National News

May 9, 2013

Arias trial now turns to whether she lives or dies

PHOENIX — The jury has rendered its verdict — Jodi Arias is guilty of first-degree murder — but the trial is far from finished.

The same jury now returns to the courtroom Thursday to decide whether she deserves to die for killing her one-time boyfriend on June 4, 2008, at his suburban Phoenix home.

Despite her wish that she get death, the decision is only up to a jury at this point. Arias could choose not to testify at the penalty phase and not appeal her conviction if she were to get death, but such scenarios are rare and still take years to play out.

The sheer brutality of the attack and previous testimony from the Maricopa County Medical Examiner that Travis Alexander did not die a quick death will be at the heart of the prosecution’s argument that Jodi should receive the ultimate punishment for her crime.

Alexander was stabbed and slashed nearly 30 times, shot in the forehead and had slit his throat from ear to ear, leaving the motivational speaker and businessman nearly decapitated. Friends found his decomposing body in his shower about five days later.

Arias spoke out about the verdict minutes after her conviction Wednesday, telling a TV station that she would “prefer to die sooner than later.”

“Longevity runs in my family, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my natural life in one place,” a tearful Arias told Fox affiliate KSAZ. “I believe death is the ultimate freedom and I’d rather have my freedom as soon as I can get it.”

Arias, 32, fought back tears as a court clerk read aloud the highly anticipated verdict after a four-month trial in which the jury heard 18 days of testimony from the defendant, saw a series of gruesome crime scene photos and heard a raunchy phone sex chat between Arias recorded with Alexander just weeks before he died.

The next portion of the trial is called the “aggravation phase,” and it will focus on whether the jury believes the crime was committed in an especially cruel, heinous and depraved manner. If jurors find the aggravators exist, the next step will be the penalty phase during which the panel will recommend either life in prison or death. The process could take several more weeks to wrap up.

The trial quickly became an Internet sensation and transformed Arias from a little-known waitress to a morbid curiosity and a star of a real-life true-crime drama that the public followed incessantly. The presence of cameras in the courtroom, the advance of Internet streaming video and social media, the salacious details of the case, and the attention it got on cable networks like HLN gave the trial the feel of a celebrity proceeding.

The jury heard all about the stormy relationship between Alexander and Arias after they met at a 2006 conference in Las Vegas and he persuaded her to convert to Mormonism. They began dating but broke up five months later, at which point prosecutors said she began stalking him and became increasingly obsessed with Alexander.

The 30-year-old victim was a rising star at a legal services company called Prepaid Legal, where he gave rousing motivational speeches to colleagues and was a beloved co-worker to people across the organization.

Arias sought to portray him as an abusive sexual deviant in her trial, hoping that the jury would buy her claims that she killed him in self-defense after being unable to take the abuse anymore. She claimed he attacked her and forced her to fight for her life. Prosecutors said she killed out of jealous rage after Alexander wanted to end their affair and planned to take a trip to Mexico with another woman.

Alexander’s family members wept and hugged each other after the verdict. They thanked prosecutor Juan Martinez and the lead detective on the case, but declined comment until after sentencing.

Alexander’s friend, Chris Hughes, said he was happy with the verdict, pointing out a bold proclamation Arias made in one of her jailhouse interviews that she wouldn’t be found guilty.

“She said, ‘No jury would convict me. Mark my words.’ This jury convicted her,” Hughes said. “Luckily, we had 12 smart jurors. They nailed it.”

When asked about Alexander’s family, Arias told the station, “I just hope that now that a verdict has been rendered, that they’ll be able to find peace.”

Arias seemed to cry silently when asked about her mother. With tears falling, she said her mom “has been a saint and I haven’t treated her very well.”

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said no more media interviews with Arias would be granted. She has been placed on suicide watch.

Outside court, more than 200 spectators and reporters watched for the verdict on their smartphones. A ripple of relief spread as people learned the result. The crowd cheered, with some people jumping, waving, high-fiving and dancing in approval.

Hughes said it was frustrating to hear the defense besmirch his friend’s reputation during the trial, but praised the jurors for the verdict. He said he and the Alexander family were shocked by the international attention the case had received.

“Travis was grandiose, so it’s interesting how this played out ... it is a bit of a circus. We were all surprised that it’s like this,” he said.

Testimony began in early January. The trial quickly snowballed into a made-for-the-tabloids drama, garnering daily coverage from cable news networks and spawning a virtual cottage industry for talk shows, legal experts and even Arias, who used her notoriety to sell artwork she made in jail. She also sent out tweets via an intermediary, attracting tens of thousands of followers.

Arias said she recalled Alexander attacking her in a fury after a day of sex. She said Alexander came at her “like a linebacker,” body-slamming her to the tile floor. She managed to wriggle free and ran into his closet to retrieve a gun he kept on a shelf. She said she fired in self-defense but had no memory of stabbing him.  

She acknowledged trying to clean the scene of the killing, dumping the gun in the desert and working on an alibi to avoid suspicion. She said she was too scared and ashamed to tell the truth. However, none of Arias’ allegations that Alexander had physically abused her in the months before his death, that he owned a gun and had sexual desires for young boys were corroborated by witnesses or evidence during the trial. She acknowledged lying repeatedly before and after her arrest but insisted she was telling the truth in court.

During her 18 days on the witness stand, Arias described an abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, dead-end jobs, a shocking sexual relationship with Alexander, and her contention that he had grown physically violent in hopes of gaining sympathy from jurors.

But aside from her admitted lies, Arias had yet another formidable obstacle to overcome.

Her grandparents had reported a .25-caliber handgun stolen from their Northern California home about a week before Alexander’s death — the same caliber used to shoot him — but Arias insisted she didn’t take it. Authorities believe she brought it with her to kill him. The coincidence of the same caliber gun stolen from the home also being used to shoot Alexander was never resolved.

Meanwhile, the entire case devolved into a circus-like spectacle attracting dozens of enthusiast each day to the courthouse as they lined up for a chance to score just a few open public seats in the gallery. One trial regular sold her spot in line to another person for $200. Both got reprimands from the court, and the money was returned.

Many people also gathered outside after trial for a chance to see Martinez, who had gained celebrity-like status for his firebrand tactics and unapologetically intimidating style of cross-examining defense witnesses.

The case grew into a worldwide sensation as thousands followed the trial via a live, unedited Web feed. Twitter filled with comments as spectators expressed their opinions on everything from Arias’ wardrobe to Martinez’s angry demeanor. For its fans, the Arias trial became a live daytime soap opera.

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