Jodi Arias guilty of first-degree murder; death penalty possible

MGN Online
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 5:20pm

After months of twists and turns in a dramatic trial rife with sex, lies and digital images, an Arizona jury Wednesday found Jodi Arias guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander.

Jurors will return to court Thursday for the aggravation phase of the trial -- an important step in the next key decision they face: determining whether Arias lives or dies.

"Now the odds, I think shift somewhat in her favor, because it's a very different thing to sentence someone to die than to convict them," CNN senior legal analyst Jeffery Toobin said after the verdict was read on Wednesday.

Arias was stoic in court Wednesday. Her eyes briefly welled up with tears as a clerk announced that the jury found her guilty of first-degree murder for killing Alexander in June 2008.

The case has drawn worldwide attention and followers lined up daily for courtroom seats.

Crowds outside the courthouse erupted in cheers Wednesday as news of the verdict spread.

Alexander's friends told HLN they were relieved by the jury's decision Wednesday.

"It's been five long years that we've waited for this," said Dave Hall, choking back tears. "It just feel so good ... to finally have the truth and be vindicated."

But the trial isn't over yet, and Arias could take the stand again.

In the next step of the case, known as the aggravation phase, prosecutors will have a chance to present additional evidence and jurors will decide whether Alexander's death was caused in a cruel manner. From there, the case will move to the penalty phase, where jurors would decide whether Arias should receive a death sentence.

If the jury decides on a death sentence, the judge is bound by that decision. But if the jury decides against the death penalty, the judge would have two options: sentencing Arias to life in prison without the possibility of parole, or sentencing her to life in prison with the possibility of parole after at least 25 years.

Family members of Alexander are preparing to file a civil wrongful death lawsuit, attorney Jay Beckstead told reporters outside the courthouse. Alexander's siblings won't speak publicly about the case until Arias is sentenced, Beckstead said, adding that the family is grateful to prosecutors and detectives for their work.

Since Friday, jurors have been deliberating evidence surrounding a key question: Did Arias kill ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in self-defense? Or did she commit murder?

Alexander was stabbed repeatedly, shot and nearly decapitated five years ago. Arias says she killed him in self-defense after he attacked her, but the grisly slaying caused even some anti-domestic violence advocates to doubt her case.

The jury, which has been in court since January 2, heard closing arguments on Friday. Jurors deliberated for 15 hours and five minutes.

As they took a lunch break after revealing they had reached a verdict Wednesday, some jurors were seen smiling and breathing sighs of relief. One juror returning from lunch wiped her eyes.

A massive crowd swarmed around the Maricopa County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon as word spread that a verdict had been reached. Some onlookers said they had been following the trial for months.

"We are here every day to support Travis' family 100%," said Kathy Brown, who got a cane she uses autographed by prosecutor Juan Martinez. "It's emotional, because I really feel in my heart that there's going to be a first-degree murder conviction."

In the trial, both sides dramatically presented their arguments with details about Arias' love affair with Alexander.

"She rewarded that love from Travis Alexander by sticking a knife in his chest," Martinez said in his opening statement. "And you know he was a good man, according to her. And with regard to being a good man, well, she slit his throat as a reward for being a good man. And in terms of these blessings, well, she knocked the blessings out of him by putting a bullet in his head."

But defense attorney Jennifer Willmott countered: "Jodi Arias killed Travis Alexander. There is no question about it. The million-dollar question is what would have forced her to do it?"

Martinez accused Arias of playing the victim. He alleged she staged the crime scene to make it look like self-defense.

He also accused her of actively seeking to profit from her media attention.

Willmott said Arias was the victim of a controlling, psychologically abusive relationship, and Alexander considered Arias "his dirty little secret."

There are currently 127 people on death row in Arizona. If Arias is given a sentence of death, she would be the fourth woman on death row in the state.

-- CNN's Dana Ford, Ted Rowlands, Ashleigh Banfield and Eliott C. McLaughlin and HLN's Jessica Thill and Graham Winch contributed to this report.

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