By Becky Bratu, Staff Writer, NBC News
A jury Wednesday afternoon found Jodi Arias guilty of killing her one-time boyfriend in Arizona — and later in the day, she was placed on suicide watch, officials revealed.
Arias, 32, was charged with murder in the 2008 death of Travis Alexander. As the guilty of first-degree murder verdict was being read, she began crying.
The woman admitted she killed Alexander but claimed self-defense. Arias faces life in prison – potentially even the death penalty.
In reaction to the verdict, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued the following statement: “Today’s verdict closes the guilt phase of State v. Jodi Ann Arias. However, the pursuit of justice on behalf of Travis Alexander continues.”
He added, “We look forward to the next phase of the proceedings, where the State will present evidence to prove the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office later said Arias was put on suicide watch in light of statements she made to a local Fox affiliate following the verdict.
“At the conclusion of this interview and in light of some of her statements during the interview, Arias was brought to jail and per Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, was placed on suicide protocol,” a statement from the sheriff’s office read. “Until she is released from suicide protocol by Sheriff’s officials, no further media interviews of inmate Arias will be permitted.”
In the interview with KSAZ, Arias said she would “rather get death than life” and that death was the “ultimate freedom.”
“I think I just went blank… I just feel overwhelmed. I think I just need to take it a day at a time. It was unexpected for me. There was no premeditation on my part,” Arias said.
“I said years ago I’d rather get death than life and that still is true today. I believe death is the ultimate freedom, so I’d rather just have my freedom as soon as I can get it,” she added.
The sentencing phase begins Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. The jury will weigh aggravating factors, including whether the crime was “cruel.” The prosecution must prove that beyond a reasonable doubt for the jury to sentence Arias to death.
If the jury decides the crime was not cruel, Arias will be sentenced to life in prison.
If the jury decides it is cruel, the defense will begin mitigation, presenting witnesses to Arias’ character, including experts on her mental state.
This process could last up to a month.
The Arias case has been the most watched murder trial this year, as 17 weeks focused around the soft-spoken defendant told of kinky sex and horrific violence.
Led by Juan Martinez, the prosecution argued that Alexander’s murder was premeditated. On June 4, 2008, Arias drove from Yreka, Calif., to Mesa, Ariz., where she showed up at Alexander’s home. She’d rented a car, dyed her hair, turned off her cell phone—apparently to make her harder to identify, her movements harder to track. Her mission, prosecutors said, was murder.
Arias and Alexander had broken up after a hot but secretive affair. Arias said on the stand, she began acting out Alexander’s every pornographic fantasy. The woman even converted to Alexander’s Mormon faith, but he nonetheless broke up with her and began dating—chastely, he told her—other women.
According to the testimony of some of Alexander’s friends, Arias did not take the breakup well, and began stalking her former beau and slashed his tires. Her extreme jealousy culminated in Alexander’s gruesome murder, the prosecutor argued.
Arias admitted to killing Alexander after a day of sex. She shot him in the face, stabbed him more than 20 times, and slit his throat from ear to ear. But at trial she claimed it was in self-defense.
“Jodi had to make a choice. She would either live or she would die,” defense lawyer Jennifer Willmott told the jury in her opening statement.
Testifying in her own defense, Arias told the jury Alexander had been abusive and demeaning. On the day of his killing, she said it all started off with sex play—each photographing the other—but ended in violence when she dropped his camera—and, she claimed, he attacked her.
“He lunged at me and we fell…. And I got up and he’s just screaming angry and after I broke away from him he said [I’ll] ‘f—— kill you, bitch,’” she said on the stand.
Tearfully, she then told the jury she did not remember stabbing Alexander.
In his closing arguments, prosecutor Martinez painted Arias as manipulative, telling the jury last week that the woman had “scammed” Alexander.
“Are you going to allow her to scam you?” he asked.