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Daniel Ruth

In Casey Anthony trial, a little knowledge might go a long way

Suppose you were on trial for your very life. Who would you want sitting in judgment of you: (A) a bunch of folks irritated at the inconvenience of having to serve and not all that engaged to begin with, or (B) a group of people with a sense of public service and an intellectual capacity for discernment? • Most of us would prefer the latter. If you were facing the death penalty would you trust your fate to 12 annoyed and uninterested men and women? • After everything gets sorted out, maybe Casey Anthony will be found to be an evil murderess who killed here 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, because she interfered with her swinging-single lifestyle. Or perhaps some evidence will be brought forward exonerating the young defendant. Who knows? We'll find out. That's what trials are supposed to be all about.

Still, as Anthony sits in court during the trial's jury selection phase, she has to be wondering if her life is being put in the hands of Homer Simpson meets Justin Bieber's fan club. This could be a problem.

Because of the massive pretrial publicity over the Anthony case in the Orlando area, Orange-Osceola County Circuit Court Judge Belvin Perry thought it would be a swell idea to pick a jury from Pinellas County on the theory that people here are untainted by opinions about the death of Caylee, maybe because the populace spends more time watching American Idol.

So far it's been a slow slog through the judicial process. Because the trial is expected to last from six to eight weeks, it hasn't been easy to find jurors who can give up as much as two months of their lives sequestered in a hotel for $30 a day.

Jurors also would be denied visits with family and barred from reading or watching news accounts of the trial, which apparently hasn't posed much of a problem for many in the jury pool.

It's become so difficult for Perry to find jurors that the frustrated judge has raised the possibility of pulling residents out of a nearby homeless shelter as potential candidates to sit in judgment of Anthony. Or put another way, Casey Anthony could well have some jurors weighing evidence in her trial who were eager to serve because they needed the $30 per diem and a place to sleep.

Is this anyway to run a criminal justice system?

A jury of Anthony's "peers" could consist of the unemployed, the uninformed, retirees and the homeless. Not exactly a Law & Order moment.

Part of the problem, of course, is the estimated two-month length of the trial, which seems rather excessive. While the death of Caylee is a tragedy, from an evidentiary standpoint, it would seem this is a fairly straightforward murder case.

By contrast, it took two months for the federal government to try Wall Street mogul Raj Rajaratnam in an insider trading case that involved complex securities laws, the nuances of hedge funds and sitting through hours of wiretap recordings.

Determining if Casey Anthony killed her daughter shouldn't necessarily require two months of court time.

This extra effort to find unbiased jurors is at best naive. Even if Perry imported jurors from Latvia who had never heard of Casey Anthony, within moments after the trial's opening arguments, these folks would begin to form opinions about the case and the defendant. That's only human nature.

But opinions and "biases" can shift over the course of a trial. That's only human nature, too.

The process of selecting a juror without "bias" merely becomes a euphemism for "how ignorant are you?"

Ultimately, isn't it better to pick juries made up of people who, despite whatever preconceived opinion they may have about the case at hand, are still honestly willing to weigh all the evidence and arrive at a fair verdict even if it runs counter to their original "bias"?

A few years ago I was selected to serve on a jury in a burglary case. Even though I had covered crime, been a victim of a crime and even knew the judge a little bit, I was still chosen. It turned out both the defense and prosecution picked me precisely because I was familiar with the court system — because I had a "bias" of sorts. In the end, we acquitted the defendant. We had a reasonable doubt over his guilt.

And much like that long-ago moment in the jury box, whether guilty or innocent, the public needs to know Casey Anthony received a fair trial. Lady Justice needs to know. And Caylee, too.

In Casey Anthony trial, a little knowledge might go a long way 05/12/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2011 7:29pm]

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