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Jurors deliberate Arias fate amid spectacle

Monday - 5/6/2013, 8:02pm  ET

From left to right, Varbette Knight, of Avondale, Ariz., Frances Varner, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Christine Johnston, of Arizona City, talk about their verdict predictions as they sit out in front of Maricopa County Superior Court Monday, May 6, 2013, in Phoenix. A Phoenix jury is on its second day of deliberations in the trial of Jodi Arias, who is accused of murdering her one-time boyfriend in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

JOSH HOFFNER
Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- It has become a real-life soap opera watched by people around the world and dozens of fanatics who camp out on a Phoenix sidewalk in the middle of the night to get into the show. One seat even sold for $200.

A cable network has set up a stage nearby for daily broadcasts, and the spectacle is routinely among the most heavily trending topics on Twitter. Fans have traveled from all over the U.S. to be close to the action, often seeking out autographs from the key people involved in the case, namely one of the main attractions, prosecutor Juan Martinez.

The star is none other than a small-town waitress and aspiring photographer from Northern California who killed her lover by stabbing him nearly 30 times and shooting him in the head. Jodi Arias has been on trial for first-degree murder since January, and her case has developed an enormous following with its tales of sex, violence and double-crossing.

The jury on Friday began deliberating whether the 32-year-old Arias should be convicted of first-degree murder in the June 4, 2008, death of her on-again, off-again boyfriend Travis Alexander, a motivational speaker and salesman for a legal services company.

Jurors continued deliberating Monday but adjourned for the day in the late afternoon without a verdict. They will resume Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors say Arias showed up at Alexander's house unannounced in the middle of the night, had sex with him on multiple occasions, then killed him in his bedroom, slitting his throat from ear to ear and jabbing a knife in his heart before shooting him in the forehead.

Prosecutors have argued throughout the case that Arias was a stalker who killed him because he wanted to end the relationship and was about to take a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias contends it was self-defense after Alexander lost his temper and body-slammed her to the floor when she dropped his prized new camera. She and her defense lawyers have sought to portray him as an abusive womanizer and sexual deviant.

The case has become a sensation for a number of reasons, with the sex and violence front and center.

Arias testified for 18 days about every aspect of her sex life with Alexander, many of the details X-rated in nature. The proliferation of streaming video and Twitter has made the trial accessible to people in ways unimaginable just a couple years ago. The court proceedings themselves have devolved into a sideshow at times, with a bizarre retelling of the Snow White fairy tale by a defense witness and lawyers playing in open court a raunchy phone sex chat between Arias and the victim a month before the killing. On top of that, cable networks such as HLN have thrown fuel on the fire by providing wall-to-wall coverage of the case. As a result, the network has seen record ratings.

"Everybody always has known that if you can tell a story and say it is based on a true story, or ripped from the headlines, than that's often something you can make more compelling because it's real," said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. "Well, this is the ultimate. This isn't based on a real story. You're showing them the real story."

TV networks realized in the months after the killing that they had ratings gold with the Arias case. Arias courted the spotlight right away, doing jailhouse interviews with "Inside Edition" and "48 Hours" in which she adamantly denied killing Alexander, instead blaming it on two masked intruders. She stuck with that story until two years after her arrest then changed her tune to self-defense.

The Turner Broadcasting-owned HLN went all-in during the trial, launching a new show called "HLN After Dark" devoted primarily to Arias. The network's main personalities, led by Nancy Grace, have covered nothing but Arias, and HLN has set up a stage near the courtroom where it seats mock juries. Lifetime has a movie in the works. And the major networks have gotten in on the action, too. ABC's "Good Morning America" scored a major scoop during the trial by obtaining Arias' diaries that were filled with all sorts of juicy details about her romance with Alexander.

Thompson and network executives say the trial has become so popular because viewers can relate to the characters, whether it's a stormy romance, an obsessive ex-girlfriend or a cheating boyfriend.

"We knew the characters involved like Jodi and Travis were interesting young people, in love theoretically, and it went dramatically bad," said Scot Safon, executive vice president and general manager of HLN.

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