ORLANDO, Fla. — Spectators trying to get one of the 60 courtroom seats available to the public in the Casey Anthony trial have created scenes reminiscent of the running of the bulls in Spain or a Walmart on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Those who have arrived as early as 1 a.m. to wait for a seat in the trial of the Florida mother charged with killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee have been jostled, elbowed and pushed aside by fellow spectators while running from the sidewalk to the Orange County Courthouse entrance before dawn. They aren’t allowed to camp out on courthouse property, so they hang out on the sidewalk in front of the 23-story building until they are allowed to line up at the entrance at 5:30 a.m.
“It is a mad stampede of angry people,” said Natalie Sutton, 22, a Walt Disney World worker who skipped sleep and arrived at 3:15 a.m. Friday to line up for a coveted seat.
People then wait until less than an hour before the daily hearing starts at 9 a.m., when the first 60 are given white tickets allowing them to sit in the courtroom all day. Those who don’t return after lunch are replaced by afternoon spectators who wait in line during the morning beside a stanchion outside.
The dash from the sidewalk — and the ensuing wait — is not always orderly. The horde became even more intense than usual Friday, when a woman fell during the dash to the entrance and later had to be treated by paramedics. A few spectators tried to help her, but others raced past.
“It was like The Who in Cincinnati,” said spectator Shawn Chaisson, referring to 11 fans who were crushed to death during a stampede at one of the rock band’s concerts in 1979. “It was totally out of control.”
The waiting crowd was then thrown into a tizzy after three women cut in front of dozens of others who had been waiting several hours longer. Some spectators called the women nasty names and others started a chant of “Get out of line!”
Hapless security guards called police officers, who asked the ladies to leave. The women complied, and the line-waiters cheered and clapped, witnesses said.
People were so angry at the women, “we thought there was going to be a lynching,” said Brian Maher, 49, who had attended eight days of testimony as of Friday.
Some spectators, like Maher, have watched the trial live for entertainment value. Maher is recovering from a neck injury from his job as a long-distance mover, and he wears a brace. He won’t be able to go back to work for six months and is passing the time at the trial.
“I beat up my TV and got tired of being at home,” he said.
Sutton, who was on her second day of attending the trial, said she was fascinated by forensic evidence and learning how the justice system works. During Friday’s wait in line, she said, two women offered other spectators $100 for their spots.
Polly Wilson, a teacher on summer break, showed up for the trial Thursday with a friend on a lark but found it so transfixing she was back in line waiting to get a seat Friday afternoon. “It was so riveting — better than on TV,” said Wilson, 42.
Orlando residents have been vested in the case since July 2008, when Caylee was reported missing. Hundreds of volunteers scoured central Florida for traces of the toddler, and her disappearance dominated the local news. Caylee’s skeletal remains were found almost six months later in woods near the home she shared with her grandparents and mother. Casey Anthony was charged with first-degree murder in her daughter’s death and could face the death penalty if convicted. She has pleaded not guilty, and her defense attorney said in opening statements that Caylee died in an accidental drowning in the family’s swimming pool.
Interest in the trial has been fanned by the gavel-to-gavel coverage local television stations have been giving it at the expense of their usual daytime programming.
Court spokeswoman Karen Levey said officials were in the process of coming up with another solution for distributing tickets after Friday’s fracas.
“We have thought of everything — lotteries — and every idea sort of has a fly in the ointment,” Levey said. “I wasn’t surprised about the interest, because we all knew there was interest in the case. I just thought that people would prefer to stay home. Clearly, that is not the case.”