ORLANDO – With the nation’s attention riveted on the case, the media requests came in at a steady clip. And the most frequently asked question is usually the same: Could the Orange County jail provide specific details on when inmate Casey Anthony will be transported to Pinellas County for jury selection in her upcoming murder trial?
Allen Moore, the public information officer for Orange County Corrections, said he finally had to issue a news release letting members of the press know that information about the transporting of inmates is shielded from the public for security reasons.
The news release read, in part, “No information ever will be released regarding the transportation of any inmate to or from the Orange County jail. Safety and security requires that transportation logistics, times, etc. of inmates be revealed only to those operational entities that have a need to know.”
Moore said he understands why the media ask, but they need to understand why he can’t provide those details.
“That’s very simple,” he said. “We explain to them that we will not talk about the logistics of transportation of any inmate. To do so would be a gross breech of security. That’s particularly true for high profile inmates. We don’t want to have the public or anyone who may want to do harm to any of our inmates or officers have knowledge that would assist them in doing that. This goes way back. This is nothing new.”
Jury selection started this week in the trial of Casey Anthony, who has pleaded not guilty to killing her two-year-old daughter Caylee. Although the trial will take place at the Orange County Courthouse, jurors are being selected in Clearwater because of the intense local media coverage of this high profile case. Anthony is being charged with first-degree murder.
The judge presiding over the case, Belvin Perry, anticipating both high media interest in the case and the possibility for protests, even set a public space in front of the courthouse for the protestors.
But this is nothing new for Moore, since, as he noted, the Orange County jail is “the 17th largest in the country and the third largest in Florida, so it would be expected that we’d get a lot of these things.”
As Moore noted, Anthony isn’t the first inmate who has been jailed there to generate media attention. Previous inmates at the Orange County Jail have included Noelle Bush, daughter of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who got arrested in 2002 and charged with prescription fraud after she tried to buy the sedative Xanax at a local pharmacy; Louis Jay “Lou” Pearlman, the former impresario of 1990s boy bands who was convicted of operating one of the largest and longest running Ponzi schemes, leaving more than $300 million in debts; former astronaut and U.S. Navy Capt. Lisa Nowak, who was arrested after she confronted a romantic rival in the parking lot of Orlando International Airport; and, more recently, Windermere Police Chief Daniel Saylor on corruption charges.
“None of those have generated the level of media attention that the Casey Anthony case has,” Moore said. “When the Anthony case first started back in July 2008, we were averaging 90 to 130 media calls a day. In the first two weeks of her incarceration, that got pushed to nearly 400 contacts. The following week it was above 400.”
One of the challenges for the Orange County Courthouse will be preventing a media circus, since the case has been the subject of talk shows both local and national.
Still, some see opportunity in all this, including Libertarian activist Mark Schmidter of Orlando, who thinks the Anthony case will attract large crowds to the courthouse, and provide him with an opportunity to get out his message to a larger audience.
Schmidter supports the views of the Fully Informed Jury Association, or FIJA, an organization based in Montana that promotes the concept of jury nullification – if a juror disagrees with the law that a person is being charged with, they can vote to aquit the defendant to protest that law.
Schmidter, who thinks the state and nation have too many laws on the books, has been distributing FIJA flyers to prospective jurors in front of the Orange County Courthouse, on and off since last September.
“I’m doing it every day this week,” he said, adding that next week, when the Anthony trial is likely to start, he’s not sure if he’ll get shuttled into the so-called “Free speech zone” set up for protestors.
“I don’t know if they’re going to put us over in the freedom of speech zone – which is a contradiction right there,” Schmidter said. “But I think this will help us.”
Moore said he doesn’t expect the jail to continue getting media requests once the trial starts.
“We have nothing to do with that case at all,” he said. “The only way we will get sucked into a large amount of media attention is if something should go wrong here at the jail. But we’ve got a very professional organization here doing very prudent measures, with an extreme sensitivity to the need for security. When it comes to something like that, it’s one of the few times we come close to saying ‘No comment,’ even though we don’t actually say ‘No comment.’ “
Outside of the requests for information about when and where Anthony will be transported to Clearwater for jury selection, Moore said the jail attracted plenty of reporters last Friday when Anthony’s mother, Cindy, requested a video visitation. Those requests have to be made at least a day in advance.
As Moore noted, inmates are not informed of a pending video visitation until the following morning between 7-7:30. Casey Anthony ended up turning down the request for a video visitation with her mother.
“We had media at the Video Visitation Center, and at 6:50 in the morning I was over there on site,” Moore said. “It generated a little bit of extra activity we wouldn’t normally have.”
In the meantime, the media requests keep coming in.
“None from outside of the country,” Moore said. “We’ve talked to In Session Court TV, we’ve talked to Newsweek, and the NBC Today Show had a call over the weekend.”
That doesn’t even include all the local media calling for information, although as Moore noted, “The media people in this market are generally reasonable.”
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