Jury selection in the capital murder trial of Casey Anthony is set to begin Monday at an undisclosed location in Florida. The judge has agreed to try to choose a jury from outside the Orlando hot-zone of this case—a hat tip to the fact that as legal circuses go, this one may top them all.
The recipe seems perfect: A beautiful young single mother, who after a fierce fight with her mother in the summer of 2008 leaves the communal home with her 2-year old daughter, Caylee, and shows up 31 days later to proclaim she's somehow misplaced her child. Ingredients include her abandoned car which smells like a dead body, a passel of incredible lies about a non-existent Nanny with the storybook name of Zanny, a string of forged checks stolen from loved ones, and the revelation that the job at Orlando's Universal Studios she had bragged about for years never existed.
Now, add to this mix a unique and unorthodox jury selection procedure.
Superior Court Judge Belvin Perry rejected the defense team's request to change the venue for the trial, but then agreed to change the venue for jury selection. The actual location of the jury selection won't be officially revealed until Monday, the day before it is set to begin. Judge Perry says he doesn't want to alert any particular community that its citizens are about to be chosen for a most inconvenient task—to be a juror on the state's most notorious murder case which will require them to be bused back to Orlando and sequestered for the two or three months this trial will take.
She had been wrapped in her favorite Winnie the Pooh blanket indicating someone who loved her had swaddled her body before putting her in black garbage bags.
"I've never heard of this happening," jury consultant Richard Gabriel told The Daily Beast. Gabriel's L.A.-based firm Decision Analysis has worked pro-bono for the Anthony defense team.
"I don't understand what Judge Perry thinks he's achieving (since) this has been a statewide phenomenon,” he adds. “We've talked a lot about logistics in this case but what I don't think has been considered is the immense psychological pressure that will be put on these jurors ... not only being on a murder case but a death penalty case. And, also to be separated from their homes and friends and family and communities, it's an enormous amount of pressure on an individual."
Recently Perry was seen in the lobby of the Palm Beach County courthouse in the company of the Chief Judge Peter Blanc and several sheriff's officers. When approached, the Palm Beach Post reports Perry motioned to Blanc and only offered, "I'm just here with my friend."
Whether the actual location will be Palm Beach or another county with similar demographics, Perry has told the lawyers he's set aside "five days" to pick this jury. Critics say that's simply not enough time to choose a properly vetted jury for a death penalty case. But the judge has assured the lawyers that, "If progress is being made we will stay," and keep working. If no progress is seen, Perry has declared they will all head back to Orlando where, presumably, the jury selection will start anew with a ground zero jury pool that has been submersed in the mire of this case since July 2008 when police first got the call that little Caylee Marie Anthony was missing.
"They've exposed so much in this case! It's been a three-year long public assault on (Casey Anthony) day after day. I don't know how this woman will get a fair trial," prominent Miami-based criminal defense attorney Roy Black told The Daily Beast. Black has represented several high-profile defendants, including William Kennedy Smith on rape charges in 1991, and says he is dumbfounded about the refusal to change the venue.
"The judge is delusional,” he adds. “I don't see how you can have such ugly allegations—a mother killing her child and all the lies she's allegedly told. If you want to close your eyes and ignore the facts then have it in Orlando. But a fair trial? It can't be done that way."
Since the 2-year-old’s disappearance, hardly a day went by that local Florida newspapers, television, and radio failed to report some twist or turn in the case. Caylee's fate became fodder for cable TV shows dedicated to crime, and suddenly a national audience became transfixed by every titillating detail. It's been that way ever since.
There were the provocative photos of Casey partying and being groped by both men and women during the time Caylee was supposedly missing. One showed her urinating in the street. There was speculation about who fathered Caylee and constant revelations about a string of Casey's boyfriends. The missing baby's great-grandmother proclaimed, "Casey can rot in hell!" And, the grandparents, George and Cindy, were seen in physical confrontations with protesters who had gathered outside their home chanting, "Where's Caylee? Where's Caylee?!" At one point, a small child was held overhead clutching a sign reading, "Will You Kill Me Too?"
The potential jury pool was exposed to all this negativity and much more.
When Caylee's remains were finally discovered in a swampy, wooded area not far from the Anthony home in December 2008, coverage of the story exploded. The public learned that the child's head had been wrapped in layers of thick duct tape and a smile sticker had been placed over her taped mouth. She had been wrapped in her favorite Winnie the Pooh blanket, indicating someone who loved her had swaddled her body before putting her in black garbage bags. Eighteen of Caylee's teeth were discovered in the woods making a DNA match easy.
The public heard startling revelations that came from a former inmate of the Orange County Jail. Maya Derkovic told detectives she had befriended Casey after she first arrived, and they had spoken via the jail's ventilation system. Derkovic's most damaging claim was that Casey admitted "knocking Caylee out often" so she could go out with friends. Asked how she might have done that, Derkovic was quoted saying, "I assume it's drugs because when somebody says 'knock out,' it's drugs—tranquilizers that will knock a person out, make 'em go to sleep."
The public has also been allowed to read Casey Anthony's self-indulgent prison letters to another inmate and to see the tearful and sometimes feisty videotaped visitation sessions she had with her parents. None of it made the defendant look sympathetic, and after realizing every visit would be videotaped, Casey stopped the process in August 2008 refusing all visitors except her defense team.
Florida's Sunshine Laws, considered to be the most liberal in the nation, made it possible for the media to feed the public all these details and much more. In general terms, the law guarantees that whatever the state knows the public has the right to know. It's a boon to news organizations hungry for any tidbit of information about high-profile suspects. Conversely, the law is the bane of criminal defense lawyers.
The multitude of shocking disclosures straight from the prosecution's 25,000 page file—augmented nightly by unsubstantiated proclamations from nostril-flaring cable TV hosts and their so-called experts—are at the core of a burning question about this case: Can Casey Anthony really get a fair trial? After years of constant coverage, is there anyone in Florida who hasn't reached a conclusion about whether she's guilty?
Of course, the same was once asked about another high-profile murder defendant named O.J. Simpson and we all know how that trial turned out.
Investigative journalist and syndicated columnist Diane Dimond has covered all manner of celebrity and pop culture stories. Her latest book is Cirque Du Salahi which uncovered the full story behind Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the so-called "White House Gate Crashers". Dimond has written extensively about the John Edwards sex scandal for the DailyBeast and she first broke the news that King of Pop Michael Jackson was under investigation for child molestation. She is author of the book, Be Careful Who You Love—Inside the Michael Jackson Case. She lives in New York with her husband, broadcast journalist Michael Schoen.