Monday, July 11, 2011

Thoughts on Casey Anthony

Like many, I have followed the Casey Anthony murder trial with considerable interest. Many lawyers like myself follow such high-profile cases like football games.  It may seem twisted, but few of us will ever take part in such a nationally visible case that there is always some.  There is always some learning to be had in a case like this, as well as some, "I could have done better."

My take had been that the evidence against Casey, while circumstantial, topped off with her own behavior, which can be described as odd, to say the least, was almost certain to result in a conviction for murder.  Party girl Casey was unhappy that Caylee was crimping her bar-hopping lifestyle, so Casey got rid of Caylee.  Seemed obvious to me.  The defense's only chance, in my view, was the Chewbacca Defense.  Obviously, I was mistaken.  I was shocked as anyone as to the verdict.

Perhaps in retrospect, I should not have been.  One of my old paralegals who was watching the trial far more closely than I had warned me that this was coming, that the prosecution had not proven their capital murder case.  Or much else.  Upon reflection, I have to agree.  There was a lot of circumstantial evidence, but, in part because Caylee's body had decomposed to the point where no cause of death could be determined, much of that circumstantial evidence was ambiguous in determining whether Caylee's death was intentional or accidental.  At best, it seems that Casey may have moved Caylee's body in the trunk of her car, but it does not necessarily follow, at least from a legal standpoint, that Casey killed her or even had anything to do with her death.  Casey's own behavior -- lying about the whereabouts of her daughter, not reporting her missing, going on a drinking and partying binge, getting a tattoo -- certainly seem damning at first glance, which is what got me to side with Casey's accusers.  And some of the tactics of Casey's defense team were outright despicable.  This is generally not a sympathetic bunch.

Beyond that, I will not get into the trial itself, second-guessing prosecution tactics or the investigation or criticizing the jury.  I disagree with their verdict but upon reflection I can at least understand it.  However, there are a few points about the human side of the case I'd like to address.

The first is that, clearly, justice was not done to Caylee Anthony in this case.  This little girl died well before her time, and we will likely never know why.  Her mother should have protected her, and at the very least failed to do so.

However, I am rethinking my initial belief that Casey was a party girl who thought her daughter was crimping her lifestyle.  In researching this piece, I went to CBS News, which has posted a number of Casey Anthony's personal photos. I went through them.

Casey Anthony and daughter Caylee during happier times. (Casey Anthony personal photo posted by CBS News)
I am not a parent, so I can't speak to the parenting mentality, but it seems to me that for someone who, I thought, didn't like being a mother and would rather be a party girl, Casey Anthony had a lot of pictures of Caylee, both alone and with Casey.  Unbeknownst to me, Casey is apparently a big Ohio State fan and, as the picture above suggests, was apparently trying to pass that love of Buckeye Nation to Caylee.  As any Ohio State fan would attest, that is a sign of good parenting.  More seriously, though, before Caylee's disappearance there was, reportedly, no indication of abuse or mistreatment or any parental failure on Casey's part.

What strikes me is that Casey seems to have been lying for a period of years -- about her job, about her boyfriend, ultimately, about Caylee -- to everyone -- her parents, her friends and ultimately to police.  The lying was apparently very skillful, and now leads to understandable informed speculation that Casey Anthony may be a sociopath.

But I suppose another question could be, was Casey Anthony lying to herself?

I am by no means a mental health expert -- not a doctor, not a therapist, not trained, nothing -- so take my dimestore psychological opinion here for what it's worth, but I have witnessed my share of mental illness over the years, and seen some things that seem strange, twisted or bizarre unless you have an idea of what mental illness is about.

Legal analysts observing the trial have posited the question: if Caylee Anthony's death was indeed an accident like the defense claimed (although their claim was inconsistent), why would Casey, and perhaps her father, cover it up to the point of making it look like a murder? 

It certainly seems irrational, and, to be sure, it is, but what if Caylee's death was an accident, and Casey couldn't deal with Caylee's death or what she felt was her responsibility for that accident?

Let's just say, for hypothetical purposes, that Casey had been trying to get Caylee to be quiet or stop crying and overdosed the daughter on chloroform.  (Why would a good mother be using chloroform on her child? I didn't say Casey Anthony was smart.)  Casey has just killed Caylee, her own daughter.  Accidentally, but she had still killed Caylee.  For someone who was in an already fragile mental state like Casey was, as evidenced by her years of lying, this could be a shatterpoint.

"She's not dead? Is she? Is she? No, Caylee can't be dead! Did I just kill my own daughter?" Casey could have been asking herself. 

"Did I do that? Did I do that? No, I couldn't have done that! No, no, no ... someone else must have done it! Suffocated Caylee ... the bastard!  See, here's the duct tape over her mouth! Wait, there is no duct tape over her mouth? Wait a minute ... oh, yes there is ... well, now there is ... so I didn't do this.  What kind of mother would duct tape her own daughter's mouth? Not me. I'm a good mother.

