By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Jodi Arias, the California woman convicted in a sensational trial of brutally murdering her ex-boyfriend, will face an Arizona jury on Wednesday charged with deciding if she deserves the death penalty for her crime.
Arias was found guilty a week ago of murdering 30-year-old Travis Alexander, whose body was found slumped in the shower of his Phoenix area home five years ago. She had stabbed him 27 times, slashed his throat and shot him in the face.
Arias, a petite 32-year-old former waitress, had tried unsuccessfully to convince the jury during the four-month trial that she had acted in self-defense after Alexander attacked her because she dropped his camera while taking photographs of him in the shower.
The trial, which aired evidence including a sex tape and photographs of the blood-sprayed crime scene, became a sensation on cable television news with its lurid tale of a bright, soft-spoken young woman charged with an unthinkable crime.
Jurors could have convicted Arias of a lesser crime - such as second-degree murder or manslaughter - in the killing of Alexander, an ex-boyfriend with whom she had an on-again, off-again affair, but instead found her guilty of the most serious charge possible.
Following her conviction, Arias was placed suicide watch in a psychiatric ward after she indicated in a television interview that she would prefer a death sentence to life in prison. The watch was lifted on Monday and she was returned to jail.
At the sentencing trial, the prosecution will present evidence trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that aggravating factors exist which merit the death penalty. The defense can also present rebuttal evidence and the decision will then be up to the jury.
In a statement last week, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the state planned to present "evidence to prove the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner."
Calls to defense attorney Kirk Nurmi seeking comment were not returned.
During the trial, prosecutor Juan Martinez painted a picture of Arias as manipulative and prone to jealousy in previous relationships. He said she had meticulously planned to kill Alexander, a businessman and motivational speaker.
In making his case for premeditated murder, Martinez had accused Arias of bringing the pistol used in the killing, which has not been recovered, with her from California to the scene of the crime. He said she also rented a car, removed its license plate and bought gasoline cans and fuel to conceal her journey to the Phoenix suburbs to kill Alexander.
Martinez said Arias lied after the killing to deflect any suspicion that she had been involved in his death, leaving a voicemail on Alexander's cellphone, sending flowers to his grandmother and telling detectives she was not at the crime scene before changing her story.
Nurmi, meanwhile, argued that Arias had snapped in the "sudden heat of passion" in the moments between a photograph she took showing Alexander alive and taking a shower, and a subsequent picture of his apparently dead body covered in blood.
The sentencing trial is set to begin at 10 a.m. local time (1700 GMT)
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, G Crosse)