The murder trial of Jodi Arias has been filled with salacious details of phone sex, graphic text messages, and an erotic sexual relationship between her and her devout Mormon ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander.
Arias, 32, converted to Mormonism when she began to date Alexander, then 29, in 2006. Though they were both outwardly devout, they immediately developed a sexual relationship.
The trial has cast a spotlight on the tight-knit Mormon community in Mesa, Ariz., and its strict social mores, including a ban on premarital sex. According to Patrick Mason, a professor of religion who specializes in Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, the trial shows the difficulty Mormons face in coping wiith the church's demand for chastity.
"The LDS church puts a really high priority on complete chastity," Mason said. "They define that as no sexual relations of any kind outside of marriage between a man and a woman, no premarital sex and no extramarital sex either, and there's actually a lot of time and attention paid to this."
Arias is on trial for murdering Alexander, whom she dated for a year and then continued to have sex with for a year after that. Prosecutors allege she killed him in a fit of jealousy in June 2008, after taking graphic sexual photos with him and having sex earlier in the day.
Arias claims she shot and stabbed Alexander in self defense, and her attorneys have focused on Alexander's secret sex life as proof that he was a "sexual deviant" who was abusive and controlling toward Arias.They claim Alexander, who was considered a church elder, kept Arias his "dirty little secret" because sex outside of marriage was against church rules.
See Jodi Arias Trial Videos More than anything, Mason said, this case shows the shockwaves sent through Arizona's Mormon community when those values were breached so flagrantly with a violent killing and the web of lies surrounding it. "Mesa is one of those concentrated areas of historic Mormon settlement."
"Were you shocked to learn (Alexander) was not a virgin?" defense attorney Jennifer Willmott asked Lisa Daidone, who dated Alexander after he broke up with Arias. Alexander and Arias continued to sleep together while he dated Daidone.
"Yes," Daidone said on the stand Wednesday. "I believed he was a virgin."
"Was Mr. Alexander living in accordance with his Mormon principles?" defense attorney Kirk Nurmi asked another witness, Daniel Freeman, a Mormon friend of Alexander's in Arizona.
"Yes," Freeman said on the stand Thursday.
"Was there any reason to believe Mr. Alexander was not living up to his Mormon principles as a church elder?"
"No," Freeman said.
Freeman said that Alexander never told him or other church members that he had a sexual relationship with Arias. In fact, Freeman's sister, Desiree Freeman, testified that Alexander made it known he was a virgin when in social settings, and "he joked about it."
The stakes are high for Mormons who choose to have sex, Mason said. They can face excommunication or a tarnished reputation among their closest friends and family members.
"In Mormonism, if you're not married, your social capital is largely defined by preserving your virginity. If it is known that you've had sex before marriage, even if people try to be compassionate and not judgmental, there is no doubt that in Mormon communities and the eyes of other Mormons... it lessens your social standing."
The conflict between Alexander's outer appearances and his secret sexual trysts with Arias is key to the defense's strategy of painting him as an abusive lover. But the testimony has also shown, conversely, how sexually conservative and pure many young Mormons in America are.