May 9, 2013

Arias trial now turns to whether she lives or dies

Just minutes after her conviction Wednesday, she tells a TV station she would 'prefer to die sooner than later.'

Brian Skoloff / The Associated Press

PHOENIX — Jodi Arias will spend the weekend on suicide watch and return to court next week when jurors are expected to consider whether the death penalty should be an option for the former waitress' sentence.

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Jodi Arias looks at her family after being found of guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of her one-time boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in their suburban Phoenix home.

AP

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Minutes after her conviction for killing a former boyfriend, Arias told a TV station she would "prefer to die sooner than later," complicating matters for defense lawyers who had hoped to spare her life during the penalty phase of the trial. The case was scheduled to resume Thursday, but court officials postponed it until Wednesday without explanation.

The surprising interview with Fox affiliate KSAZ only added to the circus-like environment surrounding the trial, which has become a cable TV sensation with its graphic tales of sex, lies and violence.

Since her arrest, Arias has repeatedly sought the spotlight, including TV interviews, 18 days on the witness stand before a global audience, jailhouse tweets, selling artwork from behind bars, and now the post-conviction comments. Adding to the spectacle of the trial, authorities on Thursday arrested an 18-year-old Phoenix man in connection with a bomb threat that was posted via Twitter after the Arias verdict was announced. Officials conducted bomb sweeps of the courthouse but found nothing.

Despite Arias' comments 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, and the judge will then make the final decision.

If she were sentenced to death, she could decide not to appeal to speed up the process, but it could still take years to play out as she lives under punishing conditions on death row. The state Department of Corrections says Arizona death row inmates have little contact with the outside world and only get to leave their solitary cells for two hours a day, three times a week. They get three showers a week.

The panel of eight men and four women convicted Arias of first-degree murder Wednesday after about 15 hours of deliberations over four days. Testimony began in early January.

The so-called "aggravation" phase of the trial is set for Wednesday, during which jurors will deliberate one more time to determine whether the death penalty should be an option for sentencing Arias.

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.

If jurors find the killing fits the definition of cruel and heinous, the panel will recommend either life in prison or death during the next and final penalty phase of the trial.

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.

Arias admitted killing her onetime boyfriend Travis Alexander on June 4, 2008. 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.

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

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