By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
(CNN) — The media circus that is Jodi Arias’ murder trial is in its final stretch, as the jury began deliberations Friday following closing arguments. The jury, which has been in court since January, will resume deliberations Monday.
It’s been an R-rated story, to say the least, with an abundance of testimony about grizzly violence and, from Arias, details about a kinky sex life she says she shared with Alexander.
The case has captured massive interest among Americans. While one part of the country watches CNN’s sister network HLN for every twist in the trial, or drives hours to get one of the limited lottery seats in the courtroom (yes, they’re now doled out via lottery), another segment of the nation asks, “Jodi who?”
For those of you in the latter category, here are some things you should know as the trial comes to a close:
Lost in the salacious details of the “Jodi Arias trial” is the victim, Travis Alexander, 30, who was brutally killed in his Mesa, Arizona, home in June 2008.
Faith was an integral part of Alexander’s life. The professed son of methamphetamine addicts, Alexander was raised in Riverside, California, with three brothers and four sisters. His grandmother introduced him to Mormonism as a child.
After he graduated from high school he went on a two-year mission in Denver. He later moved to Mesa because of the strong Mormon community and became a motivational speaker and businessman. He also authored a book titled, “Raising You.”
Arias was living in Yreka, California when she met Alexander at a business convention in Las Vegas in September 2006. That November, he baptized Arias into the Mormon faith, a ceremony Arias said was followed by anal sex.
Arias became his girlfriend two months later, she testified, and they dated for less than a year.
They broke up in the summer of 2007 and Alexander began dating other women. There were claims that Arias would stalk him, peering in his windows at times. Still he and Arias continued to hang out on several occasions until, disenchanted Arias says, she moved back to northern California. They continued to communicate.
The prosecution’s case
Alexander’s naked body was found crammed in a stand-up shower after he missed two appointments, prompting friends to go to his house. He had been stabbed 27 times in the back and torso and shot in the head. His throat was slit from ear to ear.
Arias initially told an investigator, “I heard a lot of rumors, and that there was a lot of blood.” She later claimed she killed him, albeit in self-defense.
Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez has accused Arias of playing the victim when, in fact, he alleges she staged the crime scene to make it look like self-defense and has actively sought to profit from the media attention.
Prior to Alexander’s killing, Martinez said, Arias stole her grandparents’ .25-caliber pistol, rented a car in Redding, California, turned off her cell phone and brought along cans of gas so there would be no record that she was in Arizona.
“The only reason to keep this whole thing a secret, which is what she tried to do, is because she was going to kill him, and she’s making preparations,” the prosecutor said.
Finally, according to Martinez’s closing argument, after she killed Alexander, she hooked up with an out-of-state romantic interest so she would have an alibi.
“She continues on to Utah into his waiting arms. Gosh, you can almost hear the violins making their sound as she goes up to him, gives him that first kiss. Isn’t that romantic?” Martinez said.
Defense attorney Jennifer Willmott has said Arias was the victim of a controlling, psychologically abusive relationship and that Alexander considered Arias “his dirty little secret.”
Before Arias killed her ex in self-defense, Willmott claimed, she was subjected to rough vaginal sex. After she dropped Alexander’s new camera, he became violent, the defense said, and had Arias not defended herself, investigators would’ve found Arias, not Alexander, dead in the bathroom.
Arguing the prosecution’s position that Arias was obsessed with Alexander and stalking him, another defense attorney, Kirk Nurmi, has said it didn’t add up because Arias was active on a Mormon dating site.
“Jodi … wasn’t so locked in on Travis that she wasn’t looking for other men,” Nurmi said.
As for the allegation that Arias attempted to surreptitiously slip in and out of Arizona without a trace, Nurmi pointed out that Arias went to the Redding, California, airport to rent her car for the trip.
“An airport with security cameras and security all around,” the defense attorney said, “not some rental car agency on the outskirts of town — an airport. That doesn’t make any sense if you’re on a covert mission.”
Nurmi also questioned the merit of the prosecution’s gas can argument, saying Arias could have avoided a paper trail simply by paying with cash. She didn’t need cans, he said.
Did Arias change her story? Sure, Nurmi said, but that’s not what she is standing trial for.
“If Jodi Arias were accused of the crime of lying, I could not stand before you and say she’s not guilty of that crime, but nowhere in your jury instructions are you asked to convict Jodi Arias of lying,” Nurmi said.
If you didn’t realize before, you probably see now why the case has drawn a cult following of sorts. It’s rife with sex, lies and digital images, many of them naughty, and the dueling attorneys are lively — nay, bombastic — in their arguments.
Arias herself has been tweeting from jail — through a proxy, of course — criticizing HLN and Martinez, and directing followers to a website that sells art on her behalf.
For some media outlets, the case is gold.
HLN has created a show, “After Dark: The Jodi Arias Trial,” which invites an in-studio and at-home audience to grade the day’s arguments. Its website is flush with every facet of the case, including a photo gallery containing 180 evidence photos.
The Huffington Post has similar coverage, and CNN affiliates KPHO and KNVX in Phoenix have special trial pages on their websites.
Before you lob cries of a sensationalist media profiting off a gruesome death, realize that people are clamoring for the coverage. HLN has enjoyed a massive ratings boost since the trial began, and people drive hours to see the trial for themselves.
Spectators began lining up Friday at 1 a.m. — more than six hours before the courthouse opened — to get a seat, according to KPHO.
Until April 25, the public was given access on a first-come-first-served basis, but the judge changed it to a lottery system for closing arguments, the station reported.
Everardo McFarlane of Phoenix was none too happy with the change, as he was first in line Friday but didn’t make the cut.
“I just hope justice is served and that at least we get our $1.6 million worth with a conviction,” McFarlane told KPHO, referring to the ever increasing taxpayer expense on the trial.
R.D. Williams of Amarillo, Texas, didn’t have the luxury of a short drive across town.
“It’s 10 hours nonstop, two times to fuel up. I didn’t bring no extra gas cans,” Williams said, making a joke about a key argument in the case.
What could happen to Arias is anyone’s guess.
If the jury’s hung, she could face a retrial.
The prosecution, naturally, would like to see a first-degree murder conviction, as its case has revolved around Arias premeditating the killing. If convicted on this charge, Arias will face a mini-trial of sorts to determine if she killed Alexander cruelly and knew he would suffer.
A first-degree murder conviction could mean execution unless a jury grants her leniency, in which case she would get life in prison and may be eligible for parole for at least 25 years.
If the prosecution can’t prove premeditation, Arias could still be convicted of second-degree murder, commanding 10 to 22 years in prison. The jury can also decide that Arias killed Alexander recklessly or that he attacked her. She’d then be convicted of manslaughter.
Lastly, the jury could find her not guilty or determine that she acted in self-defense and that her actions were reasonable.
Either way, she’d then be free to pursue her dream of becoming a professional photographer, and the media circus could move to another town.