Jodi Arias claims self-defense as murder trial begins

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX (AP) -- Attorneys in the trial surrounding the 2008 gruesome killing of a suburban Phoenix man painted opposing pictures of the victim in opening statements Wednesday, with prosecutors describing him as a devout Mormon and a "good man," and the defense saying he was violent and abusive.

On trial in the case is 32-year-old Jodi Arias, who could become the fourth woman on Arizona's death row if convicted. She is accused of shooting Travis Alexander in the face, stabbing him 27 times and slitting his throat, then leaving him in a shower in his Mesa home in June 2008.

Alexander's roommates found his body, and Arias was arrested the following month at her parents' northern California home.

Prosecutors argue Arias was a jealous woman who brutally attacked Alexander, 30, after he tried to end their relationship.

"This is not a case of whodunit," Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez said in his opening statement. "The person who committed this killing sits in court today - Jodi Ann Arias."

Jennifer Willmott, an attorney for Arias, told jurors her client acted in self-defense after Alexander "lunged at Jodi in anger."

"Jodi's life was in danger. He knocked her to the ground in the bathroom where there was a struggle," Willmott said. "If she did not have to defend herself, she would not be here."

Martinez said Alexander was a motivational speaker and a devout Mormon, and that Arias "stuck a knife in his chest."

"She slit his throat as a reward for being a good man," Martinez said.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case. The trial is expected to last until April.

Investigators said Arias provided several versions of what happened, beginning with denying that she was at the scene until authorities found her bloody handprint on the floor of the bathroom.

Arias later suggested two masked intruders attacked her and killed Alexander, and she didn't call police because she was scared.

Mesa police said Arias eventually changed her story again, claiming self-defense and telling detectives that Alexander got violent with her.

Alexander had told friends Arias had become too possessive and was acting like a stalker, so he ended their relationship to see other women. But phone and email records indicate the pair continued to carry on a sexual relationship, The Arizona Republic reported.

Mesa police detective Esteban Flores downplayed the stalker description, saying Alexander was inviting Arias to his home and the phone calls between them "were back and forth."

Arias' attorneys have said she was not the sexual instigator in the relationship and pointed to provocative photos Alexander had sent her.

According to court records filed by Arias' attorneys, Alexander persuaded her to come to his home on June 4, 2008. They claim the couple had sex, then took provocative photographs of each other, one even showing Alexander posing naked in the shower. Authorities said a camera found in the washing machine at Alexander's home contained a memory card with the photos, including one taken minutes after Alexander posed naked showing his bloody body in the shower.