Arias Trial: Guilty of first-degree murder; penalty phase begins - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Arias Trial: Guilty of first-degree murder; penalty phase begins

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Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 2:25 pm | Updated: 11:10 am, Fri Aug 23, 2013.

Jodi Arias was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday in the gruesome killing of her one-time boyfriend in Arizona after a four-month trial that captured headlines with lurid tales of sex, lies, religion and a salacious relationship that ended in a blood bath.

Arias fought back tears, and family members of the victim wept and hugged each other as the verdict was announced in the hushed, packed courtroom.

Outside, a huge crowd that had gathered on the courthouse steps screamed, whistled and cheered the news in a case that has attracted fans from across the country who traveled to Phoenix to be close to the proceedings. Some chanted, "USA, USA, USA!"

The jury of eight men and four women took about 15 hours to reach its verdict after four months of testimony, including 18 days on the witness stand by the 32-year-old Arias. The jury will return to the courtroom Thursday to begin the next phase of the trial that could set the stage for her being sentenced to death.

Arias was charged with first-degree murder in the June 2008 death of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. Authorities said she planned the attack in a jealous rage after being rejected by the victim while he pursued other women. Arias initially denied involvement then later blamed the killing on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said it was self-defense.

Testimony began in early January, with Arias eventually spending 18 days on the witness stand. 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.

Jurors got the case Friday afternoon. They deliberated for two full days this week before reaching a decision late Wednesday morning. The verdict was announced at about 2 p.m. local time.

The trial will move into a phase during which prosecutors will argue the killing was committed in an especially cruel, heinous and depraved manner, called the "aggravation" phase. Both sides may call witnesses and show evidence during a mini trial of sorts. If the jury determines the killing was cruel, heinous and depraved, then another phase will begin to determine whether she should get the death penalty.

A mob of spectators gathered outside the courthouse to learn the verdict, while TV crews, media trucks and reporters lined nearby streets. Family and friends of Alexander wore blue ribbons and wristbands with the words "Justice For Travis."

Alexander suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, was shot in the forehead and had his throat slit before Arias dragged his body into his shower. He was found by friends about five days later.

Authorities said Alexander fought for his life as Arias attacked him in a blitz, but he soon grew too weak to defend himself.

"Mr. Alexander did not die calmly," prosecutor Juan Martinez told jurors in opening statements.

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.

Arias spent 18 days on the witness stand describing an abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, dead-end jobs, a shocking sexual relationship with Alexander, and her contention that he had grown physically abusive.

Psychologist Richard Samuels testified for the defense that Arias suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative amnesia, which explained why she couldn't recall much from the day of the killing. Another defense witness, psychotherapist Alyce LaViolette, concluded that Arias was a battered woman.

Their testimony would be crucial to convince jurors that, one, Arias wasn't lying about her memory gaps from the day of the killing, and two, that she did suffer physical abuse by Alexander. Defense attorneys had to get jurors to believe that despite no evidence of Alexander ever having been violent in the past, he had attacked Arias on several occasions, and did so again on the day of his death.

After all, there was no dispute that Arias killed Alexander.

It was the first thing Arias' defense acknowledged as the trial began.

"Jodi Arias killed Travis Alexander," Arias attorney Jennifer Willmott told jurors in opening statements. "There is no question about it. The million dollar question is what would have forced her to do it?"

Martinez worked feverishly to attack the credibility of the defense experts, accusing them of having sympathy for Arias and offering biased opinions.

He later called his own expert, clinical psychologist Janeen DeMarte, who told jurors Arias didn't suffer from PTSD or amnesia, and that she found no evidence that the defendant was a battered woman. Instead, DeMarte said Arias suffered from borderline personality disorder, showing signs of immaturity and an "unstable sense of identity."

People who suffer from such a disorder "have a terrified feeling of being abandoned by others," DeMarte told jurors.

The case had devolved into dueling expert witnesses.

Aside from her lies, Arias had 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. It would be left up to the jury to decide if it made sense.

Then there was Arias' account of Alexander's killing. She said she shot him first, but he kept coming, forcing her to grab a knife and defend herself.

However, Dr. Kevin Horn, a Maricopa County medical examiner, testified it would have been highly unlikely that Alexander could have sustained so many defensive wounds from the knife attack had he been shot in the head first. Horn said the gunshot would have rendered the victim incapable of fighting back.

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.

Adding to the spectacle, Arias sold drawings from jail throughout the trial on a website operated by a third party, said her mother, Sandra Arias. According to the site, some pieces were fetching more than a $1,000, and Sandra Arias said the money was being used to help pay for family expenses. Nothing prevented Arias from profiting from her notoriety given she hadn't been convicted of a crime.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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