PHOENIX (USA TODAY) -- The sentencing hearing for convicted killer Jodi Arias ground to a halt Monday when her lawyers refused to call any witnesses and a judge refused their requests for a mistrial and to withdraw from the case.
Judge Sherry Stephens stopped the proceedings and released the jury for the day, telling them to return Tuesday morning.
Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi later said he will allow Arias to speak to the jury Tuesday. It's not clear what she will say -- In a post-conviction interview with the local Fox TV station, Arias said she would rather be executed than spend the rest of her life in prison.
On Monday, Nurmi clashed with Stephens over a motion he filed seeking a mistrial in the sentencing hearing. Nurmi said a witness who was supposed to testify regarding Arias' character had been threatened and was refusing to testify.
Patricia Womack has been receiving "threats on her life if she were to testify on Ms. Arias' behalf," Nurmi wrote in the mistrial motion.
But Stephens refused his motion, saying she could not determine why Womack would not testify because she was not present in the courtroom. Nurmi and co-counsel Jennifer Willmott then asked to drop out of the case. Stephens again refused.
Nurmi then refused to present any witnesses, and Stephens called for the recess. Nurmi later said Arias will speak Tuesday. Also previously scheduled to testify on Arias' behalf was a former boyfriend of Arias'.
Arias, 32, was found guilty May 8 of first-degree murder for the 2008 slaying of Travis Alexander, 30, who was found dead in his suburban Mesa, Ariz., home. He had been shot in the head and stabbed nearly 30 times, and his throat was slit. Arias said she killed Alexander, her secret lover, in self-defense; the jury thought otherwise.
Last week, the jury determined that the murder was committed in an "especially cruel manner," making Arias eligible for the death penalty. They heard tearful comments from Travis Alexander's brother and sister as they described how his killing has torn their lives apart.
Now the jury is to consider mitigating factors - evidence about Arias' character and background that may sway them not to impose a death sentence.
Stephens instructed jurors that they could consider a handful of factors when deciding what sentence to impose, including Arias' lack of a prior criminal record and assertions that she was a good friend, had an abusive childhood and is a talented artist.
In opening statements of the trial's penalty phase, prosecutor Juan Martinez told the panel that none of those factors should cause the jury to consider a sentence other than death, given the brutal nature of the killing.
Nurmi did not agree.
"When you understand who Ms. Arias is, you will understand that life is the appropriate sentence."
- Kirk Nurmi, Jodi Arias' defense lawyer
"When you understand who Ms. Arias is, you will understand that life is the appropriate sentence," Nurmi said.
The proceedings are designed to play out like a mini-trial. The prosecutor would be allowed to cross-examine each witness, and both sides would offer closing arguments before the jury's deliberations.
Under Arizona law, if the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision on sentencing, the panel would be dismissed and a new jury would hear arguments and determine a sentence. If the second panel cannot reach a unanimous agreement, the judge then would sentence Arias.
"Jodi Arias has proven herself to be a conniving manipulator, so she may be saying something like this to get a reaction from the jury," said a San Francisco criminal defense lawyer, Michael Cardoza. "She may be hoping the jury says, 'We won't give her what she wants, and if she wants death, we're giving her life.' "
Earlier this week, her lawyers asked to be allowed to step down from the case, but a judge denied the request. Legal experts say the decision was not a surprising one because the lawyers have a conflict of interest with their efforts to save her life after Arias said she would rather die.
Kiefer reports for The Arizona Republic
Contributing: The Associated Press