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Jodi Arias death penalty proceedings postponed until May 15

Jodi Arias reacts as a guilty verdict is read in her first-degree murder trial in Phoenix, Arizona May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Rob Schumacher/Arizo
Jodi Arias reacts as a guilty verdict is read in her first-degree murder trial in Phoenix, Arizona May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Rob Schumacher/Arizo

By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The death penalty phase in the trial of Jodi Arias, the California woman convicted of first-degree murder in the brutal slaying of an ex-boyfriend, has been postponed until May 15, court officials said on Thursday.

An Arizona jury on Wednesday found Arias guilty of murdering 30-year-old Travis Alexander, whose body was found in the shower of his Phoenix valley home in June 2008. He had been shot in the face, stabbed nearly 30 times, and his throat had been slashed.

Arias, who was put on suicide watch and moved to a psychiatric unit after the verdict, had been due in court on Thursday to begin the part of her trial in which a jury will decide whether she deserves to be executed by lethal injection.

But the proceedings were postponed, and are now due to resume at 10 a.m. (1700 GMT) on Wednesday. Court officials tweeted that trial proceedings were sealed on Thursday, but gave no reason for the postponement.

A spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said Arias and her counsel had held a closed meeting with Judge Sherry Stephens.

"After that meeting, the details of which are under seal, Judge Stephens canceled court for the day without providing a reason," spokesman Jerry Cobb said.

A call to defense attorney Kirk Nurmi was not immediately returned.

Arias, 32, had tried to convince the jury during her four-month trial that she had acted in self-defense after Alexander attacked her because she had dropped his camera while taking photographs of him in the shower.

She teared up as the jury's decision was read while a crowd of hundreds erupted into cheers outside the court. Jurors could have convicted Arias of a lesser crime such as second-degree murder or manslaughter, but instead found her guilty of the most serious charge possible.

The trial, which aired graphic evidence including a sex tape and photographs of the blood-spattered crime scene, became a sensation on cable television news with its tale of an attractive and soft-spoken young woman charged with a brutal crime.

'THE ULTIMATE FREEDOM'

In a television interview moments after the verdict, Arias indicated that she preferred a death sentence to life in prison. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office later moved Arias to a jail psychiatric facility after placing her on suicide watch on Wednesday.

"The worst outcome for me would be natural life. I would much rather die sooner than later," Arias, speaking slowly and calmly, said in an interview with Fox affiliate KSAZ.

"I said years ago I'd rather get death than life and that still is true today. I believe death is the ultimate freedom, so I'd rather just have my freedom as soon as I can get it," she said.

In a separate development on Thursday, the sheriff's office said deputies arrested a man suspected of tweeting that he was going to put a bomb in the courtroom where Arias' case was being heard.

Laquint Cherry, 18, was booked into jail on a felony charge related to acts of terrorism. Sheriff's office spokesman Joaquin Enriquez said no explosive device was found at the court and that the trial postponement was not related to the threat. In the next phase of the trial, the prosecution will present evidence trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that aggravating factors exist that merit the death penalty. The defense can also present rebuttal evidence. The decision will then be up to the jury.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the state planned to present "evidence to prove the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner."

Nurmi has argued that the one-time waitress snapped in the "sudden heat of passion" in the moments between a photograph she took showing Alexander alive and taking a shower, and a subsequent picture of his apparently dead body covered in blood.

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Toni Reinhold and Xavier Briand)

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