By Michelle Ye Hee Lee, The Arizona Republic

A jury in Phoenix on Wednesdayfound Jodi Arias guilty of first-degree murder of her on-and-off lover, Travis Alexander, in a sensational trial that gained international attention over several months.

The jury next must decide whether Arias, who choked back tears as the verdict was read, deserves the death penalty or life in prison.

She said in a tearful post-conviction interview that she preferred a death sentence, the Associated Press reported Wednesday evening.

Minutes after the verdict was handed down, she spoke with Fox affiliate KSAZ and said that she would "prefer to die sooner than later" and that "death is the ultimate freedom."

She told the television station she didn't believe she committed first-degree murder and said she was surprised by the verdict.

The 12 jurors reached the verdict after deliberating less than three full days. The trial, which began Jan. 2, gained notoriety for its accounts of gore and sex.

Alexander's brothers and sisters issued a statement saying they "are in agreement with the jury's verdict of guilty.'' They said they plan to file a wrongful death civil suit against Arias.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued a statement after the verdict was read, saying, "We look forward to the next phase of the proceedings, where the state will present evidence to prove the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner.''

Prosecutor Juan Martinez argued that the murder on June 4, 2008, was premeditated.

Martinez offered circumstantial evidence to try to convince the jury:
• Arias dyed her hair to disguise herself before she drove to Mesa. Her attorneys said she did so long before the trip.
• Arias rented a car to avoid detection and didn't want to drive her own car, which was red, because it might attract police attention. She and her attorneys claimed she drove a rental because her own car couldn't make the trip.
• She removed the front license plate of the rental car and attached the rear plate upside down to avoid detection.
• She took two or three gas cans in her car to avoid a paper trail of gas receipts in Arizona. Arias claimed she was afraid of running out of gas in remote areas, such as the national parks she said she planned to visit to add to her photographer's portfolio.
• A gun stolen from her grandfather was the same caliber as the gun that killed Alexander. Arias claimed she pulled Alexander's own gun from the top shelf of his closet. Martinez pointed out that none of Alexander's friends knew him to have a gun.
• That there were three potentially fatal wounds - one stab wound, the gunshot and a slit throat - could indicate that Arias had time to reflect on what she was doing.
Spectators in the courtroom gasped when the verdict was read. Family members of both the victim and the defendant shed tears.

Outside the courthouse, crowds cheered.

Defense attorneys contended that Arias killed Alexander in June 2008 in an unplanned fit of rage as she reacted to what attorneys portrayed as his pattern of emotional and physical abuse.

It had cost Maricopa County taxpayers at least $1.7 million as of late April to defend Arias.

Arias spent 18 days on the witness stand testifying in her defense. She and her lawyers contended it was the culmination of a relationship in which she was emotionally, physically and sexually abused by Alexander.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Tuesday that she believes Arias is guilty, but she did not cite first-degree murder or a lesser charge. A first-degree murder conviction and death sentence could one day put a commutation request on the desk of an Arizona governor.

Contributing: John Bacon, William M. Welch, USA TODAY; Associated Press