Longform

Psycho Killer: Jodi Arias' Kinky Death-Penalty Trial

Prosecutor Juan Martinez rapid-fires questions to murder defendant Jodi Arias, bouncing through timelines, appearing to want to confuse and scold as much as to elicit useful information.

Arias sometimes gets confused and upset. She admits she can't keep her stories straight. She intermittently breaks down sobbing, especially when forced to view the bloody crime-scene photos of her handiwork. But is she acting?

Her biggest breakdown comes on Thursday, February 28, when Martinez leads her through the horrifying minutes of the June 4, 2008, murder of her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander.


See slideshow accompanying this story.


"Ma'am, were you crying when you were shooting him?"

"I don't remember," she answers, a hand over her face.

"Were you crying when you were stabbing him?"

"I don't remember."

"How about when you cut his throat — were you crying then?" Martinez demands, his voice rising.

If the televised trial were a CGI-animated movie, the short, middle-aged deputy Maricopa County attorney, wearing his typical gray suits, would be a badger.

His job is to make sure Arias' life ends on the executioner's table.

Martinez's belligerence is just one of many reasons this trial — expected to go on for at least another two weeks — is getting watched around the world.

Unless you resemble a doomsday prepper who's been living without a digital signal for the past three months, you already know that Arias is on trial for the grotesque slaying of Alexander, a successful Mormon businessman from Mesa. As of press time, Arias had spent a marathon 17 days on the witness stand, spanning more than five weeks.

The trial itself began January 2, "regaling" — to use one of Martinez's favorite words — audiences globally with nude photos of Arias and Alexander, gory shots of the murder scene, and talk of kinky sex acts.

Public interest in the case had been growing since Alexander's body was discovered in 2008, but the start of the trial kicked off a media storm that has rivaled some of the great real-life courtroom dramas of the TV age.

Each day, dozens of Arias watchers pack into the courtroom's visitors' galley. When Arias began her command performance February 4, millions tuned in to live video, clicked on Arias-related websites, and watched long dissections of the case on CNN's Anderson Cooper and a multitude of other shows.

The long direct examination by public defense attorney Kirk Nurmi seemed intended to both explain Arias' self-defense theory and present a human side of the defendant to the jury — a panel of mostly white, mixed-generation men and women deciding her mortal fate.

Some of the testimony wasn't just raunchy, it was scandalous. Trial watchers heard recorded phone-sex conversations between the former couple along with loads of discussion about anal sex — which, according to Arias, is more preferable before marriage in the Mormon religion than vaginal sex.

America now knows that Tootsie Pops don't just go in mouths and that Pop Rocks add extra spark to oral sex.

Arias claimed her victim was a wanna-be pedophile, used her like a prostitute, called her a "three-holed wonder" and a "whore," and abused her mentally and physically. She caught him masturbating to a picture of a 5- or 6-year-old boy, she testified, and soon after got into a raging fight with him during which he broke her finger.

The wrap-up of the initial defense testimony had Arias going over the details of her self-defense claim: She described how Alexander, angry that she'd dropped his new camera, chased her from the shower to a closet, where she found "his" gun and shot him. She claimed the next thing she remembers is driving into the desert in a "fog." Her testimony was as compelling as it was sketchy.

Then, Juan Martinez began his long cross-examination, going over the intimate, pornographic details of the former couple's sexual activity — and emphasizing that she'd been more sexually experienced than Alexander. Texts and phone conversations showed that she enjoyed their creativity in bed.

The prosecutor's recurring theme: Her stories don't make sense and aren't supported by anything but the word of Arias, an admitted liar and killer. He's made good use of the media interviews Arias gave.

On a big courtroom screen, Arias — from the witness stand — looks at Arias looking into a camera during her infamous 2008 interview on 48 Hours — the one in which she claims "masked intruders" did it.

"If it were my brother, I'd want to know what his last minutes were like," the 2008 Arias told the public. She later switched to the self-defense claim she's now using.

Martinez chides her for sending Alexander's grandmother 20 white irises and a long letter that mentions these faux intruders.

"Did they deserve that lie?" he demands.

Martinez's snide prosecutorial personality has been on full display.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.