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(Reuters) - Jodi Arias, a California woman convicted in a sensational trial of brutally murdering her ex-boyfriend, is eligible for the death penalty after an Arizona jury found on Wednesday that she had inflicted extreme cruelty on her victim.
The same jury convicted Arias last week of first-degree murder in the death of 30-year-old Travis Alexander, whose body was found slumped in the shower of his Phoenix area home five years ago. She had stabbed him 27 times, slashed his throat and shot him in the face.
The jury, which recessed for the day after rendering its verdict in the penalty phase of the trial, was due to return to court on Thursday to weigh additional evidence to decide whether to actually sentence Arias to death or to life in prison.
Arias appeared agitated and tearful at times during Wednesday's proceedings, wiping her eyes and nose with a tissue and mostly keeping her gaze downward.
She had been placed on suicide watch in a psychiatric ward following her conviction a week ago after saying in a television interview that she would prefer the death penalty to life in prison, but she was returned to her jail cell on Monday.
The petite, 32-year-old former waitress had sought unsuccessfully to convince the jury during the four-month trial that she acted in self-defense.
She admitted shooting Alexander, an ex-boyfriend with whom she was having an on-again, off-again affair, but said she opened fire on him with his own pistol after 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 lurid circumstances of the case, which went to trial in January and featured graphic testimony, photographs of the blood-sprayed crime scene and a sex tape, became a sensation on cable television news and unfolded in live Internet telecasts of the proceedings.
On Wednesday, prosecutors focused on the grisly details of Alexander's slaying in their bid to cast the crime as especially cruel - a legal standard for aggravating factors that would qualify Arias for the death sentence.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez recounted how Arias attacked Alexander in his own shower, repeatedly stabbing him 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, thus reducing his suffering. If the bullet wound to his forehead came first, rendering him unconscious in seconds, then Alexander would not have suffered, defense attorney Kirk Nurmi said.
Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Tim Dobbyn