Jury selection began Monday in the trial of an Orlando woman charged with killing her 2-year-old daughter.
The trial of 25-year-old Casey Anthony will take place in Orlando, but jurors are being selected at a courthouse about 100 miles away because of intense media coverage. The first panel of potential jurors met with the judge and attorneys Monday morning in Clearwater.
Chief Judge Belvin Perry hopes to have 20 jurors -- including eight alternates -- in place by the end of the week. He hopes to begin the trial on May 17. Over the course of selection, potential jurors will be called up individually, undergo two rounds of questioning and be asked if they could recommend the death penalty for Anthony.
Anthony is charged with first-degree murder, and any juror that couldn't recommend death would be disqualified.
Monday is being spent on identifying jurors in the first panel who qualify for "hardship dismissals," meaning they had some personal reason that would preclude them from devoting the 6-8 weeks the trial is expected to last. Those potential jurors who aren't dismissed for hardship reasons are being notified to come back for further rounds of questioning later.
Defense attorney Jose Baez objected to the first panel of about 100 people in its entirety, saying that it wasn't representative of Orlando's demographics because it had only two Hispanic and four African-American jurors.
Perry denied the objection and questioning of the panelists began.
At the center of the media maelstrom is the ponytailed, 25-year-old Anthony, who is also charged with aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and providing false information to law enforcement. She has pleaded not guilty and says a baby sitter kidnapped Caylee.
Jurors selected in the case will have to put their lives on hold for up to two months. They will be transported to Orlando and sequestered in a hotel. The tab is expected to be about $300,000.
Anthony waited a month before telling her mother that Caylee had disappeared in the summer of 2008. Anthony's mother then contacted authorities. Over the next several weeks, hundreds of volunteers scoured central Florida in search of any clues to Caylee's whereabouts. Meanwhile, numerous photos surfaced of Casey Anthony drinking, some of them allegedly taken during that first month.
The heart-tug of a missing apple-cheeked girl contrasted with images of the hard-partying, single mother and proved irresistible to TV talk-show hosts and bloggers. The Anthony case became a media sensation, as HLN talk show host Nancy Grace gave her the moniker "Tot Mom." Protesters suspecting Anthony had a role in her daughter's disappearance demonstrated outside of the home Anthony shared with her parents.
"The pretrial publicity I've seen in this case is unprecedented in the state of Florida," said Circuit Judge Belvin Perry.
Caylee's decomposed remains were found in December 2008 by a municipal meter reader in woods not far from where the little girl lived with her mother and grandparents. Detectives said residue of a heart-shaped sticker was found on duct tape over the mouth of her skull. The local medical examiner, Jan Garavaglia, who once had her own national television show, "Dr. G: Medical Examiner," ruled that a cause of death could not be determined. The autopsy said that Caylee's bones didn't suffer trauma.
Some outside experts said the lack of a cause of death could make it hard to get a first-degree murder conviction
"If you can't say how she died, you're kind of hamstrung on saying what the defendant's intent was," said David Hill, an Orlando criminal defense attorney. "What the state has going for them is the emotional, visceral appeal that the jury digs, but if the jury is doing their job, and the defense attorneys are doing their jobs, I would predict a conviction on the third-degree felony of neglect."
Prosecutors will have to make strong links for the jury between the circumstantial evidence and Anthony, if they are to succeed, said LeRoy Pernell, dean of the Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando.
"Failure to show exactly what is the cause of death is a challenge, but it's not necessarily a fatal challenge," Pernell said.
In their arsenal, prosecutors have physical evidence and Anthony's own misleading statements to detectives, such as claiming that she worked at Universal Studios when she didn't. Prosecutors want to use evidence from the car Anthony was driving in the days before Caylee disappeared.
Forensic testing on the car's trunk discovered traces of chloroform, which is used to induce unconsciousness and also a component of human decomposition. In an emergency call to police, Cindy Anthony described the vehicle as smelling "like there's been a dead body in the damn car."
A judge ruled Friday that Anthony's parents can be in the courtroom throughout her murder trial, despite being witnesses for both the defense and prosecution, MyFoxOrlando.com reports.
"I'm not naive enough to think we'll encounter no one who has heard of this case," Perry said recently in court. "But the goal is to find people who have not been oversaturated with media."
The Associated Press contributed to this report