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Jodi Arias murder case goes to Arizona jury

Defendant Jodi Arias listens as prosecutor Juan Martinez makes his closing arguments during her trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in P
Defendant Jodi Arias listens as prosecutor Juan Martinez makes his closing arguments during her trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in P

By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona jury on Friday was set to begin deliberations over whether Jodi Arias committed murder in killing her ex-boyfriend in a high-profile case involving "sex, lies and dirty little secrets."

Arias, 32, could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering 30-year-old Travis Alexander, whose body was found in the shower of his Phoenix valley home in June 2008. He had been shot in the face, stabbed 27 times, and had his throat slashed.

She has admitted to shooting Alexander, but said it was in self-defense after he attacked her in a rage because she dropped his camera while taking snapshots of him in the shower.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens told jurors they could consider the charges of first- and second-degree murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter. First-degree murder requires proof of premeditation.

In final arguments on Friday, defense attorney Kirk Nurmi told jurors that "sex, lies, and dirty little secrets" had defined a chaotic relationship between the pair. Nurmi said Arias killed Alexander in self-defense, not with premeditation as prosecutors have argued.

"Was it what the state said it was yesterday, this plan? Or was it an act of self-defense forced upon Miss Arias by the actions of Mr. Alexander?" Nurmi asked the jury.

"That is ultimately your job to determine, and fear, love, sex, lies, and dirty little secrets will help you understand ... what happened."

Resting his case, Nurmi said Arias had snapped in the "sudden heat of passion" in the moments between a final photograph she took showing Alexander alive and taking a shower and a subsequent picture showing him covered in his own blood.

He told the jury that "if Miss Arias is guilty of anything at all, it is the crime of manslaughter."

In his rebuttal, prosecutor Juan Martinez said Arias had acted with premeditation throughout.

"Nothing indicates that this is anything less than a slaughter," he told jurors, asking them to return a verdict of felony first-degree murder.

The trial, which began in January and included often graphic testimony and evidence including a sex tape, was streamed live on the Internet and drew widespread media attention.

'LIKE A PROSTITUTE'

During the trial, in which the petite, dark-haired Arias wore glasses, the court heard how she met and began dating Alexander, a businessman and motivational speaker, in 2006.

During 18 days on the stand, she testified that she and Alexander continued to have sex despite their break-up from a relationship that was marked by emotional and physical abuse.

Arias said Alexander made her feel "like a prostitute" and that he kicked and attempted to choke her, although she admitted never reporting the alleged abuse to the police, seeking medical treatment or documenting it in her journal.

Martinez painted a picture of Arias as manipulative and prone to jealousy in previous relationships, and said she had meticulously planned to kill Alexander.

He accused her of bringing the pistol used in the killing, which has not been recovered, with her from California, and said she rented a car, removed its license plate and bought gasoline cans and fuel to conceal her journey to the Phoenix suburbs to kill him.

Martinez has shown that she lied after the killing to deflect suspicion, leaving a voicemail on Alexander's cellphone, sending irises to his grandmother and telling detectives she was not at the crime scene before changing her story.

The jury had more than 100 questions for Arias. They grilled her on her claims that her mind went blank after she shot Alexander, and wanted to know why she had not called emergency responders - questions she struggled to answer.

The defense called a psychologist who testified that Arias' memory lapses stemmed from post-traumatic stress as a result of Alexander's alleged abuse and the killing itself - claims disputed by prosecutors.

In closing arguments, Martinez told the jury that Alexander had sent an instant message weeks before his death saying he was "extremely afraid" of Arias because of her "stalking behavior."

Nurmi reminded the jury that she was charged with murder and not with lying.

"Did she lie? Of course she did, but that's not in your verdict instructions," he said. "The crime is premeditated murder."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Xavier Briand)

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