Well, here it is. The case that shocked the nation. The verdict that shocked it even more. The death of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony and her extremely controversial mother, Casey Anthony.
Caylee was an Orlando child who lived with her mom, Casey Anthony, and her mom's parents George and Cindy. On July 15, 2008, Cindy called the police and claimed that she had not seen the toddler for 31 days, and that her daughter's car smelled like a dead body. Casey had given her mom various explanations for Caylee's whereabouts, before finally admitting that she hadn't seen the child in weeks. She lied to detectives, telling them she had been kidnapped by their nanny on June 9 and she had been trying to find her since.
Her varying stories and suspicion lead to her arrest and first-degree murder charge in October of 2008.
Later that year, Caylee's 2-year-old body was found with a blanket inside of a trash bag in the woods near the Anthony home. Duct tape was found near the front and on the mouth of the skull. Given the deterioration, a cause of death was not able to be determined, but the evidence of duct tape lead the medical examiner to rule the death a homicide.
The trial went from May to July of 2011. The prosecution alleged that Casey hoped to free herself from all of the responsibilities of being a mother and she murdered her child, while the defense team argued that Caylee had drowned accidentally and that George, Casey's father, disposed of the body.
In a shocking verdict, Casey was found not guilty on July 5, 2011. She was charged only with misdemeanor counts of lying to police officers, and was sentenced to time served. 2 of the misdemeanor convictions were overturned in 2013. The verdict was met with public outrage from most people in the nation.
George Anthony claims that, on June 16, 2008, Casey left the family home with her almost 3-year-old in tow. That was the last time either of the grandparents had seen Caylee. Casey's mother repeatedly asked where the child was, but Casey claimed she was too busy to bring her by, or that she was with the nanny, or at theme parks or the beach with family friends.
When George and Cindy learned that Casey's car was in a tow yard, George went to recover it. The yard attendant noted a strong smell coming from the trunk, a smell that they attributed to a decomposing body. However, the trunk only contained a trash bag. However, Cindy was worried and finally reported her granddaughter missing that day. She confirmed that she had not seen her in over a month, and that Casey's car smelled like a dead body.
From the get-go, the police noticed discrepancies in Casey's statement. She claimed their nanny named Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez had kidnapped Caylee, however, though a person with that name exists, she had never met the Anthony family and certainly had never nannied Caylee. Casey also told the police she had a job at Universal Studios, which was a lie she had been telling her parents for years. Finally, she admitted she had been fired years before.
Because of these discrepancies, and the length of time her daughter had been missing, Casey was arrested on July 16, 2008, and was charged the next day with providing false statements, child neglect, and obstruction. Bail was denied when the judge claimed she didn't appear to care about the welfare of her child. She was released on bail in August.
In the week before her release, a call was made about a suspicious object found in the woods near the Anthony home. The man, a meter reader named Roy Kronk, who found it was ordered to call the tip line, but nobody responded. Finally, he called the police and 2 of them came out. However, after a short search, they found nothing. In December, Kronk called the police again, and they found the remains of a baby in a trash bag. The bones were confirmed to be Caylee's on December 19, 2008. Her death was ruled a homicide.
Casey Anthony was indicted on first degree murder and aggravated child abuse counts on October 14, 2008. The prosecution announced that they planned to seek the death penalty against Casey.
400+ pieces of evidence were presented at the trial. A strand of hair found in Casey's trunk, consistent with that of a dead body, was one of them. A sampling procedure of Casey's car showed chemical compounds "consistent with a de-compositional event", and chloroform was found in the trunk of the car. Additionally, searches on a computer Casey accessed included "neck breaking" and "how to make chloroform". The blanket found at the crime scene matched Caylee's bedding from her grandparents' house. A software expert indicated that Casey had searched "chloroform" 84 times leading up to her daughter's death, however, he later discovered a law in his software, determining it had actually only been searched once.
The prosecution was lead by Assistant State Attorney Linda Drane Burdick. Jose Baez lead the defense team. Jury selection began on May 9, 2011.
The prosecution primarily argued that Casey had intentionally murdered her daughter by rendering her unconscious with chloroform before putting duct tape over her mouth to suffocate her. They characterized Casey as a partier who killed her kid to free herself from the responsibilities of being a parent so she could enjoy her personal life. The defense primarily argued that Caylee had drowned accidentally and that George hid the evidence and covered it up to avoid Casey spending her life in jail, alleging that Casey would often hide her pain and pretend nothing was wrong because her father abused her as a child.
George testified, and he denied sexually abusing his daughter. He claimed that he had smelled death when he went to pick up her car. Cindy claimed that her statement that it smelled like someone had died was simply a figure of speech. In total, the prosecution called 59 witnesses with 70 different testimonies, and the defense called 47 witnesses with 63 different testimonies. The Wikipedia page goes in detail for many of them, but I won't include them all here.
During closing arguments, the prosecution tried to pull at their heartstrings. They spoke about how a child becomes your life, but when you want to have a different life, things can get hairy. He described all of Casey's lies and all of the evidence that pointed to her guilt. They denied the defense's cover-up story, saying that they should use common sense and understand that nobody would make an accident look like a murder (instead of the other way around).
