense taken, I hope! :-)

    • I had managed to avoid them entirely..sigh…

      • Jane

        Christ. All patronization aside. Will never forget 1st time I came upon the one & then others of same. So sorry. And you made it this far… return sigh.

    • Tango

      Jane I never noticed ignorant posts from you. : ) I still say Arias had no mitigating factors..

      • She had them, they just weren’t very strong. I probably would have voted Life but would have been swayable if I were the only holdout. There are all kinds of monsters out there that didn’t get the death penalty. Usually they plead guilty though to avoid it.

      • Jane

        Yes, several even worse specimens live in Canada. DP isn’t a deterrent, in case anyone was still unclear on that aspect.

      • Jane

        Tango, have your reading comprehension tested. Before your children come & take the car keys. :-)

      • Tango

        Ok..I was saying I never saw ignorance on your part. Perhaps I missed a post. Sorry if that offended you.

      • Jane

        :-) :-) No, no, no… I was punning re: ignorance because I made a stupid typo using the very word ignorance right above. Some days the typos get pretty funny around here. Remind me, are you West Coast, Tango?

      • Tango

        It’s ok Jane, I figured I must have missed a post or two because I thought all the posts I have read from you were fine. I am tired and always doing 10 things at once so I figured I was out of the loop… I am in the lovely midwest. We talk pretty directly around here, it’s black or white, the rest is just “BS”… that’s why I apologize because I know I can sound harsh or blunt, or over-simplified, especially about this case…lol.

    • Tango

      I would make a crappy mitigation specialist, there’s no way I could do it in a case like this, where there’s a confession. I would feel sick trying to find things to help someone who did what Jodi did… I guess you have to be someone able to set personal feelings aside.

  6. Puravidacostarica

    Okay I have exercised much restraint. Not commenting on the jury verdict or the jury foreman in keeping with TT’s admonition. But puhleeze– there are people out there who want to do want Maria Delarosa does for a living? You do realize that mitigation specialists are primarily involved in death penalty cases? Okay, that is not enough to dissuade you? Take a good hard look at the photo above — smiling and making chit- chat with someone who admitted to stabbing her obsession 29 times, shooting him and then nearly decapitating him when she slit his throat. Now imagine yourself there. Yeah, I bet you can’t wait (assuming you feel the same way when it is a guy who disembowelled HIS obsession). Okay smile on!!

    • Yep, I would love to do it. I would assume they would pair a male mitigation specialist with a serial killer that targeted women. Etc. It must be fascinating work.

      • Puravidacostarica

        I would only be suited for an “aggravation specialist” job. Sign me up. :-)

      • Matthew T. Dalldorf

        “There are all kinds of monsters out there that didn’t get the death penalty.”

        Yes, they are the people that enforce it.

    • Puravidacostarica

      And why do you assume disembowelling a female victim equates to serial killer? Practically chopping Travis’ head off didn’t make you invoke those words? God the foreman’s bias against female murderers lives on!! :-)

      • I was responding to your concerns for me working with someone who disembowels females. I think if they had a string of murders against one gender, they would probably get a same sex mitigation specialist. I imaging they are same sex in almost every case anyway.

    • tleigh

      If I were 10 years younger it would besomething I would definitely pursue. I have a back ground in psychology and a doctorate in education and have spent most of my career teaching at an alternative school. I have worked with more psychopaths than I can count. And they weren’t in shackles.

      Heres your smile :)

      • After my undergrad in psych I worked as a “behavior modification specialist” in a locked adolescent treatment facility where I spent a long time wondering how the hell these kids were 200 plus pounds on a diet we were providing. My Masters in Psych(Brain and Behavior)& Education (Reading and the Brain) While I was working on that I was a sub in a middle school and the only one who would sub for the Special Ed trailors. Five trailors, 3 adults per, many, many, many absences so I was in one or the other almost every day. So much drama. Because I was not the regular teacher, after passing THE TEST (by the kids) I enjoyed being good cop. Most all those kids had heartbreaking stories.

        I don’t know why I am giving a resume… other than to say we have similar education and interests. I have so far refused to get my doctorate. I do keep thinking that it would be a more productive way to spend my day than blogging on the sofa watching my hips make larger and larger dents in the leather couch….

