Single mum Casey Anthony, who is accused of the murder of her toddler daughter, watched impassively today as jury selection in her trial continued.
Potential jurors were ushered into the Pinellas County, Florida courtroom this morning and told by Judge Belvin Perry that they are prohibited from discussing the case, watching or reading about the case through the media and talking about it with friends, family and others while the trial, expected to last two months, is on.
Yesterday, Judge Perry was forced to dismiss an entire panel of 50 jurors after he was told they spoke in depth about Anthony (25) — a fracas that could delay jury selection.
The banned conversation started with potential juror Patricia Young, a former volunteer with Texas EquuSearch. That group organized searches for Anthony's 2-year-old daughter Caylee Marie Anthony in the summer of 2008.
Caylee was reported missing by her grandmother four weeks after she was last seen with her mother Casey at their Orlando home in June 2008. During that period Cindy Anthony said her daughter had fobbed her off with excuses when she asked to see her granddaughter. When Casey’s car was retrieved from the tow yard her parents said it had a ‘smell of death’. Prosecutors will allege that Casey Anthony partied and put pictures up on social media in the time her daughter was unaccounted for.
Caylee’s body was found buried in swamp land a mile from the Anthony home six months after she was last seen.
The judge in Casey Anthony’s trial for first degree murder, heard today that prospective jurors go to the cafeteria and the news is on inside that room. He then asked that the TV news be turned off.
Judge Perry said he wants to have a 20-member jury – 12 jurors and eight alternates - seated by Friday, so the panel can be brought to Orlando and hear opening statements next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, one of the dismissed jurors sent the following letter to the court expressing frustration with the system.
To whom it may concern:
I was one of the 50 potential jurors excused from service on the Casey Anthony trial today because of "tainting" caused by one juror, who discussed her first-hand knowledge of the case in the presence of several others.
I want to suggest, to avoid a repeat of my experience, that during the remainder of the selection process for this and all other highly sensitive cases coming through the 6th Judicial Circuit, you tell each and every person who reports for jury service that HE/SHE IS NOT TO DISCUSS ANYTHING ABOUT ANY CASE PRIOR TO, OR DURING, THE PROCESS OF VOIR DIRE (I.E. BEFORE BEING EXCUSED FROM SERVICE).
I can tell you that in spite of the Chief Judge's video clip shown to all jurors prior to the random selection of those 50 of us who were asked to return in the afternoon, and even when all of us were standing in front of Courtroom 1 waiting to be ushered in, there was much speculative chit-chat amongst jurors about whether we were there for the Casey Anthony trial. It was at that point that I happened to be standing near the woman who was involved in the search and rescue of the victim in this case, and she voiced the opinion that she wouldn't be chosen because of her involvement.
I can also tell you that there were MANY speculative comments flying around after some potential jurors started to be ushered into Courtroom 1, only to be ushered out again because of a "legal matter that needed to be addressed" outside of our presence.
Following that, the "buzz" in the hallway outside the Courtroom increased dramatically, as several of those who had entered into the courtroom for a few seconds before came out "boasting" with the information that "she" was in there.
This was followed by much speculative chatter about the Defendant's guilt or innocence, and several potential jurors' tales about their own personal hardships that would be the result of the horrors of being sequestered in Orlando for 6-8 weeks.
This, I might add, was done within earshot of at least two deputies standing right outside the Courtroom door, and there was NO attempt by deputies to quiet the speculation, or admonish potential jurors about the need NOT to "deliberate" in front of one another prior to Voir Dire and being excused.
While I would like to believe that most potential jurors have good intentions, I also believe that most are clueless as to appropriate behavior while waiting to be selected/rejected. Consequently, with such a high-profile case which will surely involve a great deal more flushing-out of so many potential jurors because of the hardships associated with sequestration two hours away from home, I would like to make the following suggestion:
IF POTENTIAL JURORS SHOULD NOT DISCUSS THE CASE PRIOR TO VOIR DIRE, THE CLERK'S OFFICE NEEDS TO MAKE THIS CRYSTAL CLEAR TO EACH AND EVERY JUROR AS HE/SHE ENTERS THE JURY ASSEMBLY ROOM AT THE START OF EACH DAY.
This, I believe, would make good practice not only for this case, but for EVERY case. All Defendants are entitled to a fair and impartial jury.
I do not believe it is the media that will taint the jury in this or any other high-profile case, but rather, the lack of proper instruction given to potential jurors/jurors about what can/cannot be discussed at various stages of the trial process. And if this means that a judge must admonish all potential jurors each morning prior to Voir Dire that they risk being held in contempt of court if they discuss the case with anybody prior to being excused from service, then so be it.
I cannot tell you how strongly I believe that this is the ONLY way to protect the integrity of the pre-Voir Dire/Voir Dire stages of a trial by jury.
Juror 2059/May 10, 2011