The defense wanted to ensure the jury made their decision based on evidence, or lack thereof, instead of emotions. They argued that if you believe that she was a terrible parent who wanted to party more than parent, you'd see the evidence in a different light.
On July 5, 2011, the jury count Casey not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and aggravated child abuse. She was found guilty of lying about her employment, the nanny, 2 employees of her "job", and having a call with her daughter.
The defense asked that her sentence reflect only 1 count of lying, as they were all made during 1 interview. Though the judge believed they were all 4 distinct lies, she was sentenced to time served and was released on July 17, 2011.
MEDIA COVERAGE AND AFTERMATH
Like any brutal murder of a toddler would, the case attracted significant attention from the media. Cindy and George appeared on TV, maintaining that they believed the child would be found alive. Protesters stood outside of Casey's house and shouted "baby killer" at her while George was physically attacked. During this time, he threatened suicide and did a stint in the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
The case was likened to the OJ trial, both for the media attention and the shocking acquittal. Jurors had to be sequestered for the entire trial, and people raced to the courthouse to get one of the 50 seats open to the public, making the trial a "macabre tourist attraction".
Some believed that the trial was so popular because of just how unremarkable the family was, and how their complex relationships made for interesting television. Others believed it was the flip flopped testimony, but more than likely, it is just human fascination with crime, especially crimes with such uncertain motives. Casey was a pretty woman who looked like she liked to party, and that type of story just makes it hard to stop watching.
The general public was in consensus that the jury reached the wrong conclusion. Facebook and Twitter blew up with conversations about the verdict. (Others believed it was fair, like Sean Hannity, of course). Those in support of the verdict didn't necessarily believe that she didn't do it, but that the prosecution was not able to prove it. Women were more likely than men to believe that she did it. Some men actually loved Casey Anthony, driving over night to hold signs sharing their love and support for her and even asking for her hand in marriage. (Here's the thing: Even if she didn't kill her kid, she let her be missing for 31 days without saying anything, lied to the police, and is wholly unremarkable. Marriage seems aggressive.)
Even though she got off extremely easily, some argued that the media had lambasted her name and assassinated her representation. However, others obviously didn't care because they were so sure that Casey was a child killer and any poor media representation was her own fault.
Jurors began speaking up in the weeks after the trial ended, explaining that the prosecution just simply did not have the evidence to find her guilty of murder. One juror said "I did not say she was innocent. I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be." Everybody agreed that based on emotions alone, Casey would have been gone. They truly believed that she was likely guilty. One said she was not a good person. One wished that more evidence had been there to put her away, "but it wasn't there". The jury foreman said she felt disgusted knowing her signature would be the one that let Casey off.
The Anthony family received death threats after the verdict was read. Also after the verdict, Caylee's Law was put into legislation that would require parents to notify law enforcement more quickly about the death or disappearance of a child.
As of 2018, Casey was living in South Florida with Patrick McKenna, a private detective who was also the lead investigator for her defense team. At the time, she was considering having another child. Her relationship with her parents has been rocky. She has some contact with her mom, and very limited contact with her father. (After all, she accused him of sexual assault and her defense team rested their argument on the fact that he covered up the death of her toddler.) (2)
None of her friends have spoken to her since she was arrested. They remember Caylee as an energetic kid, and Casey as a loving, protective mother. But once they found out that Caylee had been missing while Casey had super-prepared excuses for her whereabouts for that month, red flags started waving. (2)
Her old friend and roommate, Cameron Campana, does not believe she could do something like that, but he says another part of him believes that maybe she did. Ultimately, he said the saddest part is that there was no justice for Caylee. (2)
I cannot believe it has been 12 years since Caylee went missing, and 9 years since that shocking verdict was read. I was one of the outraged followers, adding to the social media buzz at the time. Admittedly with very little evidence and simply what I had seen in the media, I was so sure Casey Anthony killed her daughter. Now, with a more balanced view of the case, I understand why she was found not guilty, but like many of the jurors, I still believe that she did it.
Caylee Anthony's life was cut short before she even turned 3. And her mother, who at the very most allowed her daughter's death to be covered up or let her be missing for a month without doing anything, or at the worst, murdered her, gets to live her life just as normal. She served an extremely short sentence, she is dating again and considering bringing another child into the world. Media assassination be damned, she got off so very easily, and the true victim never got any justice.
Because the OJ trial began while my mom was still pregnant with me, I don't consider this a second OJ. This case is my OJ. One that gripped my attention. One that outraged me so. One that took years for me to understand how the jurors didn't put her behind bars forever, and one that I still believe she was guilty.
But despite everything, a sweet baby girl died. Whether it was accidental or intentional, she was stuffed in a bag and thrown out in the woods. She only got 2 years to live before her life was stripped away, and only 1 person knows what truly happened to her. I believe Casey Anthony killed her daughter, and I hope she struggles to enjoy her life of freedom because she is haunted by her actions.