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Casey Anthony's trial is one hot ticket

By Ann O'Neill, CNN
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Anthony trial watchers get orderly
  • The line to get into the Casey Anthony murder trial forms before dawn
  • Fifty seats are reserved for the public and court officials hand out numbered tickets
  • Demand is high and police are called when people try to cut in line
  • Anthony is accused of killing daughter Caylee; defense says she drowned

Orlando, Florida (CNN) -- Casey Anthony, also known as the "tot mom," is no Lady Gaga, but her murder trial here is the hottest ticket in town.

People spend the night waiting in line for one of 50 courtroom seats reserved for the public. Tempers flare and police are called. And then, once they're given a ticket, they stampede like cattle.

Only in Florida, where criminal justice can be a spectator sport, are Disney World passes the back-up option.

Anthony, a 25-year-old high school dropout, is accused of capital murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. If convicted of murder, she faces the death penalty.

What's the big draw?

"Lie after lie," says one trial watcher. "I can't imagine the grief that family has gone through," says another. "I'm here for Caylee," says yet another. "I'm waiting for Casey to step up and tell us what happened."

If the first two weeks of the trial focused on family ties, secrets and lies, the third week was all about the forensics. The case is at its most gruesome stage as jurors and spectators hear how duct tape was placed over Caylee's nose and mouth and that animals gnawed on her tiny bones. She was wearing a T-shirt that said "Big trouble comes in small packages," and was buried in a trash bag in a lot not far from her grandparents' home.

Anthony trial spectators turn testy
Casey Anthony trial: Week 3
Anthony cries during forensics testimony
Pathologist testifies about duct tape

Week 3: "Chloroform" searches and images of Caylee's body

The bug expert was the top attraction on Saturday -- Day 16. It was, as one trial watcher in line observed, like "'Law & Order' meets 'CSI.'" Competition for seats was more fierce than ever.

As the lines swell and emotions flare, keeping the peace is a challenge. On Friday, paramedics carted a woman away on a stretcher after a confrontation with a trio of would-be line jumpers.

And so, red and blue police lights flashed in the humid, predawn darkness Saturday as the line in front of the Orange County Courthouse grew to 100 strong. Courthouse security officers, Orange County sheriff's deputies and Orlando city police were out in force and people in line were cautioned that anyone who caused trouble would lose their spot. Anyone who stampeded would be arrested.

In Session: Conflict ensues among hopeful spectators at Casey Anthony trial

The trial is held on the 23rd floor, a penthouse built specially for high-profile trials. But it has been years since a trial has packed them in like the Anthony case. Even Judge Belvin Perry makes comparisons to the O.J. Simpson trial.

Saturday's spectators did a good job of policing themselves as they waited for the numbered tickets handed out each morning. Snagging one requires extreme dedication, a good lawn chair and a bladder of steel. Some people have waited in line all night, only to get kicked out of court for violating the rule against snoozing.

Troy Mitchell, 41, of Denver, Colorado, started camping out in front of the courthouse at 10:30 p.m. Friday and got the No. 1 ticket. He says adrenaline kept him awake, and he confides that he has driven by the Anthony house. He also has been to the former home of another child whose mysterious death still occasionally makes headlines 14 years later -- JonBenet Ramsey, who lived in Boulder, Colorado.

Don and Marianne Acebedo of Sacramento, California, joined Mitchell at 11 p.m. and soon after came the Florida contingent, which included Amber Block and Megan and Kathi Jennings.

Spend eight or nine hours in line with other people and a sense of community grows. People give their neighbors nicknames, usually based on a hometown or number in line. As they discuss the case in minute detail, they give the lawyers nicknames, too: Bozo, Colonel Sanders and Barbra Streisand are a few examples.

"Is Nancy here? Do you know Nancy?" several people in line asked. Almost everyone in Saturday's line said they followed the case on "Nancy Grace," a legal affairs show on CNN's sister network, HLN. But not everyone.

"I don't know who Nancy Grace is," said one woman, who declined to give her name or line number. Her neighbor, No. 64, set her straight, holding up a printout copy of Grace's publicity photo.

"I am going to go Google Nancy Grace," the anonymous trial watcher said.

(Check out Nancy Grace's blog)

Breakfast orders were taken as the sun came up, and a burrito was tossed down the line. The group raised $70 for a woman whose car was towed because of an unscrupulous parking lot attendant.

Everyone in the top 10 had arrived by 2 a.m. but even before the sun came up, it was clear that half the people in line might not make it inside.

"I was part of the mad stampede," Kathi Jennings said, explaining that she was there the day a woman was trampled by spectators running across the street and down the hallways.

This time, she brought a Sharpie marker and suggested people write numbers on their hands. "Look guys, have you been here before?" she asked the others. "It's going to get bad."

Soon she was nicknamed "the Sharpie lady" as the others agreed to her system. By 4:30 a.m., Jennings had numbered the hands of 50 people. Fifteen minutes later, things got heated when Tracy Bucciarelli, of Chicago, arrived and took exception to the Sharpie system.

"Those aren't the rules on the Internet," she protested, trying to start her own "official" line, according to the others.

"She was causing a commotion. I don't know where she got her sense of entitlement," said Julie Jones, who identified herself as "No. 38 and proud."

The fifth person in line, Becky Davis, of Orlando, says she turned to the interloper and scolded, "God doesn't like nasty."

No. 13, who spells her name Joe.C Castillo, dialed 911 as more people protested and more heated words were exchanged. Castillo, a dark-haired woman with a strong New York accent, also was behind the fundraiser for the woman whose car was towed.

"Got a dollar?" she asked each person as she cruised the line. Later, she confided that Bucciarelli had chipped in, adding, "Maybe she's not such a crackerjack."

"In Session's Grace Wong contributed to this story.