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May 15, 2013

Arias back in court as jury ponders death option

PHOENIX —  Jodi Arias returns to court Wednesday so jurors can consider whether the death penalty should be an option for sentencing the former waitress after convicting her last week of murdering her former boyfriend.

Arias, 32, spent the weekend on suicide watch before being transferred back to an all-female jail where she will remain until sentencing.

Minutes after her first-degree murder conviction, Arias granted an interview to Fox affiliate KSAZ, only adding to the circus-like environment surrounding the trial that has become a cable TV sensation with its graphic tales of sex, lies and violence.

"Longevity runs in my family, and I don't want to spend the rest of my natural life in one place," a tearful Arias said. "I believe death is the ultimate freedom, and I'd rather have my freedom as soon as I can get it."

Despite the comment that she would rather die than be in prison for life, she cannot choose the death penalty. It is up to the jury to recommend a sentence.

During the so-called aggravation phase of the trial that starts Wednesday, prosecutor Juan Martinez must convince the panel that the murder was committed in an especially cruel, heinous and depraved manner. This phase will be a mini-trial of sorts, as both sides call witnesses to present testimony to jurors — the defense in an effort to spare Arias' life, the prosecution to at least have a shot at a death sentence.

Martinez will likely call the county medical examiner who performed the autopsy to explain to jurors how Travis Alexander did not die calmly and fought for his life as evidenced by the numerous defensive wounds on his hands and feet. The lead detective on the case also will likely testify about the crime scene in an effort to show jurors just how much blood was spread around Alexander's bathroom and bedroom as he struggled to fend off the attack.

If jurors find Arias' crime deserves consideration of the death penalty, the trial will move into yet another — and final — phase. Prosecutors will call witnesses, including members of Alexander's family, aimed at convincing the panel she should face the ultimate punishment. Arias' attorneys will also call witnesses, likely members of her family, in an attempt to gain sympathy from jurors so they give her life in prison.

If the panel finds no aggravating factors exist, jurors will be dismissed and the judge will determine whether Arias should spend the rest of her life in prison or be sentenced to 25 years with the possibility of release.

"I think this jury is going to listen to everything, but they're going to come back very quickly and find that indeed the state has shown beyond a reasonable doubt the crime was committed in an especially cruel, heinous and depraved manner," Phoenix criminal defense lawyer Julio Laboy said. "This was a cruel death and one in which he (Alexander) knew he was dying."

Arias acknowledged killing Alexander on June 4, 2008, at his suburban Phoenix home. She initially denied any involvement then later blamed masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said it was self-defense when the victim attacked her after a day of sex.

She stabbed and slashed Alexander nearly 30 times, shot him in the forehead and slit his throat from ear to ear, leaving the motivational speaker and businessman nearly decapitated before she dragged his mutilated body into his shower where friends found him about five days later.

Prosecutors said Arias planned the killing in a jealous rage, as Alexander wanted to end their affair and planned to take a trip to Mexico with another woman.

Testimony began in early January. The jury reached its verdict last Wednesday after about 15 hours of deliberations over four days. All 12 jurors, eight men and four women, unanimously agreed the killing was premeditated.

"This case is not over. There's a lot left and without question, victory still awaits the defense if they can save her life and keep her off death row," Laboy said. "It was such a difficult set of facts and circumstances for her defense to overcome, from her multiple lies to the crime scene to the physical evidence. ... If despite all of those things, they can save her life, they've still won."

 

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