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Pinellas jurors who heard Casey Anthony trial can finally come home

ORLANDO — For six weeks, they lived like virtual prisoners.

Guards stood outside their hotel rooms. Deputies watched as they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Their calls were monitored, as were family visits. Texts, e-mail, the Internet, all forbidden. After a while they even lost their TV privileges.

Their seclusion finally came to an end on Tuesday when the jurors from Pinellas County rendered their verdict in a case that captivated the nation. They deliberated for 11 hours over two days and found Casey Anthony not guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008.

The 12 jurors filed out of the courtroom without speaking, but sent back a message to the media that had gathered from near and far: Leave us alone.

They just wanted to pack up their things and go home, to return to lives they left six weeks ago.

Before releasing them, Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. acknowledged their sacrifice.

"We took you away from your families for a very extended period of time," Perry said. "For that, I thank you."

Perry also took the unusual step of keeping their names secret, though the names of the alternate jurors were released. Several media organizations, including the St. Petersburg Times, will challenge his decision in court Thursday.

That also is the day Perry will sentence Anthony, 25, on four counts of providing false information to law enforcement. While the jurors acquitted Anthony of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, they found her guilty of the lesser charges.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office brought some of the 12 jurors and five alternates home Tuesday night. Others stayed overnight at their undisclosed Orlando hotel to avoid the media.

Alternate juror Russ Huekler, 51, arrived at his St. Petersburg home about 8:40 p.m. and was greeted in his driveway by reporters — Good Morning America, the Nancy Grace show, the New York Post and others.

Before his arrival, his wife, Ellen, 48, a teacher at Osceola Middle School, brought out chairs, a cooler with cans of lemonade and bug spray for her journalist guests. She had visited her husband, a teacher at Pinellas Park High School, twice during his jury duty.

Russ Huekler missed their wedding anniversary. He didn't get to see his students take final exams. His son and daughter left on trips during his absence.

He was dropped off Tuesday night by deputies in a white van. They carried his luggage, turned down Ellen's lemonade and drove off.

Huekler answered reporters' questions for about 10 minutes.

On the not guilty verdicts: "I agreed with it wholeheartedly. The prosecution didn't meet its burden of proof."

On what he thinks happened: "There was some type of horrific accident that happened to Caylee . . . I think she drowned."

On Casey Anthony: "She was right in front of me. There were times she would look just . . . you know, blank. Other times, when they were talking about Caylee's death, there were tears there. Legitimate tears."

He said jurors passed the time watching movies. They played card games on Saturday nights.

The jurors were young and old, mothers and fathers. There was a teacher, two students, an information technologist, a phone company worker, a caregiver, a chef and a few retirees.

They returned Tuesday to a world they haven't had much contact with since May 23. That was the day before the trial started, the day all 17 of them — eight men, nine women — boarded the bus for Orlando.

They had to hand over their cell phones, with deputies always watching to ensure they weren't exposed to any information that could compromise the trial.

The jurors ate at their hotel every day. For lunch, deputies brought them Chick-fil-A and Jimmy John's subs. Dinners were usually eaten in their own rooms. Occasionally deputies took them to restaurants like Olive Garden and Houlihan's, where they ate in private rooms.

They had a small window to call home each day, but their calls were monitored. Sundays were set aside for family visits. Their families had to travel to Orlando, on their own, to see them.

They were allowed to go online to bank or fill prescriptions. They also were allowed to read local newspapers and their hometown paper, the St. Petersburg Times, was given to them — but only after every reference to Casey Anthony had been removed.

They were allowed to watch approved television shows. They saw the Tampa Bay Lightning's run in the NHL playoffs. Bright House Networks provided the jury's hotel with a local feed from Tampa Bay. But when the TV stations started promoting trial coverage, deputies pulled the plug.

The jurors were given $14 a week in quarters to wash their clothes with hotel machines. If they needed anything from the store, court personnel did their shopping for them.

They also helped the jurors cash and deposit their paychecks: They got $30 a day for serving on the jury, including weekends. That's at least $1,290 per juror, not including their jury selection pay.

Huekler said it was a sacrifice.

"I can say one thing: For the next week and a half, I'm just going to get to know my wife again. And do whatever she wants to do. I'm going to get to meet my dogs again . . . I'm just going to veg for the next few weeks and just let everything process."

Pinellas jurors who heard Casey Anthony trial can finally come home 07/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 11:06am]
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