It took 11 days and the marathon questioning of nearly 250 potential jurors, but a jury of seven women and five men finally was selected late this afternoon for the murder trial of Casey Anthony.
The jurors, along with five alternates, will leave their homes, jobs and families in Pinellas County for as long as eight weeks to decide the fate of Anthony. The 25-year-old is accused in the slaying of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in 2008.
The exhaustive search to find an impartial jury came to Clearwater because of too much pretrial publicity in Orange County.
After consulting with the jurors privately, Judge Belvin Perry Jr. said the trial will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Orlando. That gives the 17 who will be transported 100 miles away a chance to organize their things before they go.
The courtroom on the fourth floor of the criminal courthouse was packed with more than three dozen observers as the final stages of jury selection came to a close.
Rick Neumann and his cousin, Heidi Neumann, were in the area on vacation from Pittsburgh and had been watching jury selection on television. They decided this afternoon to come to the courthouse and see it firsthand.
"It was pretty interesting to see all these people on TV all week," Rick Neumann said. "Her life is on the line. I'd hate to be in that seat."
Heidi Neumann has followed the case closely because she has a 6-year-old daughter.
"It hit home," she said. "I went to my daughter every night and hugged her."
The jury selection became mired in twists and turns for nearly the last two weeks.
Just today, a woman in the crowd was convicted of criminal contempt for yelling out loud, "She killed somebody already," as the judge was questioning a potential juror.
The woman, carrying her shoes in her hand, was whisked from court and a potential juror was taken off the witness stand. The woman had been in the courtroom less than a minute, kicking off her shoes as soon as she sat down.
Elizabeth Ann Rogers, 29, who has had various addresses in Pinellas County the past few years, later told Judge Belvin Perry Jr. she was sorry for her comments, but begged him not to find her guilty of contempt. She had been arrested multiple times over the past few years and told the judge she was at the courthouse for her fiancé's case in another courtroom.
With nine bailiffs in the courtroom, she sobbed and cried as she stood before Perry, who was clearly agitated at the latest twist to what has been a long jury selection process. She said she had a number of mental illness-related issues since she was 14 and also was being treated for drug addiction.
"I apologize to everybody," she said through sobs that made it hard to understand her at times. "I will never do it again.
"Please don't punish me," she added. "I'll never set foot again in another courtroom."
Perry found her guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced her to two days in jail. If not for her disability, he would have jailed her for up to 179 days, he said.
The judge then had to excuse a potential juror who had been on the stand at the time.
Before the outburst, another potential juror was added to the pool. Another one was added after the disruption.
One of those is a high school government teacher and dropout prevention specialist.
He said that he had no opinion on Anthony's guilt or innocence in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. As a former labor relations specialist with the U.S. Postal Service, he said he had weighed both sides of an issue many times before.
"I think it's my civic duty," he said of jury service. "I believe in our system of government and our rule of law … it would be a great teaching tool for my future classes."
The other is a widower who works as a cashier at a car dealership.
Earlier this afternoon, the first prospective juror on the stand said there was much talk about the case this week in the room where potential jurors gather.
"Obviously, this is the biggest case going on right now," he said. "I heard a lot of opinions that she is guilty. They were all negative. I didn't hear any positive."
This morning, two jury candidates were excused after saying they were vehemently opposed to the death penalty. Another woman was dismissed after saying she would hold it against the defendant if she did not take the stand in her own defense.
Another prospective juror said she had heard about the case when it originated in 2008.
"All I was hoping for was the child would be found alive," she said. "It makes me sad. It's a very terrible thing."
The jury will spend six to eight weeks hearing evidence in the high-profile case. They will be sequestered in a hotel, away from jobs, homes and families, their every move monitored by bailiffs.
Perry had hoped to start the trial three days ago, but the slow process of jury selection made that goal impossible.