      • tleigh

        We have very similar backgrounds but I bet my hips are way bigger and getting bigger as I type

      • Patricia

        Ok, so we have similar educational backgrounds and degrees. However, I would not want to be a M.S.

        I didn’t get far into the article before I realized, it required the same background and degree as I currently posses. I thought, hey, I might want to consider a change. Then while continuing to scan the article, I realized they work on death penalty cases. Well, no ma’am. Screw that bullshit. The only ere is NEVER an excuse for murder.

        If I were one, though, the only cases I could work on would be those such as: the case involving the school teacher. She shot and killed her boyfriends pregnant girlfriend. This woman grew up privileged. Unlike most rich kids, she was a true public servant…Masters Degree in education….She became a public school teacher.

        She tutored kids after class and worked at a youth center on weekends. Additionally, she taught Sunday school classes and coached some sort of team….She did all of this while caring for a special needs child – her own.

        Unbeknownst to her, her ugly, shifty eyed boyfriend – had another girlfriend and her got her pregnant…She faced death b/c of attempted murder of a fetus and b/c the woman did eventually die as a result of the gunshot. Saddest part of all, she gave birth to a severely handicapped child….

        Long story short, this was someone with mitigating factors. This was someone worth saving. Someone that did good with their life and made and impact in the lives of other people. Someone with remorse. She CRIED nearly every day (at least at the times I was watching). I’ve yet to see that bitch Jodi cry or show remorse. She’s certainly never did shit in life or impacted anyone’s life other than Travis’ and only b/c she killed him.

        In other words, POS’s such as the Jodi Arias’ of the world and other murderers aren’t worth saving. Needless to say, I wouldn’t lift a finger to help someone like her – not even for money. I’m for victims, not assholes. In the above example, those women were victims of that guy. Jodi and most other murderers aren’t victims.

        It would probably be an interesting job no doubt, but I pass.

  7. I don’t for one minute believe anybody had to convince Arias to beg for her life. That whole “I want to die” business” is more manipulation and more lies. If Arias really wanted to die, she would have found a way. Arias had time and the means. Remember her rental car had a GUN in it, and we know she knew how to use it. Just sayin’…

    • Bobbi

      I never believed all her BS about committing suicide either. JA testified that she had contemplated killing herself many times throughout her life. She even tried cutting her wrist, but it stung too much! (poor baby) There is absolutely no way that she would harm even one hair on her head – she’s too in love with herself! She was simply looking for sympathy and manipulating the jurors.

  8. JustUsForAll

    A not so bold thought – but Jodi doing the ‘flash’ interview after the M1 verdict begging to die was obviously ridiculous – So why the blantant display of pathetic behavior ? Jodi was taking a chance if this Jury was hung on the DP / Life phase – has calculated the effect it would have on A FUTURE JURY. Exactly the situation she is in – NOW. Really could her mitigation specialist actually have knowingly been apart of that strategy ? Begging for DP on TV then – begging for her LIFE in front of the jury – would effect another Jury to deem her ridiculous and likely give her life, too. IMO – It was written all over Juan’s face @ the reading of the mistrial. – He was beet red, stiff fist against his mouth, only moving his fixed eyes off the Judge once – to the jury – then back again. Jodi Arias may be his Nemisis – but not yet, his Waterloo. Seems very complicated pick through the sticky threads of this parasite and retry. I saw REAL Aztec anger in that man….!!!!!

  9. JustUsForAll

    Oh yeah, before I get snarked at for not getting off my butt to go shopping, I wanted to add – Mitagating – schmiditagaing !! IMO – THIS was a case of jury nullification and good old fashioned BULL SHIT !!! – If you can’t win them with your charms… dazzle ’em with your bull shit. There’s no business like show business.

