Friday, July 15, 2011

The Casey Anthony Trial: Final Thoughts

By Dennis Griffin

Slightly over three years after her death, Caylee Anthony had her chance to get justice, to have the person complicit in her death held accountable.

But on July 5, 2011, in a courtroom in Orlando, Florida, the justice system failed Caylee in my opinion.
To be fair, I have to make an admission. After the story of Caylee’s disappearance broke in July 2008, and during the next several months as Casey’s falsehoods and bizarre behavior were exposed night after night on the cable shows, I came to despise her as a person. Her seemingly never ending lies, her failure to cooperate with police by giving them an honest account as to the circumstances under which she had last seen her daughter, and stealing from friends and her own family, were all contributing factors in my anti-Casey attitude.

And during that same time frame I learned a lot about the rest of the Anthonys and developed a dislike for them as well. Cindy was at the top of my list, followed by George and then Lee.

So as the trial began, Casey was guilty in my mind. For me, the burden had shifted from the prosecution proving guilt to the defense proving innocence. And in order for them to convince me, they’d have to address three facts in the case:
  • Caylee Anthony was dead;
  • Casey Anthony was the last person known to have had custody of Caylee; and
  • Casey had refused from July 15, 2008 to the present day to provide an honest explanation as to what happened to her daughter on or about June 16, 2008.

Obviously the fact that Caylee was dead couldn’t be changed. But the other two could. Casey, directly or through her lawyers, could place a live Caylee in someone else’s hands and explain who that person was and why or how he/she gained control of the little girl.

I promised myself that I’d listen as long as the evidence was credible. It couldn’t be another version of the Zanny the Nanny story. And it certainly couldn’t just be Casey’s word or that of her lawyers. That was my mindset as testimony began.

Jose Baez actually addressed those issues in his opening statement when he announced that Caylee had never really been missing. She died as the result of an accidental drowning in the family pool on June 16, 2008, when only Casey and George were present.

He further said that Casey and her father entered into a conspiracy to cover up the accident and that Casey’s ability to act as though nothing was wrong was the result of George having sexually abused her from the time she was eight years old.

And then Baez added yet another villain to the mix in the form of meter reader Roy Kronk, the man who reported finding Caylee’s remains in August and again in December, 2008. According to Baez, Kronk was a morally bankrupt individual who had somehow gained control of Caylee’s remains. He planted them at the location they were found in an attempt to collect reward money.

To me, this was a trial about Caylee’s death and Casey’s involvement in it. In that regard, whether George was an abuser or not didn’t concern me. What George and Kronk did or didn’t do were peripheral issues that could be addressed after the death itself was resolved.

So my focus was on who was with Caylee when she died and under what circumstances. In order for me to change my mind about Casey’s guilt, Baez had to produce credible evidence to support his claim of an accidental drowning. I looked forward to the defense presentation, wondering what proof he’d present, who his witnesses would be, and whether prosecutors would be able to impeach them.   

But the defense’s case came and went without providing any evidence to show there was an accidental drowning. My opinion was unchanged. It was clear to me that Casey Anthony was complicit in her daughter’s death. As the trial wrapped up I had doubts as to whether there would be a finding of guilt on the charge of premeditated first degree murder with a possible sentence of death. However, I felt a conviction of manslaughter was likely and would be appropriate.

On the afternoon of July 5 as I heard the final “Not Guilty” on the death-related charges, I was surprised and disappointed. I hadn’t believed the jury would be able to reach a unanimous decision of not guilty on each and every major charge in so short a time, and without asking a single question of the judge or requesting to have any testimony read back.

Almost immediately analysts and trial followers brought up comparisons between this and the OJ Simpson criminal case. Both had seemingly overwhelming evidence. And yet the prosecutors in each case apparently were unable to convince even a single juror that the defendant was guilty.

So when was the case lost? One possibility is that it happened when Baez made his drowning and sexual abuse claims during his opening. Under this theory, Baez never had any intention of calling Casey to the stand or putting on any other supporting evidence. He simply used his opening to get those ideas into the minds of the jurors. To plant the seed if you will and make the prosecution play defense. If true, what many thought was a major error on his part could actually have been a brilliant strategy.

Or maybe the jurors related better to the defense team than to the prosecutors. Jeff Ashton may have come across to them as a bully during what I thought were his skillful and highly effective cross examinations of defense witnesses. And his laughing during the closing by Baez may have turned some jurors off.

Could it be that when the jurors looked at Casey Anthony sitting only feet from them day after day, they came to see her as an innocent young mother incapable of harming her own daughter?

Or are we now in the CSI era where jurors expect every case to be solved conclusively in 40 minutes plus commercials? And is it now unacceptable for any question to remain unanswered or unproved?

The answer could be one of the above, none of them, or a combination.

The bottom line is that we may never know for sure what happened to Caylee Anthony or what took place in the minds of the jurors. The verdict is in and must be accepted.

During the closing by Jeff Ashton, he said that the defense was asking the jurors to go down a rabbit hole and accept their outrageous theories that had no basis in fact, and made no sense. And Ms. Burdick said her biggest fear was that common sense would become lost during deliberations.

In my opinion, the jury did accept the defense invitation to go down that rabbit hole into Wonderland. And when they did, they in fact left their common sense on the surface, just as Ms. Burdick feared. And in doing so they deprived Caylee Anthony of her one shot at justice.

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