By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Jurors weighing the death penalty for Jodi Arias, convicted of murdering her ex-boyfriend in Arizona, heard from his siblings on Thursday about how they had endured nightmares about his brutal death.
Arias, 32, was found guilty last week of murdering Travis Alexander, whose body was found slumped in the shower of his Phoenix-area home five years ago. He had been stabbed 27 times, shot in the face and had his throat slashed.
The same jury that convicted Arias of murder, found on Wednesday that she had acted with extreme cruelty and ruled her eligible for the death penalty. Those jurors now will decide whether Arias, who has said she would prefer execution to life in prison, will get the death penalty.
The trial is set to resume on Monday at 10 a.m. local time (1300 ET).
As the penalty phase turned to the impact of the slaying, Alexander's younger brother told jurors that the killing had invaded his dreams and that he had been hospitalized several times for ulcers since the murder.
"I've had nightmare about somebody coming after me with a knife and then going after my wife and my daughter," Steven Alexander, one of eight siblings, told the jury in a sometimes faltering voice. Arias looked on as he spoke, weeping.
"I don't want these nightmares anymore," he said. "I don't want to have to see my brother's murderer anymore. I don't want to hear his name dragged through the mud."
Alexander's younger sister Samantha said thoughts of her brother's last moments remained stuck in her mind.
"My thoughts (are) of what Travis must have went through that day," she said. "The pain, the agony, the screams and the fear that Travis must have felt when he was brutally being taken. Our minds are currently stained with images of our poor brother's throat slit from ear to ear."
Arias has said she shot Alexander with his own pistol when he attacked her in a rage because she dropped his camera while taking snapshots of him in the shower. She said she did not remember stabbing him.
The case featured graphic testimony and photographs as well as a sex tape and became a sensation on cable television news with the tale of an attractive and soft-spoken young woman charged with such a brutal crime.
Prosecutor Juan Martinez said Arias had repeatedly stabbed Alexander for two minutes as he tried to escape from the bathroom. She then followed the bleeding victim down a hallway and slashed his throat when he was too weak to get away.
Alexander, a 30-year-old businessman and motivational speaker with whom Arias said she was having an on-again, off-again affair, knew he was going to die and was unable to resist his attacker at that point, Martinez said.
TENSIONS ON DEFENSE TEAM
In a development that seemed to signal tensions between Arias and her legal team, court documents released on Thursday disclosed that defense attorneys recently asked for permission to withdraw from the case. Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens denied the request.
The reasons for the request were not immediately disclosed, and defense attorneys Kirk Nurmi and Jennifer Willmott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move came after Arias said in a post-conviction television interview that she would prefer the death penalty to life in prison. She was placed on suicide watch in a psychiatric ward following the interview, but was returned to her jail cell on Monday.
In arguing against the death penalty, the defense has said that adrenaline would have prevented Alexander from feeling the pain of the knife blows. If he were shot in the forehead first, rendering him unconscious in seconds, he would not have suffered, Nurmi said.
On Thursday, Nurmi walked jurors through eight mitigating factors they are asked to consider as they mull Arias' punishment. Among the factors is whether Arias, who was 27 at the time of the murder and had no criminal history, had suffered abuse.
Nurmi said two friends would testify on behalf of Arias and jurors would get to see her artwork. Arias also will have the opportunity to address the jury, "but in a different way," he said, speaking about her life prior to meeting Alexander.
Nurmi has argued that Arias 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.
By contrast, Martinez questioned the relevance of the factors offered in mitigation, and told jurors that their duty was to "take a look at all of the evidence," noting that "fairness goes both ways," both to the defendant and to Alexander.
"There is no connection between her age and the fact that she stuck a knife in Mr. Alexander's chest," he said.
(Writing by Steve Gorman and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Andrew Hay, Chris Reese, Bill Trott and Lisa Shumaker)