By Howard Breuer Jill Smolowe
April 08, 2013 12:00 PM

One month after the brutal June 2008 killing of her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander, Jodi Arias underwent four hours of interrogation at California’s Siskiyou County Jail. As a detective plied her with questions, Arias wept, professing unfamiliarity with the grisly details of his death and alternating claims of innocence with teary-eyed indignation over her treatment: “It’s not fair!” When the detective left the room, Arias, seemingly unaware that a surveillance camera was still rolling, quickly stanched the waterworks. “You should have at least done your makeup, Jodi,” she said to herself with a chuckle. “Gosh!” In succession the defendant launched into a Dido song about a failed relationship, rummaged through a trash can, laughed, then propped herself against a wall in a handstand. Minutes later Arias, at the time a svelte blonde photographer, was booked for murder.

Now, five years later, a plumper Arias, who cuts a more demure figure in librarian-style glasses and a nondescript shade of brown hair, is trying to convince an Arizona jury—and a captivated national TV news audience glued to the gavel-to-gavel coverage—that she acted in self-defense when she stabbed 30-year-old Alexander 27 times, slashed his throat ear to ear, then shot him in the head. During 18 days on the witness stand—a highly unusual amount for a defendant, but dramatic fodder for the Lifetime TV movie already in the works—Arias, 32, painted Alexander, a motivational speaker and devout Mormon, as an abusive lover who became so violent when she dropped his camera after they had sex that she had to shoot and stab him to fend him off. Jurors’ skeptical reaction thus far suggests they are more persuaded by the prosecution’s version of events: that this was a Fatal Attraction-type premeditated murder, provoked after Arias learned that Alexander planned to take another woman to Mexico. Posing questions to Arias through the judge (a practice allowed in only three states), the 12 jurors and 6 alternates have fired off more than 200 questions, perhaps the most telling being, “After all the lies you have told, why should we believe you now?”

Arias’s pretrial lies have been showcased by prosecutor Juan Martinez. Initially she’d professed ignorance about the circumstances of Alexander’s death. When investigators retrieved a camera from a washing machine in Alexander’s house and discovered nude photos stamped with the June 4 murder date of him and Arias both before and after his death, Arias changed her tactics. This time she insisted that two masked intruders had broken into Alexander’s home and killed him. After three years behind bars awaiting trial, she suddenly offered yet another story: She was guilty of nothing more than self-defense against an abusive man who, owing to his religious convictions, felt guilty about having premarital sex with her. On the witness stand, she elaborated that she’d entered a trauma-induced “fog” after Alexander attacked her and “the gun went off.” Tearfully she said she recalled shooting him but not stabbing him. “Ma’am, were you crying when you were shooting him?” Martinez asked acidly. “I don’t remember,” Arias replied, still crying. Raising his voice, Martinez persisted, “How about when you cut his throat; were you crying then?”

Such theatrics, compounded by Arias’s recountings of her kinky sex life with Alexander, have swelled viewership of HLN’s all-day coverage and traffic on Wild About Trial, a website for trial addicts. “Every story she tells is believable,” says L.A. criminal-defense attorney Alison Triessl, founder of the site. “You almost want to believe her; you can’t because she’s lied so often.”

The prosecutor aims to convince jurors that Arias has added new lies on the witness stand. She testified, for instance, that she could not remember how she grabbed the large knife she used to stab Alexander and assumed it was the same knife they’d used to cut a piece of rope for a sexual-bondage game. Pressing his case for premeditation, Martinez showed the jury explicit photos of Arias and Alexander in bed and stressed that no rope was in sight. Under re-questioning by her attorney, Arias insisted she’d trashed the rope in a Dumpster while fleeing the scene.

As the trial winds down, Arias is at risk of becoming the fourth woman on Arizona’s death row. The “sarcastic” tone of jurors’ questions, says Phoenix defense attorney Julio Laboy, suggests “the jury is not believing her.” One question, however, yielded a moment of clarity. Given Arias’s flight from the crime scene, a juror wanted to know: “Would you have told the truth if you hadn’t been arrested?” For once her answer seemed direct and truthful: “I honestly don’t know.”