WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With Court TV offering gavel-to-gavel coverage, Cable News Network vowing nearly the same and all three television networks here for the long haul, the William Kennedy Smith rape trial, which was scheduled to begin today, is almost assured of being the most-watched in U.S. history.
But most residents of Palm Beach, where the incident in question occurred, seem determined to ignore the trial, which has turned their island into a media encampment. To them it means unwelcome visitors, unwanted traffic jams and an unseemly spotlight on their posh retreat.
"People will be delighted when it's over with," said Paul Romanoff Ilyinsky, a member of the Town Council who first came to Palm Beach in 1930.
"We hope he gets a fair trial, and goodbye and everybody leaves."
Matters are not so simple for the two principals in the case: the 30-year-old woman from nearby Jupiter, Fla., who says Smith raped her on Easter weekend and Smith, 31, who denies the charge.
"She can't even get out of her driveway. Reporters are there all the time," said a person in regular touch with the woman, who is apparently staying with her parents in Jupiter. "She worries how it will affect her daughter, who is only 2 years old."
Smith, meanwhile, returned to Palm Beach over the weekend after being away with his family for Thanksgiving, said Barbara Gamarekian, a publicist working for him.
During the past three weeks of jury selection, she added, he would spend the day in court, return to the Kennedy compound and "take a run, swim or just relax physically." He was in bed every night by 10:30, she recalled, and managed to "slip out for a movie" on one occasion.
Today's opening session of the trial could be the most dramatic. That is partly because final choices will be made for six jurors and three alternates from the pool of 37 potential jurors. In addition, Judge Mary Lupo was expected today to decide whether to admit statements from three other women who say Smith raped or attacked them in recent years, allegations that could seriously compromise his defense.
Once that is done, lawyers for the defense and prosecution were to make opening statements.
Another high point in the trial -- which is scheduled to last three weeks but may well go longer -- will be testimony by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who woke his son Patrick and Smith to go drinking the night of the incident. Patrick, a Rhode Island legislator, will also testify, as will other Kennedy family members who were staying at the compound that night.
Other witnesses will include people who have become household names after months of incessant news attention -- from Anne Mercer and her boyfriend, Chuck Desiderio, who were summoned to the compound by the woman that night, to Denny Abbott, a rape crisis counselor who advised the woman to go to the police.
The brightest spotlights, however, will shine during appearances by the woman and Smith, who does not have to testify but is expected to.
The local NBC affiliate will have blow-by-blow commentary from F. Lee Bailey, CNN has commissioned two of Washington's most prominent trial lawyers, and Court TV will tap more than a dozen legal luminaries.