The Dark Shadow of Sexual Abuse: Did Casey Anthony Get Away With Murder?
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Yesterday, in Orlando, Florida after two days of deliberation, jurors found Casey Anthony not guilty of an array of horrifying charges, including first-degree murder of her 2-year old daughter Caylee Anthony, manslaughter and child abuse. Anthony was convicted of four counts of lying to police, which is likely to get her a prison term of four years (or much less, due to time already spent behind bars) –not so bad, considering she was facing the death penalty.
The shocking verdict is a nod to the power of what might be called "suggestive sympathetic projection." Anthony’s defense attorney Jose Baez, implying that Casey may have been the victim of family sexual abuse, successfully instilled enough doubt and sympathy into jurors’ minds to apparently lead them away from common sense, arriving at a virtual acquittal. Tangled up in rhetoric and the agonizing confusion of the conflicting messages between the competing attorneys, jurors believed that the prosecution’s lack of knowing exactly "who what, where, when and why,” combined with the possibility of imprisoning a victim of child abuse for the rest of her life, made not guilty the only palatable verdict.
The case against Casey Anthony has been a source of mass attention since 2008, when Casey’s mother, Cindy Anthony, made a hysterical 911 call in which she said her granddaughter had been missing for a month. During the call, she famously said, “There is something wrong. I found my daughter's car today and it smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car."
More evidence quickly piled up against Casey Anthony, who, the media revealed, had partied and had “La Bella Vista” tattooed on her shoulder during the 31 days her daughter rotted by the side of the road. Her friends and boyfriend testified that she did not act depressed or concerned, but celebrated during that month of freedom.
Anthony’s celebratory behavior was not the only instance of circumstantial evidence. The case against Anthony relied heavily on a tangle of evidence, including Casey’s repeated lying to police and family, her Google searches for neck breaking, head trauma and how to make chloroform, and a “rare” brand of duct tape, as well as a heart-shaped sticker, found on both the corpse and in Casey’s home.
The defense called the prosecution’s suggestion that these circumstantial factors added up to murder a “fantasy.” Amazingly, the defense also attacked the air sampling evidence that put decomposing flesh and chloroform in the trunk of Anthony’s car as “voodoo science.”
The prosecution asserted that 25-year-old Casey Anthony chloroformed her daughter, duct-taped her mouth and tossed her in a bag before dumping her body in the woods near their home. The prosecution's case was further limited, however, by their inability to determine definitively just how, when and where
Caylee had died. To that end, the defense had their own scenario: Caylee had accidentally drowned in the pool.
The case against Anthony seemed solid until, in a genius appeal to human emotion, the defense painted Casey Anthony as a victim; the pretty, promiscuous prisoner with a strange, dark past of sexual abuse -- in this case incest.
First, the defense asserted in opening statements that Anthony's father, George Anthony, and her brother, Lee Anthony, subjected Anthony to a lifetime of molestation. Anthony lied to police not because she was guilty, but because she was brought up in a twisted world that thrived on lying, the defense said. It was really her sexually deranged father -- the one responsible for Anthony's post-dead-child-partying behavior – who told her to hide Caylee’s body after she accidentally drowned in the pool.
Celebrity psychologist Dr. Drew, who said he thought all along that Casey Anthony had been abused, said, ”The lying, the chaos, the drugs and alcohol – that’s the kind of behavior we often see in sexual abuse.”
Still, expert witness Dr. Jan Garavaglia (known as “Dr. G” to television audiences), chief medical examiner for Orange and Osceola counties in Florida, said she believed Caylee died as a result of homicide, not an accident. Garavaglia said that while cause of death was difficult to determine because Caylee’s body was so decomposed, she had formed an opinion on the matter of death: Homicide.
Garavaglia told the jury she based this opinion on knowledge from observational, systematic studies and experience. “It is a red flag when a child is not reported immediately to authorities with an injury” she noted, before citing that the body was hidden and found in a bag – two other indicators of homicide.
“There is no child that should have duct tape on its face when it dies. There is no reason to put duct tape on the face after they die,” she said. Why cover up an accident as a murder?
Remarkably, Anthony’s lawyer's unsupported claims of molestation by her father and brother overpowered the substantial evidence piled up against her, suggesting that, for jurors, the possibility that she may have been molested added a huge element to considering reasonable doubt. Who wants to imprison the person the defense so successfully portrayed as the sad, abused little girl?
Because no one, including Casey Anthony, testified in court to support the molestation claims, the judge did not allow sexual abuse allegations in the defense’s closing statements. Driving home the concept of reasonable doubt, Baez said, in the defense’s five-hour-long closing statements, that while the prosecution painted Anthony as a “lying, no good slut,” her unlikable personality did not make her a murderer.
For example, Casey Anthony, who never notified police, claimed she was conducting her own investigation during the 31 days Caylee was missing. To establish a motive and reveal Anthony's personal investigation claim as a falsehood, the prosecution showed photographs of Anthony partying. The defense quickly turned this tactic against the prosecution, claiming instead that the prosecution was calling Anthony a slut, which does not suggest murder.