PHOENIX (Reuters) - Convicted killer Jodi Arias asked jurors on Tuesday to spare her the death penalty and sentence her to life in prison for killing her ex-boyfriend, reversing statements she made after her conviction that she preferred death to incarceration.
“I made many public statements that I would prefer the death penalty to life in prison. Each time I said that, though I meant it, I lost perspective. Until very recently I could not have imagined standing before you all and asking you to give me life ... I thought I would rather die,” Arias said.
In a final act in a marathon court drama that began in January, Arias said she wanted her life to be spared for the sake of her family. “As I stand here now, I can’t in good conscience ask you to sentence me to death because of them,” she said, pointing to her father and other family members in court.
Arias, 32, was found guilty earlier in May of premeditated murder in the death of Travis Alexander, whose body was found in his Phoenix-area home in June 2008. He had been shot in the face, stabbed multiple times, and his throat had been slashed.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens asked the jury to decide the fate of the former waitress from California following closing arguments in the penalty phase of her trial on Tuesday. Arias told jurors she was sorry and that she could lead a productive life in prison.
“To this day, I can hardly believe I was capable of such violence, but I know that I was, and for that I‘m going to be sorry for the rest of my life … I was horrified by what I had done, and I am horrified still,” Arias said.
During her trial, Arias admitted killing Alexander but said she had acted in self defense after he attacked her. She also characterized her relationship with Alexander as physically and emotionally abusive.
If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision, a new jury would be impaneled to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed.
During Tuesday’s court appearance, she said there were many things she could do in prison to “effect positive change” and contribute to society, and she mentioned that already, from behind bars, she had donated her long hair to a charity.
“If I‘m allowed to live in prison, I will continue to donate to that organization for the rest of my life,” she said, adding that she would also like to contribute to campaigns for literacy and to curb domestic violence.
“SO MUCH PAIN”
In closing arguments, defense attorney Jennifer Willmott walked jurors through eight mitigating factors - among them that Arias had suffered abuse, had no criminal history and was 27 at the time of the murder - and urged them to show mercy.
“Jodi took Travis away ... but two wrongs do not make a right. Jodi can still contribute to this world,” Willmott told jurors, as Arias sat calmly by her side.
“We are asking you to find that Jodi’s life is worth saving .. Despite her very worst deed, you can still show mercy and find that she still has value in her life and sentence her to a term of life in prison,” she said.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez countered that there were no documented reports to corroborate Arias’ claims of abuse and urged the jury to return a death sentence.
On Monday, Judge Stephens denied requests by the defense for a penalty phase mistrial and to withdraw from the case. She also denied a motion for a stay to give the defense time to appeal her decisions to the Arizona Supreme Court.
The murder trial, which featured graphic testimony and photographs, became a sensation on cable television with its story of an attractive, intelligent and soft-spoken young woman charged with an unthinkable crime.
Arias told the court that she had shot Alexander with his own pistol after he attacked her because she had dropped his camera while photographing him in the shower. She said she did not remember stabbing him.
Martinez said Arias had repeatedly stabbed Alexander for two minutes as he tried to escape and that she then followed him down a hallway and slashed his throat.
Alexander, a 30-year-old businessman and motivational speaker with whom Arias said she was having an on-again, off-again affair, knew he was going to die and was unable to resist his attacker at that point, Martinez said.
Jurors heard testimony last week from Alexander’s younger brother Steven, who said the killing had invaded his dreams and that since the murder he had been hospitalized several times for ulcers. He said he never wanted to see Arias again.
Alexander’s younger sister Samantha said thoughts of “the pain, agony, the screams and the fear” of her brother’s last moments were stuck in her mind.
On Tuesday, Arias acknowledged the siblings’ distress, and said she “never meant to cause them so much pain.”
“It is my hope that with the verdict you have rendered thus far they will finally gain a sense of closure. Steven said he doesn’t want to look at his brother’s murderer anymore. If I get life, he won’t have to,” Arias said.
Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Toni Reinhold and Cynthia Osterman