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Casey Anthony jurors still feeling effects of public backlash

ST. PETERSBURG — After the not-guilty verdict on July 5, Russ Huekler, an alternate juror in the Casey Anthony murder trial, was hit with hundreds of insulting letters, e-mails, Facebook posts and phone calls from strangers calling him "ignorant" and "scum."

Then the death threat arrived.

All that anger aimed at him, even though Huekler did not actually participate in deliberations. But he had voiced support on TV for the jurors who did — many of whom are coping with experiences similar to Huekler's in the trial's aftermath.

One writer, aware that Huekler was a high school government teacher, said he could now teach his students how to go free after murdering someone. Another taunted that he could teach them how to lie to law enforcement. Many told him he shouldn't be allowed to teach.

Huekler, 51, also had to deal with his own mother and siblings complaining about the verdicts. And, to add further insult, he and the jury foreman were forced to change dinner plans they'd made during the trial to meet at a restaurant they both liked, Skyline Chili in Clearwater, after the trial.

A sign at the restaurant said: "Pinellas County jurors NOT welcome!!!"

Huekler tried to take it all in stride until the threatening letter arrived at his house several days after the verdict. "I know where you live," said the anonymous writer. "I hope you drown."

St. Petersburg police, upon learning that Huekler swims in his backyard pool every day, opened an investigation.

"After 43 days of doing their civic duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., it was shocking to learn that some of the jurors weren't safe," said Huekler's wife, Ellen, a middle school math teacher.

Among the nasty letters was one from Pete Leary of Jamestown, R.I. He told Huekler that he and everyone else on the jury were "ignorant and self-serving idiots who let murderers walk among us."

Leary told the St. Petersburg Times he fired off the letter because he was furious that the jury didn't "connect the dots" as prosecutors advised.

"Why would those dumbbells get caught up in jury instructions about reasonable doubt when all it took was a little common sense to fill in the gaps and find her guilty?" he asked.

Because, Huekler said, jurors are not supposed to fill in the gaps.

Huekler isn't the only member of the jury still dealing with fallout from the trial.

Juror No. 12 retired from her job at Publix and moved to Tennessee after being threatened, Huekler and news reports said.

Juror Jennifer Ford reversed her decision to speak out after a few interviews, telling the Tampa Tribune: "If I knew what I know now, I probably wouldn't have been so honest."

A woman who said she was the mother of juror No. 7 but who did not give her name to a reporter who knocked on her door, complained about being harassed by people, especially the media. In the days after the trial she said they were all over the front yard and street.

"Thank goodness news people have a short attention span and Nancy Grace has moved on to the latest horrible murder," she said.

The jury that found Casey Anthony not guilty of murder, manslaughter or aggravated child abuse in the death of her toddler, Caylee Anthony, was made up of 12 jurors and five alternates from Pinellas County, shipped to Orlando for the six-week trial. All those who have so far spoken out agreed there was not enough evidence to convict.

Making up the jury, according to news coverage and descriptions from fellow jurors: Eight men and nine women. Christian, Jewish, atheist. Black, white. Ages 25 to 71. Gay and straight. Democrat, Republican and independent. All have at least graduated from high school, nine have university diplomas, five have master's degrees. "The jury was a true cross section of what makes up America," Huekler said.

So, why the disconnect with the American public over the verdicts?

Huekler offers two theories:

• The jury was not privy to inadmissible evidence that the public heard from courtroom sidebars and news.

• And, according to jury instructions, jurors couldn't find Casey guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of first-degree or second-degree murder or manslaughter or aggravated child abuse without knowing the time and cause of Caylee's death.

For first-degree murder, according to the instructions, jurors had to know that the time between premeditation and murder was "long enough to allow reflection." Since they didn't know when Caylee died or how, they couldn't know this, he said.

For the other charges, the instructions said repeatedly that they had to know beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony's acts caused the death. "Again," Huekler said, "without knowing the time and manner of death, they couldn't know this beyond a reasonable doubt."

The jury instructions said each juror had to have an "abiding conviction of guilt" that did not "waver and vacillate" and was solely based on the "evidence introduced in the trial."

"It wasn't that we believed Casey was innocent," he said. "But we knew it wasn't enough to think she was probably guilty based on her lies. To follow what the law required, we needed to be definite."

Yet the Hueklers say that life is finally starting to get back to normal. The insults have stopped. No more threats. Strangers seldom approach them when they go out to dinner. He is starting to put together new lesson plans for his fall classes, based on what he says his court experience taught him.

"That our Constitution works."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Meg Laughlin can be reached at mlaughlin@sptimes.com.

Casey Anthony jurors still feeling effects of public backlash 07/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 10:27pm]
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