PHOENIX (TheBlaze/AP) — Jodi Arias begged jurors Tuesday to give her life in prison, saying she “lacked perspective” when she told a local reporter in an interview that she preferred execution to spending the rest of her days in jail.
Standing confidently but at times her voice breaking, Arias told the same eight men and four women who found her guilty of first-degree murder that she planned to use her time in prison to bring about positive changes, including donating her hair to be made into wigs for cancer victims, helping establish prison recycling programs and designing T-shirts that would raise money for victims of domestic abuse.
She also said she could run book clubs and teach classes to prisoners to “stimulate conversations of a higher nature.”
Arias became emotional as she played a slideshow of pictures from her photo album for the jury. The images included family portraits, pictures of her and friends and boyfriends and young relatives she has met only from behind bars.
Arias concluded her statement by pleading that jurors not give her the death penalty for the sake of her family.
“I’m asking you to please, please don’t do that to them. I’ve already hurt them so badly, along with so many other people,” she said. “I want everyone’s healing to begin, and I want everyone’s pain to stop.”
Arias admitted killing boyfriend Travis Alexander and said it was the “worst thing” she had ever done. But she stuck to her story that the brutal attack – which included stabbing and slashing Alexander nearly 30 times, shooting him in the head and nearly decapitating him – was her defense against abuse.
“To this day, I can hardly believe I was capable of such violence. But I know that I was,” she said. “And for that, I’m going to be sorry for the rest of my life.”
Her testimony came a day after her attorneys asked to be removed from the case, saying the five-month trial had become a witch hunt that prompted death threats against a key witness in the penalty phase. They also argued for a mistrial. The judge denied both requests.
Arias acknowledged the pain and suffering she caused Alexander’s family, and said she hoped her conviction brought them peace.
“I loved Travis, and I looked up to him,” Arias said. “At one point, he was the world to me. This is the worst mistake of my life. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done.”
She said she considered suicide after Alexander’s death but didn’t kill herself because of her love for her own family.
Arias said she regretted that details of her sex life with Alexander came out during the trial, and described a recorded phone sex call played in open court as “that awful tape.”
“It’s never been my intention to throw mud on Travis’ name,” she said, adding she had hoped to reach a deal with prosecutors before the case ever went to trial.
“I was willing to go quietly into the night,” Arias said.
The jury paid close attention to Arias as she spoke, their gaze turning to the large screen behind her as she ticked through family photos and explained the stories behind each image. Arias retained her composure throughout much of her statement, pausing occasionally as she apparently cried, but no tears were visible.
Alexander’s family showed little emotion as Arias’ mother, father and sister looked on from the other side of the gallery and cried.
After Arias finished speaking, the judge told jurors they can consider a handful of factors when deciding her sentence, including the fact that Arias has no previous criminal record. They also can weigh defense assertions that Arias is a good friend and a talented artist. Arias displayed her drawings and paintings for the jury during her slideshow.
Judge Sherry Stephens also explained to jurors that their finding would be final, emphasizing the fact that Arias’ life is literally in their hands.
“You will determine whether the defendant will be sentenced to life in prison or death,” Stephens told the panel. “Your decision is not a recommendation.”
The jury began hearing closing arguments Tuesday afternoon, with defense attorney Jennifer Willmott citing Arias’ mental health problems and lack of a criminal history among the reasons to spare her life.
“Having borderline personality disorder is not an excuse for what she did to Travis Alexander,” Willmott told the jury. It is a reason “that you have to be merciful.”
Prosecutor Juan Martinez said in his closings that despite Arias’ claims, there were no factors in the case that would warrant a sentence other than death.
He implored jurors to look at the “whole panorama” of the case, not just Arias’ statement to them Tuesday. And he told them to “do the right thing, even though it may be difficult.”
Arias initially claimed she knew nothing about Alexander’s June 2008 killing at his suburban Phoenix home. She then blamed masked intruders before eventually arguing self-defense. Prosecutors contend she killed Alexander in a jealous rage because he wanted to end their relationship and go to Mexico with another woman.
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Arias’ attorneys also tried without success to withdraw from the case after Arias gave her post-conviction TV interview.
“Longevity runs in my family, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my natural life in one place,” a visibly shaken Arias told Fox affiliate KSAZ from a holding cell inside the courthouse. “I believe death is the ultimate freedom, and I’d rather have my freedom as soon as I can get it.”
Arias directly addressed those comments Tuesday, telling jurors she wanted to live.
“Though I meant it, I lacked perspective. To me life in prison was the most unappealing outcome. … But as I stand here now, I cannot in good conscience ask you to sentence me to death because of them,” she said, pointing to her family members.