By Dennis Griffin
The long-awaited trial of Casey Anthony is finally underway. Like many others, while waiting for the court action to begin I had wondered and speculated on what the defense strategy would be. Mr. Baez seemed to put that issue to rest in his opening: Caylee Anthony drowned in the family pool on June 16, 2008 when only Casey and her father George were at home. The pair decided not to report the incident, but rather to cover it up. Although Caylee’s death was tragic, it was an accident and involved no criminal activity on the part of Casey or anyone else. How the incident was handled – or mishandled – afterward was the problem.
According to Baez, his client’s odd - and often infuriating – behavior after the fact had a reasonable explanation: Casey was in fact a victim. The Anthony family was dysfunctional. Her father George had sexually abused her starting when she was eight years old. Brother Lee even acted inappropriately with her on occasion. In that environment, young Casey was forced to become an accomplished liar in order to protect those dark family secrets. It was so bad that after performing oral sex on her father in the morning, she then had to attend school and act as though everything was normal in her life. Although Casey’s series of lies, going on the party circuit and concealing Caylee’s disappearance/death from her mother and friends may seem abnormal to most people, Baez contended that her conduct was that of a sexual abuse survivor, not a murderer.
The lawyer’s contentions took many observers aback. Even those who claimed they had seen the accident/victim defense coming said they were shocked when they heard the words actually come out of Baez’s mouth. The case was all but over, some said. The State, lacking a definitive manner of death, would not be able to convince each and every juror that Casey had acted with intent and premeditation in causing the death of her daughter, they opined. Baez had introduced reasonable doubt and Casey Anthony was well on her way to becoming a free woman.
My initial reaction was that those commentators were probably right. Surely at least one juror would want to give Casey – the alleged victim of an evil father - the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was all over for the prosecution except for the fat lady singing.
But now, having had a few days to more closely analyze what Baez said, listen to other analysts and hear additional testimony, I’m not so sure that the defense delivered the knockout blow that some thought. I’m not on the jury. But if I were, there are some issues that bother me and that I’d want resolved before I voted not guilty. Perhaps the real jurors have some of the same concerns.
For example, I’m in no way an expert on the effects sexual abuse has on a victim. Maybe Baez’s claims about Casey’s conduct are valid, and maybe not. But I’d need to have this whole matter of Casey’s post event actions explained in more detail prior to accepting the defense argument.
In specific, Baez stated that when Casey saw her father carrying Caylee’s body from the pool area on June 16, “she cried, and cried, and cried.” I consider that to be a demonstration of emotion. Yet within a matter of hours after going through this trauma – and for the next 31 days - Casey’s friends and acquaintances have testified that she exhibited absolutely no signs of grief, distress, anger or depression. And the courtroom cameras have caught Casey crying and showing emotion in her facial expressions and gestures – such as shaking her head as she listens to testimony.
I see contradictions between Baez’s portrayal of Casey as the highly upset mother of a daughter who has just been found dead, and the happy-go-lucky party girl described by others. Can they both be true?
Baez admits that his client is a liar. In my opinion she is also a manipulator and shows or hides her emotions as fits her needs. It will take more than Baez’s words to convince me that I need to look at Casey as a victim rather than the master manipulator I believe her to be.
I also find the sexual abuse allegations troubling in this regard. It’s one thing for incidents of sexual abuse to not be reported to authorities. Unfortunately, that often happens. But if the victim – in this case Casey – has a daughter she truly loves, would she leave her alone with the abuser?
And in my opinion, the jail video recording I’ve seen of a visit between Casey and her parents doesn’t serve to support the sex abuse allegations. In that video Casey compliments George for being an excellent father, and both George and Cindy for being great grandparents to Caylee.
I need to see credible evidence indicating sexual abuse before I accept the allegations as true. Baez’s statements simply aren’t sufficient.
Opening statements are not evidence. Mr. Baez put the allegations out there. That’s fine. Creating reasonable doubt falls under his job description. If as the trial moves forward he can produce credible supporting evidence I’m willing to listen. But his claims, or any unsupported allegations made by Casey, fall far short of proof for me.
This trial has a long way to go. There will no doubt be twists and turns, conflicting statements and testimony, and experts will offer differing interpretations of the same set of facts. I make no prediction as to what the verdict will be. But I don’t think either side is in a position to put the champagne on ice just yet. The fat lady is far from ready to sing. In fact, I doubt that she’s even made her way to