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Good luck, exported jurors, on your strange trek across the justice system

The Trial of the Moment, the one in which our local citizenry is expected to dutifully serve as jurors, isn't even ours.

But we are nothing if not good neighbors. So lawyers are hard at work picking 12 Pinellas County residents and eight just-in-case-alternates for a trek across the state. There, packs of reporters will breathlessly interpret the jury's every blink and yawn as they decide whether an Orlando woman named Casey Anthony is guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Perhaps by now you've heard of Casey Anthony. It would be hard not to.

You can't have ever idly flipped through your cable stations, and you must have listened only to highbrow radio — wait, scratch that, her jury selection even got a mention on my local NPR station on my morning drive in.

All of which puzzles me some. Any time a child is killed and a parent charged, it's a tragedy and a horror. We know, having had our share. The death of the little girl in that photo is no less tragic. But why does this one have 600 media outlets wanting credentials to cover it?

Her mother's age? Her looks? God forbid, her race?

Or maybe it's because it started as a little girl missing, we got caught up, and now we need to see how it ends.

All that attention brought the case here so lawyers could choose from a hopefully less-saturated citizenry and find 20 who can afford to duck out of their lives for, oh, six to eight weeks. So far, it's been a tough slog for Orange-Osceola Judge Belvin Perry, who dismissed a bunch Tuesday.

They need to find jurors who can put aside anything they've heard about this case and consider only what comes out in the courtroom. If they're lucky, they'll get the ones thinking justice, not book deal.

Unlike on Law and Order, where smug defense lawyers always win outrageous motions, changes of venue are rare. Lawyers do ask. But let me tell you, it is one sobering sight when a judge inquires whether a pool of potential jurors has heard about a case for which many trees have been sacrificed, and only two or three hands go up.

Back in 1994, it was us borrowing folks from Orlando to convict Oba Chandler of murdering an Ohio mother and her two daughters here. But back in the olden days, before they figured out inconveniencing jurors was more efficient than moving an entire trial, I remember a case that moved.

In 1993, lawyers could not find enough Hillsborough residents who could be fair to two men accused of setting a black tourist named Christopher Wilson on fire for the fun of it. We landed in West Palm Beach — judge, lawyers, evidence, reporters, the whole shebang.

You never saw a weirder trial than the one it took to convict those men. Then-State Attorney Harry Lee Coe, odd duck if ever there was one, moved furniture around the unfamiliar courtroom while we were in session and addressed potential jurors by their assigned number without followup questions — as one newspaper wit put it, jury selection "only dogs could hear." A prosecutor quit mid-trial. In tears.

A circus, we said knowingly, sure disaster, mistrial, hung jury. But the jurors, regular folk — an accounts manager, an aerospace engineer — did the job despite the insanity around them, and went home.

Here's wishing the same for our citizens headed for Orlando.

Good luck, exported jurors, on your strange trek across the justice system 05/10/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 7:20pm]
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