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Arizona jury to weigh death penalty in Jodi Arias murder case

Jodi Arias reacts as a guilty verdict is read in her first-degree murder trial in Phoenix, Arizona May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Rob Schumacher/Arizo
Jodi Arias reacts as a guilty verdict is read in her first-degree murder trial in Phoenix, Arizona May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Rob Schumacher/Arizo

By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Jodi Arias, convicted of first-degree murder, will face an Arizona jury on Thursday tasked with determining if she deserves the death penalty for the brutal slaying of an ex-boyfriend in a sensational case that attracted national media attention.

Arias was found guilty on Wednesday of murdering 30-year-old Travis Alexander, whose body was found in the shower of his Phoenix valley home in June 2008. He had been shot in the face, stabbed 27 times and his throat had been slashed.

Arias, 32, had tried unsuccessfully to convince the jury during the four-month trial that she had acted in self-defense after Alexander attacked her because she had dropped his camera while taking photographs of him in the shower.

The trial, which aired graphic evidence including a sex tape and photographs of the blood-spattered crime scene, became a sensation on cable television news with its tale of an attractive and soft-spoken young woman charged with a brutal crime.

Arias teared up as the jury's decision was read while a crowd of hundreds erupted into cheers outside the court. Jurors could have convicted Arias of a lesser crime such as second-degree murder or manslaughter, but instead found her guilty of the most serious charge possible.

In a television interview moments after the verdict, Arias indicated that she preferred a death sentence to life in prison, and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said she was subsequently placed on suicide watch.

"The worst outcome for me would be natural life, I would much rather die sooner than later," Arias, speaking slowly and calmly, said in an interview with Fox affiliate KSAZ.

"I said years ago I'd rather get death than life and that still is true today. I believe death is the ultimate freedom, so I'd rather just have my freedom as soon as I can get it," she said.

AGGRAVATING FACTORS

At the sentencing trial, the prosecution will present evidence trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that aggravating factors exist which merit the death penalty. The defense can also present rebuttal evidence.

The decision will then be up to the jury.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the state planned to present "evidence to prove the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner."

A call to defense attorney Kirk Nurmi seeking comment was not immediately returned on Wednesday.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez painted a picture of Arias as manipulative and prone to jealousy in previous relationships, and he said she had meticulously planned to kill Alexander.

In making his case for premeditated murder, Martinez had accused Arias of bringing the pistol used in the killing, which has not been recovered, with her from California. He said she also rented a car, removed its license plate and bought gasoline cans and fuel to conceal her journey to the Phoenix suburbs to kill Alexander.

Martinez said Arias lied after the killing to deflect any suspicion that she had been involved in his death, leaving a voice mail on Alexander's cellphone, sending flowers to his grandmother and telling detectives she was not at the crime scene before changing her story.

Nurmi meanwhile argued that the one-time waitress had snapped in the "sudden heat of passion" in the moments between a photograph she took showing Alexander alive and taking a shower, and a subsequent picture of his apparently dead body covered in blood.

The sentencing trial is set to begin at 1 p.m. (2000 GMT)

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)

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