    • Jury nullification has NOTHING to do with sentencing… Just a point of fact in a sea of frothing at the mouth opinions…

      • JustUsForAll

        Tamara, I disagree. – I don’t believe discussing nullification is “foaming at the mouth.” – I am not foaming !! ~ Apparently it is considerable in the DP /phases and double jeopardy issues. Although of course, I could not digest it all, but I briefly referenced applications & opinions on jury nullification during penalty phases:

        Mortiz Law / OSU.edu – Moral Mercy & Moral (Mitigation) Responsibility
        Pg.12 -128 / Vol. 2:117
        1. Caldwell V. Mississippi
        2. Booth V. Maryland 1987 – Impact Statements/Penalty Phase
        3. Payne V. Tennesse 1991

        web.law.und.edu/Law Review issues/web_assets/pdf/88/88-2/88ndlr409.pdf
        Pg. 9 – 43 = 417 – 418 Inconsistent verdicts & death penalty sentencing are together or in part general outliers towards nullification.

        Nullification Recognized in Limited Circumstances
        417 – Inconsistent Verdicts
        1. US. V. Powell (Supreme)
        2. Woodson V. N.Carolina
        418 – Death Penalty Sentencing Phase [53]
        1. Gregg V. Georgia – The sentencer must enjoy unconstrained discretion to decide whether any sympathetic factors bearing on the defendant or the crime indicate that he does not deserve to be sentenced to death [59]

        > Jury Nullification Within the Rule of Law.doc ~ Darryl Brown

        > Arguing the Punishment, Jury Nullification & Instructions on Sentencing in 3 Strikes Cases. ~ Thomas Schmeling 1995, Law & Society Assoc.

      • You don’t find it the least bit odd that your cases you use to support your nullification theory have to do with ignoring mitigating cirmcumstances? Or that you find deciding not to kill someone is jury nullification? Because I do.

      • JustUsForAll

        Tamara, to return your reply – I was not looking for support for my theory. (just my opinion of Wilmott’s closing) – I disagree with you about it’s absence in the sentencing phase. Nullification seems to bring considerable concern within penalty structures in quite a number of cases – arguments for & against. These are mere snippets of info and of course include huge amounts to digest. There are rulings, but as explained by Mortiz.law/OSU/edu – there is more discussed (pgs.12-128) encompassing Moral Mercy & Moral Mitigation before he moves onto the section of MM & M Responsibilty. It would be interesting to see how it applies in each State, since so many are re-thinking double jeapordy & DP’s constitutionality. Arias doing a “bad thing”, or don’t ‘kill’ her, and pleas to keep her alive for her families sake, is just an emotional mechinism to me. Mitigator, perhaps albiet weak if one compares it to JA’s social usefulness vs her culpabilty to Premedit / M1 with Cruelty. Still a very fascinating debate ! ~ Touche ?

      • Well, let me start by saying the KEY ELEMENT to JURY NULLIFICATION is that the JURY REACHES AND AGREEMENT.

        So we can stop right there.

        I could go on with the whole sentencing v.verdict point. But if you knew what JURY NULLIFICATION meant, then the only part of the process where the jury reached a consensus was with the VERDICT. Which I am assuming you thought was just.

        But Carry on if you must. I have one more blog to write and then I can be here all night point out your complete misunderstanding of so many basic concepts if you want me too.

      • JustUsForAll

        That’s quite alright Tamara – I have to be awake in 5 hours and I’m spent from pouring over your blog all damn day… so perhaps you could explain it – nicely to me another day, if you’d like. – I’m going to get some sleep and you can insult me some more tomorrow. ~ Blog away ! – Night night !

      • I pretty much don’t get nicer than this. It’s taxing but I am willing to try again tomorrow.

        I don’t think I will have to go farther than JURY NULLIFICATION REQUIRES THAT THE JURY AGREES.

        I shall sleep on it and try to figure out how to couch that in a nice manner.

        I am not really good with social interactions specifically because I tend to point out false foundations for opinions A LOT. Make people not like me. So I tend not to do it HERE as much as I normally would. Because I am the hostess. and trying to allow for open discourse.

        I do think I should be able to point out falsehoods. Especially as many times as you want to express them on my blog so that others coming in do not assume I agree and/or that I do not understand jury nullification. It’s not all about you. When I may normally just smile and nod, here I have to make it clear to readers that I realize you are uninformed for the sake of MY credibility. Sorry to offend.

  10. Michelle

    I think she co-wrote Jodi’s allocation speech, blatantly using Samantha and Steven Alexander’s victim impact speeches as a guide.

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