"In fact, Caylee's not even here! .. She is? No, she isn't! See? I couldn't have had anything to do with this.  She's at her sitter's place ... what was that sitter's name again ...?

Rational? No. Twisted? Yes. Likely? No. But possible? Yes. For a mentally fragile woman already living in a web of lies who just accidentally killed her own daughter, it's not unrealistic.  Under this theory subsequent lying, partying and tattoo are part of her denying to herself what she has actually done.  They are symptoms of a worsening mental breakdown.

From that point, it would be easy to get Casey to believe anything that absolves her of responsibility for her daughter's death.  Even suggestions, perhaps by an unscrupulous defense attorney, absent any evidence whatsoever, that Casey had been molested by her father and brother.

Again, probable? No.  Possible? Yes.

I'm aware of some allegations against Casey Anthony's father, but accepting for the sake of argument that Casey's parents are innocent of any wrongdoing, imagine the Hell they must have gone through and are still going through.  They love their daughter.  They loved their granddaughter.  Yet her daughter may have killed their granddaughter, accidentally or otherwise.  What do you do?  Even worse, your own daughter -- or, more precisely, your own daughter's defense team -- has publicly accused her father and brother of molesting her, in order to get her off the murder charge.

What do you do?  What can her parents do? What should they do?  Can any of us imagine being in that situation?

Whatever wrongs she may have committed -- and I believe she did commit them -- Casey Anthony is likely in a Hell of her own right now.  Perhaps a Hell of her own making, but a Hell nonetheless.  She has endured an national avalanche of hostile media.  Having endured a national avalanche myself, I can sympathize with her and, truth be told, with anyone on that count.  But at least mine was not substantive, instead being politically motivated and organized -- well-played, I must admit.  I was never even accused of a crime and never lied about it. And I had and have good supporters who never stopped believing in me.

Mine was not even 1000th of what Casey Anthony has gotten.  The jury verdict may have given her back her freedom, but her daughter is still gone, probably by her own, reckless hand.  She is penniless (though perhaps not for long) and widely viewed as a villainous, psychopathic liar who got away with murdering her own daughter.  She has apparent serious mental issues but does not have the resources and perhaps the will to get treatment.  She seems to have no friends left and few, if any, supporters, or at least any supporters who don't hope to use her for their own ends.  After her defense team accused her father and brother of molesting her, Casey Anthony can't even count her on own parents.  She can't go home again. 

She is truly alone.  Perhaps deservedly so, but alone nonetheless.

Just something to think about.


  1. Not a bad analysis. But the evidence linking George Anthony to whatever happened is significant. His failure to consider a car with an "unmistakeable stench of death" in it as a potential crime scene, when it was abandoned after being used by his missing daughter and granddaughter -- he, a former law enforcement officer???

    His strange reporting of stolen gas cans (wtf?)

    His bizarre demeanor in court?

    His way more than bizarre "suicide note?"

    And finally, his willingness to commit perjury in his daughter's capital murder case, just to save his own ass?

    I believe it was an accidental drowning and both of them reacted the same dysfunctional way they always have.

  2. I was mostly suggesting the family was innocent for the sake of argument. But you're right: George Anthony's conduct certainly qualifies as bizarre, no doubt about it, to quote Jim Tressel. Whether it's enough to try him for the death of Caylee Anthony is something else. As a practical matter, it's almost impossible to have a second trial for the same crime after the first trial acquitted the main suspect.

    I do take issue with the defense team's tactics here in that you don't throw the charge of a father molesting a daughter around lightly. Just the charge by itself is so explosive, so prejudicial by itself without evidence. For example, in David Camm murder trial(s) from southern Indiana, Camm's alleged motive for murdering his wife and children was to cover up his molestation of his daughter. Camm was convicted of murdering his family, but the conviction was struck down on appeal because merely alleging that motive was ruled unfairly prejudicial to the defense. A re-trial also resulted in a conviction and reversal for much the same reason. The prosecution is stuck here because they need to show the motive to complete the case but it's just too explosive.

    In the Anthony case, to have simply tossed it out there, with no supporting evidence whatsoever, is very objectionable (no pun intended).

  3. Surely they thought they would be putting Casey on the stand or they never would have raised it in opening. It could have backfired, in fact, especially if you listen to the talking heads who predicted it would.

    Instead, this interview with the jury foreman makes it clear George did not sit well with ANY of them:

    And obviously they were not going to charge him with murder. They have even less circumstantial evidence than they do on her. I mentioned his bizarre behavior only as a way to pad the defense's assertions that it was an accident which he helped cover up.