CLEARWATER — It took two weeks, inquiries of dozens of potential jurors and several crises threatening the administration of justice, but by late Friday a jury was sworn in for Casey Anthony's first-degree murder trial.
A group of 12 jurors and five alternates were finally seated following 11 days spent sifting through candidates here in Pinellas County. It was no simple task finding people who hadn't formed opinions about the highly publicized defendant. In addition, they had to be able to manage sequestration in Orlando for six to eight weeks and show a willingness to consider the death penalty if they convict.
Anthony, 25, is charged with murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee Marie. The guilt phase of her trial starts Tuesday.
Late this week, peremptory challenges by both the prosecution and the defense – striking jurors from the panel for strategic reasons — showed how both sides tried to mold an overall jury pool of nine women and eight men. They are grandmothers, middle aged parents and retirees. One is a nursing student. Another is skeptical of the media.
One of her attorneys, Cheney Mason, questioned whether a Florida jury could be found in one week, as originally intended, for a case so well known. Instead it took two – peppered with a few days filled with high drama.
This selection saw one potential juror, who also happens to be a possible witness in the case, poison a pool of 50 when she spoke openly about the case before being called into the courtroom. It prompted others to start speculating about the case, and the whole group had to be tossed.
Then, another juror, Jonathan Green, approached a member of the media about getting out of jury duty. He was held in contempt and ended up fleeing the courthouse followed by a small army of reporters. But he maintained he had accomplished his mission, while picking up a $450 fine along the way.
Another would-be juror boasted online about writing a book based on the experience. He didn't last long.
And on Friday, a spectator in the courtroom, Elizabeth Ann Rogers, shouted out, "She killed somebody anyway!" while attorneys questioned a potential juror.
Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry found Rogers in contempt of court and placed her in jail for two days for her actions. Hysterical and speaking in choppy sentences, Rogers apologized and said she suffered from bipolar disorder and other conditions for which she is on medication.
"I'm about to lose a juror because of your actions," a visibly angered Perry told the woman before sending her to jail.
The juror who heard the outburst was soon let go, but the attorneys continued their questioning until there were no candidates left.
Up until the end, defense attorney Jose Baez challenged the selection process and asked for additional strikes to have jurors removed and further shape the panel. But Perry denied those.
And then for the first time in a while, Perry addressed Casey Anthony directly and asked if she was satisfied with the jury. And for the first time in a long time, the people watching this case heard her speak.
"With our objections," she said, "Yes."
The jurors will soon head to Orlando and prepare for opening statements in the trial's guilt phase, which is now set to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday – exactly one week behind schedule.
But in a case that has taken nearly three years to get to trial, that might be considered a victory for all concerned.
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