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.