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Jodi Arias penalty phase postponed; man accused of threatening to blow up courthouse

Jodi Arias was on suicide watch after she said she preferred death over life in prison. NBC's Diana Alvear reports from Phoenix.

A man holed up in a Phoenix hotel was arrested and accused of threatening to bomb the courthouse where jurors were to begin deciding whether convicted murderer Jodi Arias should get the death penalty, authorities said Thursday.

The penalty phase of Arias' intensely watched trial had been scheduled to begin early Thursday afternoon in Superior Court in Phoenix before the same jurors who convicted her Wednesday of first-degree murder in the 2008 killing of Travis Alexander. But court authorities announced without explanation Thursday that the hearing had been postponed.

Later in the day, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that its deputies had arrested an 18-year-old man who it said had posted threats on Twitter saying he had planted a bomb in the courtroom and planned to die in a shootout with police.

The man was identified as Laquint H. Cherry, described as "a local area resident." He was being held on a felony terrorism charge.

Cherry resisted officers' attempts to persuade him to surrender from his room in a hotel near Interstate 10 in Phoenix for several hours, all the while tweeting "threatening messages about not being taken alive" and warning that he would "kill the cops surrounding him," the statement said.

"Eventually, Cherry was arrested without incident," it said.

The Twitter account allegedly used by Cherry couldn't immediately be confirmed as authentic by NBC News, but it includes specific tweets cited in the sheriff's report.

Some of the tweets say its user is armed; speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Joe Arpaio confirmed that "we found some ammunition in his room."

The sheriff's office suggested that the threatening messages were intended for Arpaio as much as for jurors, court officers and spectators in the courtroom. It noted that a new sheriff's headquarters under construction had received bomb threats, and it said "an actual bomb was mailed to the Sheriff, but was intercepted."

"Therefore, our awareness for these kinds of threats is heightened," it said.

The arrest adds another twist to the already bizarre tale of Arias' arrest and trial, adding the larger-than-life personality of the highly controversial Arpaio, 75, to the mix.

Full coverage of the Jodi Arias trial

Arpaio is nationally famous as "America's Toughest Sheriff" for his department's crackdowns on illegal immigration and treatment of inmates in the county's jails. The U.S. Justice Department has sued Arpaio, alleging racial profiling.

Arpaio also was a prominent advocate of investigating Barack Obama's eligibility for the presidency, declaring a year ago that he believed that a birth certificate the White House released in 2011 was a forgery.

He survived a recall petition in 2007 and was re-elected last year with 52 percent of the vote.

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