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Arias trial now turns to whether she lives or dies

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PHOENIX (AP) — 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.

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 any 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 and now the post-conviction comments.

She cannot choose the death penalty. It is up to the jury to make a sentencing recommendation, 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 was expected to begin next week. When it does, 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.

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.

Phoenix criminal defense lawyer Dwane Cates said Arias has presented obstacle after obstacle for her defense attorneys, who are now just trying to save her life.

“Her defense counsel put four years of their lives into this,” Cates said. “They’re trying to do everything they can for her, and every problem they have in this case is caused by her.

“Every time she opens her mouth, she creates a new problem for the defense,” Cates added.

He said prosecutor Juan Martinez will likely play for jurors the jailhouse interview from several years ago in which she said she wouldn’t be convicted — along with the interview she did after her conviction.

“I would say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, she challenged you to convict her and you did. Now give her her wish and put her to death,’” Cates said.

Defendants convicted of crimes rarely do interviews right after convictions and before being sentenced, but Arias honored an earlier request that she talk to the Fox station in the event of a first-degree murder conviction.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail system, has allowed Arias to do other media interviews and even put on a videotaped “American Idol”-style Christmas singing contest in which Arias took home the top prize.

The sheriff’s office said no more interviews will be allowed with Arias now that she is on suicide watch.

During the next phase of the trial, prosecutors will likely call back to the witness stand the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, as well as the lead detective to explain for jurors how Alexander did not die quickly and likely suffered tremendous pain.

Arias 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.

Complicating things even more for her attorneys are Arias’ own words. As she sat in jail awaiting trial several years ago, she made a bold prediction during an interview on the television show “Inside Edition.”

“No jury will convict me,” she said. Then she went before a camera Wednesday and made more news.

“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.”

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Brian Skoloff can be followed at https://twitter.com/bskoloff .



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