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Casey Anthony jury selection under way in Clearwater

TBO.com
Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 03:37 PM

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CLEARWATER -

Attorneys started the long process of weeding through 110 prospective jurors from Pinellas County this morning in search of 20 who will be brought to Orlando to hear the trial of Casey Anthony, the mother charged with killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

The 12 jurors and eight alternates who make it through the selection process that's expected to last through this week will be isolated from family, friends, jobs and nearly all forms of social contact as they are housed in Orlando hotel rooms while they hear what could be two months of testimony.

The prospect of up to eight weeks sequestered for the trial quickly emerged as problems for some of jurors.

One woman worried about who would care for her 89-year-old father who just moved here from Ohio. The judge dismissed her over objections from the defense.

One man was concerned about leaving his wife who doesn't like to be left alone at night.

Still another man, a single father, was worried about the impact of the long trial on his 10-year-old daughter.

"I might be able to find somebody to look after her if I had to," the man said. "But she hates it when I am gone for three hours."

One prospective juror said he would be bankrupt in 12 weeks if selected because his company wouldn't pay him while gone.

By the middle of the afternoon, 26 potential jurors had been excused and 16 potential jurors who survived the first cut were scheduled to return Wednesday.

"Jury service is a sacrifice, but we don't want you to sacrifice yourself into poverty," the judge told one prospective juror who said her pet-sitting business would be harmed by sitting on the jury.

Financial problems were a thread for many of the prospective jurors if they had to miss work for up to eight weeks.

The $30 a day the state pays jury members would not begin to pay the bills if they are self-employed or work for a company that doesn't pay them while on jury duty.

"Things are real tough right now," said a man who owns his own precision marine shop. "It definitely would not work."

Other prospective jurors gave medical issues or language barriers as reasons they could not serve.

Questioning is expected to continue today and into Tuesday, if not later, in an effort to seat a jury.

The trial is scheduled to begin next week in Orlando.

In his opening remarks after prospective jurors filled the courtroom about 10 a.m., Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry said he was aware of the enormous inconvenience the case presented.

Court officials in Orange County decided to move jury selection because of the extensive publicity surrounding the case since Caylee disappeared in June 2008.

For the first time, a prospective juror talked about the merits of the case on Monday afternoon.

"I would love to be a part of it, but I can't afford it," said the male juror. He said his employer would not pay him for time missed.

The juror said he had heard or read enough in the media to know what his decision as a jury member would be.

"I feel that I know the verdict as guilty," he said.

He was dismissed without opposition from the state or defense.

Jeanne Craig is an example of how deeply the case has moved some. She volunteered to help look for Caylee twice in 2008 while the toddler was still missing. Today, she drove an hour from her home in Spring Hill to watch jury selection.

"I want to see justice for Caylee," said Craig, her eyes reddening and filling with tears as she sat in the fourth-floor courtroom. "And I didn't even know her."

Perry planned for each juror to go through two rounds of questioning, bringing each into the courtroom individually to ask about hardships before getting to the core questioning of jurors.

Jurors also will be asked if they could recommend the death penalty in the case. Those who answer no will be rejected.

After hearing from Perry, jurors were separated into two groups with questioning of the first batch of 45 set start before noon. The other group of 55 was sent back to the main jury room.

He cautioned jurors against using social media to let anyone know they are being considered for the Anthony case. That meant a ban on tweeting, texting, emailing or chatting.

Lights went out in the courtroom when Perry first addressed the jury pool and were restored several minutes later.

The first juror questioned said spending weeks in Orlando could offer some inconvenience, but if he could watch Tampa Bay Lightning hockey playoff games on television, it wouldn't be a hardship.

His 7-year-old daughter would probably miss him, he told the judge, but maybe not his wife.

"She might be happy to get rid of me," he said.

The second person worried about the trial's impact on her 89-year-old father, who just moved to the Tampa Bay area from Ohio.

The sensational case has drawn such a swarm of newscasters and reporters requesting media credentials – 600 so far – that the judge kept the location of jury selection secret until just before dawn today.

Before jury selection started, Perry denied a motion by Anthony's attorney, Jose Baez, to continue the trial.

Anthony told the judge this morning she was not interested in a plea deal.

In preparation to jury selection, Anthony was brought from Orange County and booked in the Pinellas County Jail about 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Anthony stood to face the potential jurors today as they entered the courtroom, occasionally whispering to her attorneys.

A veritable cross section of Pinellas County's population, some of the prospective jurors wore flip-flops, some dressed professionally and some had jeans with holes in them.

One of the first tasks was for Perry to recite the numerous charges facing Anthony who sat with hands clasped in front of her face, looking somber and ashen. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

Perry told potential jurors they were not to be swayed by any emotions the defendant showed.

On Saturday, Perry issued an order denying another defense motion, to suppress an expert witness opinion about the source of a smell found in the trunk of Anthony's car.

Forensic testing found traces of chloroform, which can be used to induce unconsciousness and also is a component of human decomposition, in the trunk. In a 911 call, Cindy Anthony, Casey's mother, described the vehicle as smelling "like there's been a dead body in the damn car."

The defense tried to quash the opinion of a scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory who tested a sample of the carpet from the trunk about whether any smell came from a decomposing human body.

With the press of media attention, court officials in Orlando set aside a parking area at the courthouse to accommodate the fleet of television trucks expected to cover the trial, and the area has earned the nickname "Casey Town."

Picking a jury will be complicated, not only because of the case's legal issues and evidence, but also because of pretrial publicity and the emotional nature of the charges.

Anthony, 25, could be given the death penalty if convicted. Along with first-degree murder, she is charged with aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and providing false information to law enforcement.

If Anthony is convicted of first-degree murder, jurors will then decide whether to recommend the death penalty in a second, separate phase of the trial. The judge will decide whether to impose the death penalty.

She has pleaded not guilty and says a babysitter kidnapped Caylee.

Anthony waited a month before telling her mother that Caylee had disappeared. It was Cindy Anthony, Caylee's grandmother, who contacted authorities.

Casey Anthony, who was 22 at the time, said she had dropped off her daughter with a babysitter and gone to work at a theme park, but investigators later concluded she was lying about her job.

Over the next several weeks, hundreds of volunteers scoured Central Florida looking for the girl, whose decomposed remains were found in December 2008 in woods not far from where she lived with her mother and grandparents.

Jurors will have to sort through extensive circumstantial evidence. The prosecution has 25,000 pages of evidence to present at the trial.

The Orlando-area medical examiner, Jan Garavaglia, who once had her own national television show, "Dr. G: Medical Examiner," ruled that a cause of death could not be determined. The autopsy said Caylee's bones didn't suffer trauma.

Some outside experts said the lack of a cause of death could make it hard to get a first-degree murder conviction

"If you can't say how she died, you're kind of hamstrung on saying what the defendant's intent was," said David Hill, an Orlando criminal defense attorney.

Prosecutors will have to make strong links for the jury between the circumstantial evidence and Casey Anthony, if they are to succeed, said LeRoy Pernell, dean of the Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando.

"Failure to show exactly what is the cause of death is a challenge, but it's not necessarily a fatal challenge," Pernell said.


Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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