The judge in the Casey Anthony case suspended jury selection until Thursday morning without explanation.
Judge Belvin Perry Jr. and attorneys for both sides – minus lead defense attorney Jose Baez – met outside the public courtroom about 1 p.m. today, when jury selection was supposed to continue after a lunch recess.
When they emerged, again with Baez nowhere in sight, the judge announced a recess until 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense would comment on why the move was made. A spokeswoman for the Ninth Judicial Circuit declined to give a reason in an email mentioning the suspension of jury selection.
Baez reportedly was sick. Another defense attorney, Ann Finnell, has not felt well for days. Bailiffs wearing gloves were seen wiping down surfaces in the courtroom Wednesday after the recess.
The sudden and unexpected move came without any progress today on the lengthy effort to seat a jury. The decision was announced a couple of hours after a frustrated Perry mentioned the possibility of taking jury selection to another county. And after he had warned attorneys in the case to prepare for a long day of work.
"Tomorrow at the close of business, that's it," Perry told the defense and prosecution today. "We don't have a facility. I can't operate in a parking lot."
Later, Perry found out that he can have use of the courtroom to continue jury selection through Saturday if needed.
That may be a good thing. The judge said finding a courthouse in another county to host the jury selection process would be tough.
"Courtrooms are a problem," he said. "The only places that have spare courtrooms are rural counties."
In Liberty County, for instance, Perry would have to take jury selection to the community center in Bristol because that is the only facility large enough to accommodate it.
Anthony is charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. If convicted, she faces either the death penalty or life in prison without the chance of parole.
The frustrations boiled over because of the painstakingly slow jury selection process in Anthony's first-degree murder trial.
Perry pointed out that both sides have gone through more than 200 prospective jurors.
"That game could go on forever," the judge said. "We could wade through a thousand people."
Today is the ninth day of jury selection; it was delayed this morning as defense attorneys complained about how the panel was being selected.
Perry intends to seat the jury as soon as he has 12, instead of waiting to get as many as 18 or 20, including alternates.
The defense has called that a piecemeal approach, contending it violates Anthony's due process rights.
Perry denied the objection from the defense, saying he had gone above and beyond to give both sides ample opportunity to select a fair and impartial jury.
Perry also had to deal with a potential juror appearing in the back of the courtroom for about 30 seconds.
The juror was supposed to report to a room near the courtroom but ended up in the court itself. He was taken out by a bailiff after a short time.
Perry so far has found 11 jurors as possible candidates, who could travel to Orange County and spend six to eight weeks hearing evidence in the high-profile trial.
The case requires 12 jurors because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Perry had hoped to find those 12 along with eight alternates, but it is becoming increasingly questionable whether it will be possible to find that many alternates.
The judge, along with attorneys for the defense and prosecution, has questioned more than 200 jurors in the past eight days.
This morning, five jurors were to face a second round of questioning. Then another group was scheduled for the afternoon.
The judge had planned to start the trial a day ago in Orlando. But the pace of the jury selection makes it uncertain when it will begin.