PHOENIX - A woman charged in the savage stabbing and shooting death of her lover told jurors Monday how she endured an abusive childhood at the hands of her parents and planned to commit suicide after she killed her on-again, off-again boyfriend.
Jodi Arias' testimony was a surprise move by defense attorneys in a sensational murder trial in Phoenix that has become a daily fixture on cable news with its lurid stories of sex, lies, betrayal and violence. Arias, 32, could become just the fourth woman on Arizona's death row if convicted.
She is charged with killing 30-year-old Travis Alexander, a successful businessman and motivational speaker, in June 2008 in what prosecutors describe as a fit of jealous rage after she found out he'd planned to take a trip to Mexico with another woman. Authorities say she stabbed and slashed him 27 times, slit his throat from ear to ear and shot him in the forehead, leaving his bloody body in the bathroom of his suburban Phoenix home to be found five days later by friends.
Arias claims it was self-defense -- kill or be killed -- as Alexander attacked her.
The trial began in early January with a series of salacious details about a torrid romance between Arias and Alexander after they met at a conference in Las Vegas in late 2006. She claims they dated for about five months, then broke up but continued to see each other for sex up until the day of his death. She initially told police she knew nothing of the killing, then later blamed it on masked intruders. She later admitted her involvement, but claimed self-defense.
In a soft-spoken voice, Arias calmly described Monday how an idyllic childhood in California turned abusive when she was about 7 years old. She said her parents beat her with belts and wooden spoons, and the abuse later escalated into shoving her into furniture and slapping her in the face for misdeeds such as sneaking out of the house.
Her mother sat in the front row of the courtroom and showed no emotion as Arias described her childhood.
She also said she made false statements early in the investigation about not being at the scene of the crime because she planned to commit suicide and never have a trial.
"At the time, I had plans to commit suicide. So I was extremely confident that no jury would convict me because I didn't expect any of you to be here," Arias told jurors. "I planned to be dead."
Arias then went on to recount other stories from her youth that sometimes turned bizarre. She described meeting her high school boyfriend at a carnival when she was 15 and he was 18. Arias said the two dated for a while, but she broke it off because "he had all kinds of wild ideas."
"He entertained the belief in vampires," she said, adding that he wanted the pair to move to San Francisco to hunt them.
She said a few months after she broke up with the boy, she learned he was so distraught over the ending of the relationship that he had slit both his wrists and tried to kill himself.
Arias said she reconnected with him about "19 months" later after a man she met in her father's restaurant had told her that the "second coming" of Jesus Christ would occur in late 1997.
"I was really naive and I kind of believed him," Arias testified. She wanted to warn her former boyfriend, she said.
But not everyone was buying the sympathetic story. "She is narcissistic," said trial spectator Jaime Medina who lives in Anthem and came to court because she is simply curious. She didn't buy a word out of Arias' mouth. "She is only interested in herself," she said.
This murder trial has drawn a small crowd of people who are attracted to the courtroom drama and the attractive accused, like David Tarrazas who recently moved to Phoenix from California. "I guess you could say I'm a groupie. She is an attractive woman," he said.
Arias was expected to continue testifying throughout the day Monday.
Earlier in the trial, defense attorneys have attempted to depict Alexander as a liar and a cheat who told Arias and other girlfriends he was a devout Mormon saving sex for marriage, while in reality he was having sex with multiple women, while cheating on some with others. Prosecutors have portrayed Arias as a jealous ex-girlfriend who couldn't let go of Alexander and stalked him for months after their breakup until finally snapping and killing him.
Authorities say they found her hair and bloody palm print at the scene of the killing, along with time-stamped photographs on a camera discovered inside Alexander's washing machine that place Arias there on the day he died. The photos included one of Arias nude on his bed, one of Alexander alive in the shower, then one of his body on the bathroom floor.
Defense attorneys have yet to explain why Arias apparently attempted to clean the scene, washing Alexander's bedding and the camera, and what happened to the weapons. Authorities say Alexander was shot in the head with a .25 caliber gun, the same caliber Arias' grandparents reported stolen from their Northern California home about a week before the killing. Arias was staying with them at the time.
Monday's testimony was the first explanation offered by the defense for why Arias initially lied about her involvement when she explained that she had planned to kill herself.
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