The trial of accused murderer Casey Anthony took a strange twist Tuesday when a potential witness for the defense was mistakenly called for jury duty, prompting the judge to throw out several prospective jurors after the witness reportedly discussed details of the case with them.
Anthony, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. Anthony has pleaded not guilty and claims a baby sitter kidnapped the child, whose body was found six months after she was reported missing in swampy woods not far from her home -- her tiny remains wrapped in a bag with a piece of duct tape found over the mouth of her skull.
Anthony's trial will take place in Orlando, but jurors are being selected this week at a courthouse about 100 miles away in Clearwater because of the intense media coverage.
Chief Judge Belvin Perry said a potential witness in the trial showed up at the courthouse Tuesday after receiving a Pinellas County jury summons, MyFoxOrlando.com reports. After it was found out that Patricia Young talked about the case in the jury room, Perry dismissed her and 50 other prospective jurors because the group was considered tainted. Jurors are summoned based on a random pick of their driver's license numbers, Perry said.
Young was a volunteer with Texas EquiSearch, the search and recovery organization that searched for Caylee during the summer of 2008, according to the station. She also reportedly sought criminal charges against George Anthony, Caylee's grandfather, for allegedly shoving her during a confrontation outside the family home in September 2008. Young was among a group of protesters when the incident allegedly occurred.
Perry hopes to have 20 jurors -- including eight alternates -- in place by the end of the week so the trial can begin May 17. Potential jurors are undergoing two rounds of questioning and are being asked if they could recommend the death penalty for Anthony.
Caylee was reported missing in July 2008 by her grandmother, Cindy Anthony, who told a police dispatcher that the toddler had not been seen for a month and that her daughter’s car smelled like a "dead body.”
Caylee was allegedly last seen by Cindy a month earlier when she said the two visited a nursing home together. Cindy first reported the child as possibly missing to an Orange County Police dispatcher on July 15, 2008. She asked that an officer be sent to her home to arrest her daughter for “stealing an auto” and money.
“I have someone here that I need to be arrested,” Cindy said in her first 911 call. “I have a possible missing child. I have a 3-year-old that’s been missing for a month.”
A second, more distressed phone call followed about an hour later in which Cindy claimed Casey said the girl was taken by a baby sitter.
“My daughter finally admitted that the baby sitter stole her,” Cindy said. “I found my daughter’s car today and it smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”
Casey allegedly told investigators that she dropped her daughter off with a baby sitter named Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez on June 9, and never saw the two again. She said she didn’t notify police because she had been investigating the disappearance on her own and was scared, according to multiple press accounts.
Investigators say Casey never had contact with Fernandez-Gonzalez, a mother of six from Kissimmee who was cleared by police. The woman reportedly said she had looked at an apartment and filled out a form at Sawgrass Apartments where Anthony claims to have dropped off her daughter on June 9. Detectives said they found no phone or computer records showing Casey had ever communicated with Fernandez-Gonzalez.
Police say Casey fed them a string of lies from the beginning – like claiming she worked at Universal Studios when she didn't. Pictures later surfaced that purportedly showed the young mother partying in the days after she claimed her daughter went missing.
Police arrested Casey on July 16, 2008, for child neglect, giving false official statements and obstructing a criminal investigation.
Prosecutors say the evidence against Casey is overwhelming in the case.
Court documents released in November 2008, for example, show that someone searched the Internet in the Anthony home for phrases like “neck-breaking,” “shovel,” and “household weapons.” A law enforcement official said air samples showed a human body had once been held inside the trunk of Casey’s car. Traces of chloroform, a substance used to induce unconsciousness, were also detected inside the woman’s car, according to officials.
Caylee's skeletal remains were found by a utility worker in a wooded area about a quarter mile from her home on Dec. 11, 2008. The bones showed no signs of trauma and her death was ruled a "homicide of undetermined means."
Casey has pleaded not guilty in the death of her daughter. She also is charged with aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and providing false information to law enforcement. If convicted on murder charges, Casey could face the death penalty.