(CBS) - Three years after the nation watched, waited and prayed for the safe return of Orlando toddler Caylee Anthony, her mother Casey now prepares to stand trial for her own life in connection with Caylee's murder. And, much like the case itself, the trial kicked off with a bizarre twist.
Amidst tears from the defendant, the week-long process of selecting a jury began this morning in the first-degree murder trial of Casey Anthony. Defense and prosecution attorneys are trying to find twelve jurors and eight alternates who will decide Casey's fate. But while the trial itself will be held in Orlando, where the crime allegedly took place, jury selection is being held more than a hundred miles away in Clearwater, Fla.
It's a location that remained a closely guarded secret up until this morning. Some of the principals in the case didn't even know where they would be going to select a jury and the media wasn't informed about the location until two hours before the process was slated to begin. The court hopes by picking jurors from outside Orlando and not publicizing ahead of time where those jurors will come from, they'll have a better shot at giving Casey Anthony a fair trial, a task everyone involved in the case realizes will be one of the biggest hurdles for the defense.
That's because attention surrounding the case has been unrelenting since Caylee was first reported missing in July 2008. From the start, it was an unusual case. Caylee, an adorable two-year-old, had been missing more than a month before her disappearance was even reported. And when police were finally called in, it was by Casey's mother, Cindy, who told police it smelled like there had been a dead body in the trunk of her daughter's car.
Casey claimed a babysitter had taken her daughter, but police were never able to validate that claim. Then there were the pictures of Casey, a beautiful woman in her 20s, out partying with friends. Pictures that were taken during the month that Caylee was missing, but before police were brought in to help find her.
By the time little Caylee's body was discovered in December less than a mile from the Anthony home, the local community had already made up their minds about what had happened. Despite the fact that the medical examiner could not determine a cause of death, Casey had already been convicted.
Protesters camped out on the sidewalk outside the Anthony home, screaming things like "Baby Killer" and asking Casey's parents how they could stand behind a murderess.
So when Judge Belvin Perry Jr. denied a change of venue motion filed by the defense, he had to come up with a way to fund jurors who hadn't been inundated with media reports about the case for the past three years.
His solution? Find jurors from another Florida city, bring them back to Orlando and sequester them for the two months the trial is expected to last.
The first part of jury selection centers around ruling out any of the 110 potential jurors brought in today who would experience hardship by essentially giving up their lives for 6 to 8 weeks. Anyone selected will have to live in a hotel without internet or access to television news. They'll be able to call home to their families, but only in a common room under the supervision of a court deputy. And though they will be able to visit with their families one day a week, their conversations will be monitored to make sure nobody is discussing details of the case.
If potential jurors make it through this first round, they'll be brought back in tomorrow to answer more questions as attorneys on both sides try to find people they think will be most sympathetic to their arguments.
The judge has allocated just five days for the entire selection process. Normally, it takes two to three weeks so seat a death penalty jury, but the clock is ticking and time is money. After all twenty jurors are selected they'll be transported to Orlando for opening arguments on Tuesday, May 17.
This is already being hailed as the most expensive trial in Orlando history and more than 500 applications for media credentials have been submitted, pretty much guaranteeing this will be one of the biggest and most anticipated trials in recent memory. And it's a case that almost certainly won't lack drama inside or outside the courtroom. The court has already set up designated areas outside the courthouse for protesters and even included a provision to relocate groups who have clashes over ideology.
While the court has been gearing up for the upcoming trial for months - any trial attorney will tell you, a case is won or lost in jury selection. So while I'm not a lawyer, I can still appreciate that decisions being made this week will ultimately determine the guilt or innocence of Casey Anthony. Something pundits are already claiming Casey realized when she cried as the indictment against her was read.
And with the death penalty on the table, I have to say, I would cry too.