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Jodi Arias faces possible death penalty after jury's verdict

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Prosecution faces "a more complicated" challenge, CNN's Jeffery Toobin says
  • Jurors say Jodi Arias was "especially cruel" when she killed Travis Alexander
  • That means she faces the possibility of the death penalty
  • A prosecutor argues that Travis Alexander suffered and felt physical pain

(CNN) -- Jodi Arias could face the death penalty, nearly five years after she stabbed, shot and almost decapitated her ex-boyfriend.

An Arizona jury Wednesday found that Arias was "exceptionally cruel" when she murdered Travis Alexander in 2008. That verdict makes Arias, 32, eligible for the death penalty in the next phase of her trial.

Arias sobbed as a prosecutor presented evidence Wednesday.

Around her, the courtroom was silent for two minutes.

That's how long Travis Alexander suffered in pain as Arias attacked him, Prosecutor Juan Martinez said.

"Does that seem like a short period of time?" Martinez said. "It was an incredibly long period of time to be continually stabbed, to be continually followed."

Jodi Arias reacts on Wednesday, May 8, after an Arizona jury found her guilty of first-degree murder for killing Travis Alexander in June 2008. The conviction means Arias could face the death penalty. Her trial has taken many turns and revealed a story of sex and violence. Jodi Arias reacts on Wednesday, May 8, after an Arizona jury found her guilty of first-degree murder for killing Travis Alexander in June 2008. The conviction means Arias could face the death penalty. Her trial has taken many turns and revealed a story of sex and violence.
The Jodi Arias trial
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Photos: The Jodi Arias trial Photos: The Jodi Arias trial
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And Arias, he argued, was well-aware of how much Alexander was suffering.

"He was stabbed in the heart, chased down and then he had his throat slit," Martinez said. "Those approximately two minutes that we talked about must have seemed like two lifetimes."

Arias stabbed Alexander 29 times, slit his neck from ear to ear and shot him in the face.

During the trial, she claimed she killed him in self-defense after he attacked her.

Jurors found her guilty of first-degree murder a week ago.

But that was just the first of a series of decisions they must make in the case, which has been marked by drama so intense that spectators have lined up to get seats in the Phoenix courtroom.

Under Arizona law, before they could consider imposing the death penalty, jurors had to answer a key question: Was Arias exceptionally cruel when she killed Alexander? They answered the question on Wednesday.

Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi had urged them not to be swayed by passion or emotion.

He said that adrenaline surging through Alexander's body at the time of the attack could have prevented him from feeling pain.

Haven't been following the trial? Read this

He also argued that psychological problems prevented Arias from knowing the pain Alexander was going through or understanding what was going on.

In a rebuttal, Martinez countered that actions Arias took after the killing, such as cleaning up the scene, made it clear that she understood what was going on.

As Martinez showed images of Alexander's wounds to the jury Wednesday, members of Alexander's family wept. Arias cried and looked away.

After hearing testimony from medical examiner Dr. Kevin Horn and arguments from both sides, the jury deliberated for about an hour and a half before reaching a verdict.

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But the case isn't over. Arias, who testified for 18 days during the trial, could speak to jurors again in court.

The jury's verdict Wednesday means the case moves to the sentencing phase.

"Now is a more complicated and a more difficult challenge for the prosecution, and a chance for the defense to really put on a case," CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.

The defense will have an opportunity to ask the jury for mercy and present evidence to support why Arias should not be executed. Witnesses may include Arias' friends and family, and Arias could make a statement to the jury pleading for her life to be spared.

Members of Alexander's family may also testify.

The jury then will deliberate for a third time to determine whether Arias should be sentenced to life or death. Its decision must be unanimous. In the case of a deadlock, a new jury would be chosen for this phase only.

The trial's final phase starts at 10:30 a.m. (1:30 p.m. ET) Thursday. It's unclear how long it will take.

One thing is clear, Toobin said.

"This is the last decision the jury has to make," he said, "and things have not been going well for (Arias) so far."

There are 127 people on death row in Arizona. If Arias is given a sentence of death, she would be the fourth woman on death row in the state.

Minutes after the first-degree murder guilty verdict was announced last week, Arias said receiving a sentence of life in prison without parole would be the worst possible outcome.

"I said years ago that I'd rather get death than life, and that still is true today," she told Phoenix television station KSAZ. "I believe death is the ultimate freedom, so I'd rather just have my freedom as soon as I can get it."

HLNTV.com: Friend of Arias tweeting on her behalf

HLN's Graham Winch contributed to this report.

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