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Jurors find Jodi Arias eligible for death penalty

6:51 PM, May 15, 2013   |    comments
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PHOENIX (USA TODAY) -- After little more than two hours of argument and testimony, the jury in the Jodi Arias murder determined she is qualified for the death penalty.

Under Arizona law, there must be at least one "aggravating factor" from a statutory list, in this case, a determination that the murder was "especially cruel." What that means is that the victim, Travis Alexander, suffered pain and/or mental anguish, and that Arias was aware that her actions could cause that pain or anguish.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez showed grisly autopsy photos to remind the jurors of the nearly 30 stab wounds Alexander suffered, the slit throat, the bullet wound to his forehead.

The medical examiner who performed the autopsy testified for the fourth time to talk about pain and suffering. He was the day's only witness.

And though an exact sequence of wounds was never determined -- and Arias claims not to remember -- Martinez created an elaborate and emotionally powerful narrative, postulating that Alexander was seated in the shower reaching up to fend off a knife attack and then staggered to the sink to look at himself in the mirror.

"He's still in pain," Martinez said as he showed a photograph of the blood-spattered sink and mirror. "He feels the shortness of breath... he sees himself in the mirror. He sees the defendant..."

"To see his face in the mirror: Was it contorted in pain? Did he scream?"

Then, Martinez said, Alexander must have tried to escape down a hallway, only to fall.

"The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was the defendant with that blade to his throat," Martinez said. And he averred that Alexander would have suffered grave mental anguish at the sight.

Defense attorney Jennifer Willmott argued that the attack was relatively brief, and that the adrenaline surge of a fight or flight response would have numbed the pain.

Martinez countered by asking the courtroom to stay still for two minutes, noting how long it seemed, especially if one were being stabbed.

In the end, Arias' other attorney, Kirk Nurmi, asked the jurors not to be swayed by emotion.

If they determine that the murder was especially cruel, the trial will move on to the mitigation stage, where the defense will present evidence about Arias' background and family that they hope will outweigh the aggravation. Arias will be allowed to speak to the jurors and ask them to save her life. Alexander's family will be allowed to give victim impact statements.The jury will then determine if she is to be sentenced to death or to life in prison.

If they cannot agree on the aggravator, the judge will have to declare a mistrial. A new jury would be chosen to consider only the penalty; the conviction would stand.

If they decide there is no aggravator, the trial will end, there will be no death penalty, and the judge will have to decide at a future date whether Arias is sentenced to natural life in prison or whether she will be eligible for parole after 25 years.

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