One of the most momentous trials in Florida history began in Clearwater this morning as dozens of potential jurors filed into the Pinellas County Courthouse for the start of Casey Anthony's first-degree murder trial.
The start of Anthony's trial comes nearly three years after the search for Anthony's two-year-old daughter Caylee captured the nation's attention. Some 1,500 to 1,800 people scoured the area near Anthony's home, making it one of the largest searches ever for a missing child.
Caylee was last seen on June 16, 2008, and her remains were found in December 2008 near her family home. Casey Anthony has long maintained her innocence and claims her daughter was abducted by a babysitter.
"We are about to begin jury selection the case of the state of Florida versus Casey Anthony," Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry said at the start of the hearing. "This is a criminal case."
Anthony cried as Perry read the charges against her, which include capital murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and misleading law enforcement. The prosecution, Perry told the jury, is seeking the death penalty.
About $500,000 has already been spent in the Anthony case and officials estimate her trial will cost Florida taxpayers an additional $360,000. Roughly 600 journalists from around the world have requested media credentials, leading to speculation that coverage of the trial will even outweigh that of O.J. Simpson's 1995 murder trial; which, at the time, was often referred to as the "Trial of the Century."
Anthony, who has spent much of the past three years incarcerated in the Orange County Jail in Orlando, was transferred to the Pinellas County Jail today for the jury selection phase of her trial.
This morning, Perry instructed the pool of roughly 400 potential jurors that Anthony's trial will take place in Orlando. The jury will be sequestered and the trial will last an estimated six to eight weeks. Perry said the court is "mindful of the enormous inconvenience" it will be imposing.
The rest of the morning -- and on into the afternoon -- was spent identifying jurors who want to be excused for personal hardship reasons.
"They want to know if there is any reason the individual couldn’t sit there for X number of weeks," Anne Bremner, a Seattle attorney and legal analyst, told The Huffington Post.
"The folks who are self-employed or have some kind of a physical disability will typically be let go up front, so that will weed out a lot of people."
Bremner added: "They will probably find a lot of people, [because of] this economy, can't serve because they are not going to be able to support their families."
Jurors who pass through to the next stage will be questioned about their knowledge of the case to determine how much, if any, pretrial publicity they have been exposed to.
"They always say jury selection but I think they should call it serial elimination," Bremner explained. "Each side is trying to get rid of the people who have strong opinions against their side. They have got to do questioning and these days a lot of people also do research on jurors. They look at Facebook and they Google them they try to find out more about that person."
Potential jurors will also be questioned about their stance on capital punishment. Any individual who is unwilling to recommend a death sentence would automatically be excluded.
"With a death penalty case you have to have a 'death-qualified jury,' which means they are willing to give the death penalty under appropriate circumstances," Bremner said. "They need to weed out people who have opinions on the death penalty that could compromise the trial for both sides."
Court officials want to have the jury of 20 people, 12 jurors and eight alternates, selected by Friday. Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to being Monday morning.
Bremner said that while it is not impossible to have a jury in place by Friday, she is skeptical that it will actually happen.
"It will be really tough, especially with a case like this that has had such widespread publicity," she said.