The images of Casey Anthony exist everywhere: online, on television, in print.
They frequently show the young woman walking in handcuffs, dancing with scantily clad friends or sitting between her defense lawyers. The stories often suggest a young woman who sought freedom to party and then lied to law enforcement about her daughter's disappearance.
Experts say pretrial publicity can have very real effects on the outcomes of criminal cases as jurors exposed to positive publicity tend to favor the criminally charged, while negative coverage can lead to guilty verdicts.
Much of the way Casey Anthony has been cast in the media is clearly negative, said Dr. Christine Ruva, a psychology professor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. And for that reason, she and others watching the case suspect jury selection will not be a simple process.
Ruva has studied at length how pretrial publicity – or "PTP" – influences the decisions of mock jurors. With jury selection in the Casey Anthony murder trial less than three weeks away, her defense attorneys must contend with almost three years' worth of near constant coverage in the child murder case.
"[The negative pretrial publicity] tells me it would be extremely difficult for her to get a fair trial," said Ruva, whose students are well-versed in the Anthony case.
The situation has led Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry to go outside Orlando to select jurors. That process is supposed to start May 9, and if the prosecution and defense cannot choose a jury in that jurisdiction, Perry has already begun contemplating a back-up plan.
In showing just how concerned he is about maintaining the integrity of the jury selection process, Perry has withheld from the attorneys, the media and the public the jury selection location. Many of those participating in the case or following it will not know until the day before where this work will be done.
Publicity drives behavior
From a judicial standpoint, it makes sense to create as much of a separation between the pretrial coverage and the jury pool.
Consider Ruva's work: She exposed mock jurors to articles about other criminal cases. Those articles were perceived as both negative and positive. Ruva then had the participants observe video of the actual trials. After viewing the videos, the mock jurors gave verdicts.
The research, she said, found the participants often experienced "source memory errors," in which they confused pre-trial information with the evidence presented at trial.
"Even when they're trying to be good jurors, they're probably not going to be able to do this," Ruva said. "If exposed to [pretrial publicity] they were angrier. It drives behavior. It drives opinion."
This may be a reason why Anthony's defense team cooperated with – and played a prominent role in — "48 Hours Mystery" on CBS, which aired Saturday. The program was viewed by some as pro-defense, concluding, as it did, with the majority of a selected "focus group" voting to acquit Anthony.
While the show's airing so close to the trial may have rankled journalism academics, Ruva and others watching this case say it may have just been part of the defense team's strategy to counter-balance coverage they have found unfavorable.
"It seems like that was a pro-defense type show," said Brian Pafundi, a recent University of Florida Law School graduate who conducted research on the availability of criminal discovery records in the Anthony case and what implication it might have on the trial.
"It seemed like it was more in their [the defense team's] interest to get all this stuff out there," Pafundi said of the defense putting forth some of its arguments on national television weeks before the trial.
Pafundi's research was published in August in the University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy. The article cited many examples of pretrial coverage in the Anthony case while arguing that Florida "is the only state in the country that specifically allows for access to criminal discovery records through its public records law.
Pafundi suspects selecting Anthony's jury will be difficult – but not "completely impossible."
Ruva agreed that participating in the 48 Hours show — subtitled, "Only Casey Knows" — may have been a deft move by the defense.
"If they are doing that, I think it's ingenious," Ruva said. "This is close to the time when people are paying attention [to the case] again. I look at it as positive PTP, and I think it's very powerful."
But having a national audience – and potential jurors across Florida — get a refresher in the Anthony case and view select comments from members of the focus group does nothing to help with jury selection. "It adds to the difficulty of finding an unbiased jury," Ruva said.
Pretrial publicity can serve other purposes aside from painting the defendant in a positive or negative light. It can attract people — some call them groupies — who want to be involved in the case, in any way possible.
And that can be a challenge in jury selection.
"I think one of the interesting things or one of the difficult things about picking a jury in this case is: How do you get rid of the people that want to be on the jury to gain notoriety?" asked Brad Conway, former attorney for Anthony's parents.
He noted that some O.J. Simpson jurors wrote books and "wanted their 15 minutes of fame afterwards."
"Those are people I wouldn't want on my jury," Conway said. "But in a case like this that's gotten not just national attention but worldwide attention, how do you avoid the juror that wants to be on there for that reason?"
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