R.I.P. Caylee Anthony

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Popular Culture & Law

An Orlando jury decided on July 5 that Casey Anthony was not guilty of murdering her daughter Caylee, who was only two at the time of her death.   Hundreds of protestors gathered outside the courthouse after the verdict was announced, and local police worried if they would be able to protect the building from being torched. Few of the protestors stopped to reflect on the large role popular culture played in both their sense of outrage and in the jury’s verdict.

Most obviously, the media played up the case to the nth degree.  The media time and again broadcast winning photos of Caylee and also seemed never to tire of a home video showing her singing “You Are My Sunshine.”  Viewers of the cable news shows also saw countless screenings of Caylee’s scantily clad mother grinding in bars while her daughter was still missing.  Then, too, has anybody not heard of the “bella vita” tattoo that Casey obtained shortly after Caylee’s disappearance?  HLN host Nancy Grace was especially relentless in demanding that Casey be convicted of her crime, and for the most part the public had decided Casey was guilty.

At trial, meanwhile, it seems the much-discussed “CSI effect” played a role. 

The reference is to the popular trio of primetime dramas, in which investigators use highly sophisticated forensic evidence to identify the true perpetrators.  Some prosecutors have argued that they now find it very difficult to get a conviction in a murder trial without strong forensic evidence.

In Casey Anthony’s trial, there was circumstantial evidence galore.  The prosecutors could show that the dead Caylee was wrapped in the Winnie the Pooh blanket from her own home, that Casey borrowed a shovel from her neighbors, and that she tried to blame Caylee’s disappearance on a nonexistent nanny.  There was also the strong smell that several reported coming from the trunk of Casey’s car, and the brutal discovery of the corpse in the woods close to the Anthony’s home.  However, there were no DNA results, hair samples, or other types of physical evidence that the prosecutors could use.  At one particularly bizarre point, prosecutors tried to use a “smell-o-meter” to determine what had been stinking in the trunk, but defense counsel argued effectively that the odor was as likely to have come from decaying food as from a decomposing body.  I don’t know if Casey Anthony killed her daughter or not, but I am confident that primetime television drama helped her to walk.

5 thoughts on “R.I.P. Caylee Anthony”

  1. Good commentary, David. I tend to agree with you. Jurors now look for absolutes. In both criminal and civil, they don’t seem to be aware of the concept of common sense, and using their intellect to come to reasonable conclusions.

    Gotta love the Fox lawyers that ripped defense counsel and the time of his opening, for his ineptitude and horrible opening.

    I’m not sure how this came across by screen, but glad it did.

    Jim

  2. I feel Jose Baez did an admirable job as he was completely outmatched with resources and experience. I also did not like the criticism he received for celebrating in the restaurant after the trial. As attorneys we take on the emotions of our clients and it must have been a relief for that team knowing their client was not going to be put to death.

  3. Are you people kidding me?? What are we teaching people to kill their children to go party and not report them missing and then hide them good enough so there body is so decomposed their is no DNA evidence. What is this world and justice system coming to? Casey Anthony just got away with murder and you guys are talking about it like its nothing. Where is the justice for this little girl. And god forbid she gets pregnant again because once she’s sick of the child she can just throw it away. People get punished more for harming animals than they do children now a days; it sickens me.

  4. The popular saying: “does society reflect and influence television or does television reflect and influence society?” rings true in this post. Are jurors tending to lean more on forensic evidence in murder cases because of TV shows, or because they are aware of the many advances of forensic evidence in today’s world? It seems people hear and read every day about a real life case of a person being found guilty or not guilty based on forensic evidence. Also, every story about someone wrongly accused and freed from prison by the use of forensic evidence is a guaranteed headline.

    The burden of beyond a reasonable doubt was established long before any type of forensic evidence was around, the jurors had to reach a verdict on the mindset that there could be “no other possible explanation” for the crime. Of course the jurors had to rely on that instruction, because there was no way to be 100% certain.

    Strong forensic evidence is something that is 100% certain, it’s science. In our continuing technological and scientific world jurors may rely on forensic evidence more, because they know it is possible. Because of the advancements in forensic evidence, the beyond a reasonable doubt burden is turning into the no doubt burden, and can you really blame jurors for that?

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