Jodi Arias Trial: Tears, anguish of loss, shared with jury by family of victim Travis Alexander in case's penalty phase

(CBS/AP) PHOENIX --The family of murder victim Travis Alexander gave emotional testimony in a Phoenix courtroom Thursday as the trial of his convicted killer, Jodi Arias, entered its final penalty phase, where jurors will decide whether the former waitress will be sentenced to death.

PICTURES: Jodi Arias: Guilty of first-degree murder

Arias, wearing a black, short-sleeved shirt, cried and reached for tissues during portions of the statements.

Steven Alexander, who described Travis as his "big brother," spoke of the emotional and physical anguish he's suffered since losing his brother, including ulcers, a separation from his wife and nightmares.

"I don't want these nightmares anymore," he said. "I don't want to have to see my brother's murderer anymore."

Steven Alexander recalled the moments after he learned that his brother, a motivational speaker, had been killed.

"I remember walking out my back door and screaming at the sky, asking why," Alexander said. "Then I sank down into a corner and I cried some more."

Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander
Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander

Crying, he read the jury a list of what he called affirmations written by his slain brother for the year 2008, the year of his death. "2008 will be the best year of my life, in which I will lay the foreground for 2009 to dwarf the accomplishment of 2008," Steven Alexander read, recounting his brother's words. "This year will be the best year of my life, and I will succeed."

He said he thought of Travis as "bulletproof."

"I thought he was stronger than anything, that he couldn't be cut down or knocked down," Alexander said. "...He was unbreakable."

Travis Alexander's sister Samantha, sobbing as she read her statement, said her family's lives will "never be the same" following her brother's murder. The family, she said, hasn't gathered together since his death because "it's simply too hard to think of that one empty chair."

"Our minds are permanently stained with the images of our poor brother's throat slit from ear to ear," Samantha Alexander said. "To have Travis taken so barbarically is beyond any words we can find to express our horrific loss."

She described seeing her brother several weeks before his death, in May of 2008. During the visit, she said Travis was excited for her to read the introduction to the book he was writing.

The jury saw a picture of the siblings taken that day, with Travis' arm around his sister.

"He talked me into taking this picture even though I was in my PJ's," Samantha Alexander said. "It makes me cry every time I look at it. I'm so glad he made me take this picture. I will cherish it for the rest of my life."

Jodi Arias

Also on Thursday, the defense and prosecution delivered opening statements to jurors on whether Arias should get a life sentence or be executed.

"This isn't about excuses or justification," Kirk Nurmi, an attorney for Arias, told the jury. "But fairness and mercy come into play in your moral assessment of what the right thing to do is."

In Arizona, mitigating circumstances include "any aspect of the defendant's character, propensities or record and any of the circumstances of the offense." The defense also said Arias was a good friend, suffered abuse and neglect, tried to make the best of her life and improve herself, and had no previous criminal history.

Nurmi said witnesses including Arias' former boyfriend would take the stand in order to paint a picture of Arias' life before the crime and prior to her relationship with Alexander.

Arias herself would also speak, Nurmi said, "in a different way -- not about what happened, but about who she is."

A unanimous decision for life in prison or the death penalty would not be a recommendation, but a binding sentence, Nurmi and the judge said. If jurors don't reach a unanimous agreement on the death penalty, the judge will sentence Arias to either the rest of her life in prison or life in prison with the possibility of release after 25 years.

"Make no doubt about it, as the judge said to you moments ago, the verdict you will render is not a recommendation," Nurmi said. "The judge is not free to disregard it...if you sentence her to death, she will stand at this podium and be sentenced by the judge to death."

Mid-afternoon Thursday the judge instructed the jury to leave for the day and return again next Monday at 10 a.m. to hear more testimony.

Complete coverage of the Jodi Arias trial on Crimesider

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for's Crimesider.