Jodi Arias set to speak on own behalf as jury weighs death penalty

Jodi Arias looks at her family on May 20, 2013 during the penalty phase of her murder trial at Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher, Pool

(CBS/AP) PHOENIX - When Jodi Arias addresses the jury in her murder trial one more time, the big question will be whether she pleads for mercy or repeats what she told a TV reporter minutes after her conviction: She would rather be executed than spend the rest of her life in prison.

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After nearly five months of testimony in a case that has captured tabloid headlines with tales of sex, lies and violence, Arias' final words to the jury will soon bring the trial to an end.

Arias' own attorneys tried to quit the case and asked for a mistrial a day earlier after complaining the trial had become a witch hunt. But the judge swiftly rejected the requests. The defense then said they would call just one witness to testify -- Arias herself.

Jodi Arias Interrogation Video: "If I killed Travis I would beg for the death penalty"

She is set to speak to the jury Tuesday morning. After closing arguments, the jury will begin deliberations and decide whether Arias should be sentenced to life in prison or face the ultimate punishment for the June 2008 shooting and stabbing death of boyfriend Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home.

Arias initially claimed she knew nothing about the slaying. Then she blamed masked intruders before eventually settling on self-defense. Prosecutors argued she killed Alexander in a jealous rage because he wanted to end their relationship and go to Mexico with another woman.

The 32-year-old former waitress spent 18 days on the witness stand during the guilt phase of her trial, describing an abusive childhood, cheating boyfriends, dead-end jobs, a shocking sexual relationship with Alexander, and her contention that he had grown physically violent.

Jurors didn't believe her then, and experts say they likely will show no mercy now.

"I think they could put Mother Teresa on there, and it's not going to spare her life," said Phoenix defense attorney Mel McDonald, a former judge and federal prosecutor.

San Francisco-area criminal defense lawyer Michael Cardoza said her attorneys' request to quit the case and the defense decision not to call any witnesses on Arias' behalf could very well be a strategic move -- but one that could backfire.

"She could argue ineffective counsel on appeal, but the fact is, it's anything but ineffective because what they're doing is handing her an appeal," Cardoza said. "So it's actually very effective counsel."

Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi renewed his arguments in court on Monday that the judge should have sequestered the jury during the trial and that it should never have been broadcast live.

"The court had a duty to protect Ms. Arias' right to a fair trial, and failed to do so time and time again," Nurmi told the judge. "This cannot be a modern-day version of ... a witch trial."

Judge Sherry Stephens denied the mistrial request, prompting Nurmi to ask that he and co-counsel Jennifer Willmott be allowed to withdraw from the case. The judge swiftly denied that request, as well.

Arias' attorneys also tried without success to quit after she gave her post-conviction TV interview. 

Some speculate that Arias might have been trying to play to jurors with her proclamation in the interview that she would rather die, hoping the panel won't give her what she says she wants.

"She has manipulated this jury before," said Phoenix defense lawyer Julio Laboy. "She could very well still be manipulating the jury."

Complete coverage of the Jodi Arias case on Crimesider