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Jodi Arias may get death sentence as Arizona murder trial concludes

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, facing the death penalty for murdering an ex-boyfriend in Arizona, was due back in court on Thursday for the final phase of a four-month-long trial.

Arias was found guilty last week of murdering Travis Alexander, whose body was found slumped in the shower of his Phoenix-area home five years ago. He had been stabbed 27 times, had his throat slashed and been shot in the face.

The same jury that convicted Arias deliberated for about three hours on Wednesday, first day of the penalty phase, before ruling that she had acted with extreme cruelty in the 2008 killing, qualifying her for capital punishment.

On Thursday, prosecutors and defense lawyers will present additional testimony and arguments for the jury to weigh before one last round of deliberations to determine whether Arias is sentenced to death or to life in prison.

The defense is expected to revisit its claim that Arias acted out of fear, and that her relationship with Alexander, 30, was fraught with abuse and efforts by Alexander to control her.

The most relevant mitigating claim is likely to be that Arias acted under "unusual or substantial duress".

The jury rejected Arias' claims of self-defense when it found her guilty of premeditated murder.

It was not certain whether Arias, who took the witness stand to testify in her own defense, would opt to make any further statements in court before the jury delivers its sentence.

SUICIDE WATCH

Arias had been placed on suicide watch in a psychiatric ward after saying in a post-conviction television interview that she would prefer the death penalty to life in prison. She was returned to her jail cell on Monday.

Arias has admitted shooting Alexander and said she opened fire on him with his own pistol when he attacked her in a rage because she dropped his camera while taking snapshots of him in the shower. She said she did not remember stabbing him.

The case featured graphic testimony and photographs as well as a sex tape, which became a sensation on cable television news and unfolded in live Internet telecasts of the proceedings.

On Wednesday, prosecutors focused on details of the murder in their bid to cast the crime as especially cruel, a legal standard for aggravating factors that qualify for the death sentence.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez said Arias had repeatedly stabbed Alexander for two minutes as he tried to escape from the bathroom. She then followed the bleeding victim down a hallway and slashed his throat when he was too weak to get away.

Alexander knew he was going to die and was unable to resist his attacker at that point, Martinez said.

"Each and every time that blade went into his body, it hurt," Martinez told the jury. "It was only death that relieved that pain. It was only death that relieved that anguish, and that is especially cruel."

The defense argued that adrenaline would have prevented Alexander from feeling the pain of the knife blows. If he was shot in the forehead first, rendering him unconscious in seconds, he would not have suffered, attorney Kirk Nurmi said.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Louise Ireland and Cynthia Johnston)

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