PHOENIX (AP) — Jodi Arias' defense attorneys were set to present closing arguments Friday in the murder case that has become a tabloid and cable TV sensation with its graphic tales of sex and lies and has attracted spectators from around the country who line up as early as 2 a.m. for a chance to score a few open seats in the courtroom.
Arias, 32, is charged with first-degree murder in the June 2008 death of her one-time boyfriend at his suburban Phoenix home. Authorities say she planned the attack on Travis Alexander after he wanted to end their relationship and prepared for a trip to Mexico with another woman.
Arias initially denied any involvement then later blamed it on masked intruders. Two years after her arrest, she said she killed him in self-defense when he attacked her after a day of sex.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Arias faces a potential death sentence or life in prison. Jurors also have the option of finding her guilty of second-degree murder, punishable by up to 25 years in prison, if they don't believe she planned the attack but instead think it occurred in the heat of the moment. A third option is manslaughter, which carries a sentence of seven to 21 years.
Arias wept and looked away from jurors Thursday as prosecutor Juan Martinez concluded closing arguments by displaying a gruesome photo of Alexander's back, covered in stab wounds, while describing her as a manipulative liar who meticulously planned the savage attack.
He pounded his hand on a table, raising his voice occasionally but largely speaking in an almost whisper-like tone. Martinez said Arias lied from the start and is still lying, and hoped to fool the jury into believing she is the victim.
"That's what she wants you to believe," Martinez said, the photo of Alexander's dead body displayed on a large screen behind him. "But actually, in reality, it's this," he said, motioning toward the autopsy picture.
The images displayed Thursday, one after another, of Alexander's decomposed body covered in stab wounds, of his bruised face with a gunshot wound above the forehead, of the bloody scene of the killing, were too much for Alexander's friends and family members. They sobbed and buried their faces in their hands.
"This is an individual who will stop at nothing, and who will continue to be manipulative and will lie at every turn," Martinez told jurors.
Alexander suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, was shot in the head, and had his throat slit. Arias' palm print was found in blood at the scene, along with nude photos of her and the victim from the day of the killing.
Arias said Alexander grew physically abusive in the months before she killed him, but there was no evidence or testimony during the trial to corroborate her allegations.
The defense has portrayed Alexander as a cheating womanizer who used Arias for sex and abused her physically and emotionally. Prosecutors depicted Arias as an obsessed ex-girlfriend who couldn't come to grips with the ending relationship.
Martinez told jurors that Arias had been stalking Alexander and arrived unannounced on the day she killed him, sneaking into his home at about 4 a.m. The two went to sleep together, then awoke and had sex.
At some point, Martinez said, Arias decided it was time to carry out her murderous plan.
Martinez displayed text messages that Alexander and Arias exchanged about a week before the killing.
"I want you to understand how evil I think you are," Alexander wrote to her.
The key to a first-degree murder conviction lies with intent, and Martinez said repeatedly that Arias planned the killing well in advance.
Arias' 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. Arias was staying with them at the time, and the burglary occurred two days after the text messages that indicated Alexander no longer wanted anything to do with her.
Arias said she recalls Alexander attacking her in a fury on the day he died. She said she ran into his closet to retrieve a gun he kept on a shelf and fired in self-defense but has no memory of stabbing him. There has been no evidence presented that Alexander owned a gun, and the weapons used in the killing have never been found. Arias said she disposed of the gun in the desert.
"This is a meticulous approach to premeditation," Martinez told jurors. "This is a meticulous approach to killing."
Arias' demeanor changed as the day went on. She began unemotionally scribbling notes with a pencil, even flashing a smirk as the prosecutor described her apparently faking an orgasm on a phone sex chat with Alexander that was played for jurors. She gently shook her head on another occasion. But once Martinez got to the photos, Arias was in tears.
"It's like a field of lies that has sprouted up around her as she sat on the witness stand," Martinez said of Arias' 18 days testifying. "Every time she spat something out, another lie."
Brian Skoloff can be followed at https://twitter.com/bskoloff