PHOENIX -- After a short morning of testimony and argument, it took little more than an hour Wednesday for a Maricopa County Superior Court jury to move Jodi Arias one step closer to the death penalty.
The jurors unanimously determined that Arias had killed her lover, Travis Alexander, in an especially cruel manner, completing the second, or aggravation, phase of the trial and confirming that Arias is eligible for the death penalty.
On Thursday, the jurors will hear from Alexander's friends and family as they make "victim impact statements," and then, in what is referred to as the mitigation phase, Arias' defense team will present evidence and testimony that they hope will convince the jury to spare Arias' life.
Arias will address the jury Monday, and the life-or-death decision could be in the jury's hands by the end of the day.
So far, the jurors have been swift and decisive. On Wednesday, when the judge polled them to determine if the aggravation verdict was their true decision, they answered loudly and firmly: "Yes."
Arias, 32, has been on trial since Jan. 2 for the June 2008 murder. Alexander, 30, was found dead in the shower of his Mesa home, stabbed multiple times and shot in the head, with his throat slit. On May 8, after less than three days of deliberation, the jury found Ariasguilty of premeditated murder. The jury was sent home without explanation on May 9, and the trial did not reconvene until Wednesday.
Under Arizona law, there must be at least one "aggravating factor" from a statutory list, in this case thedetermination that the murder was "especially cruel." What that means is that the victim, Alexander, suffered pain and/or mental anguish and that Arias was aware that her actions could cause that pain or anguish.
Generally, the cruelty aggravator is coupled with language saying the murder was committed in a heinous or depraved manner, but those components were precluded by the first judge who handled the case. Arias' defense attorneys have challenged the aggravator because the earlier judge's determination of probable cause for cruelty was based on a different theory of how the murder took place.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez originally theorized that Arias first shot Alexander, then stabbed him and slit his throat. Late last year, just days before the jury was selected, Martinez told the court that Arias had stabbed Alexander first, then slit his throat and shot him while he was dead or dying.
The current judge, Sherry Stephens, allowed the allegation of cruelty to remain despite the changed facts of the case. And although Arias' attorneys have petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court, the justices have not held a conference to determine whether to consider the matter.
Before lunch Wednesday, 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 to not 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.
Michael Kiefer, The Arizona Republic