A Trial Begins: Did Casey Anthony Kill Her Daughter?

May 17, 2011

More than 500 journalists are descending on Orlando, Fla., this week for the start of a murder trial that could be one of the largest in state history.

Casey Anthony, 25, is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

It's a drama-filled case that the judge says could rival the O.J. Simpson trial for media saturation.

A Real-Life Drama

Florida is no stranger to big trials, but they don't hold a candle to the Casey Anthony case — so says legal expert Charles Rose at Florida's Stetson University law school.

"In Orlando, the closest that you could come back to would be the trial in Volusia County where you had the young lady that the movie Monster was based upon, but even that pales in comparison," Rose says.

Charlize Theron played serial killer Aileen Wuornos in that 2003 movie.

But the Anthony case is a real-life drama, played out in the golden age of talk radio and 24-hour TV news.

Two-year-old Caylee Anthony was first reported missing in July 2008.

TV outlets around the country ran pictures of the smiling toddler along with photos of her attractive young mother, Casey, dancing at a nightclub while the search was going on.

Casey was charged with murder in October, but it was two months more before her daughter's remains were found, not far from the Anthonys' home.

A Sequestered Jury

In Orlando, the case has been in the news almost every day, so the judge imported a jury from another county, about 100 miles away.

Rose says that still may not be enough to ensure an impartial panel. "You're gonna bring this jury into what is already fairly described as a maelstrom of media activity, and it's not going to get any better," he says.

The trial is expected to last about two months, and the court is paying more than $300,000 to sequester the jurors for the whole time. They'll be cut off from most forms of communication while they're there.

Judge Belvin Perry laid down the law on the first day of jury selection: "Do not — and I repeat, do not — use any type of electronic devices or computers to communicate about this case, including tweeting, texting, blogging ..."

And the list went on.

Mary Anne Franks with the University of Miami law school says she wonders whether all those restrictions could actually end up degrading the jury pool.

"There will be people who have very busy lives or people who can't really give up social networking for whatever reason for whatever amount of time this trial is going to take," she says. "It's not clear that we really want to be pushing those people out."

New Science Used In Courts

The jurors will have a tough job sorting through the evidence in the case too.

It looks like the judge will let prosecutors argue that a strand of hair and air samples taken from Casey Anthony's car prove the presence of a dead body.

It's new science being used for one of the first times in U.S. courts — and it could affect the way future crimes are investigated.

Former federal prosecutor Michael Seigel now specializes in evidence at the University of Florida's law school.

"As law enforcement becomes aware of this kind of evidence," he says, "the FBI will be called upon more and more to do the analysis, and it will be offered in more and more trials around the country."

Of course, the evidence won't go unchallenged.

In the Anthony trial, defense lawyers will use their experts to argue the science is faulty. And if their client is convicted, they're likely to use that argument as grounds for a lengthy appeal. Copyright 2011 WMFE-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wmfe.org.