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Casey Anthony, and Where to Put Your Anger

A terrific character actor named Daniel Benzali once scored a role on NYPD Blue (it led to an OJ-inspired 90’s TV series) where he played a marquis defense attorney with a shady reputation. When dispatched to help a cop charged with murder, the client initially rejects him, stating that she wants no part of an attorney with his reputation defending her. Benzali’s character smiles and delivers one of the most brilliant lines I’ve heard describing bare-knuckle trial law: “That’s entry level perception, detective. Reputations swiftly give way to the skill of the practitioner once the doors of the courtroom are closed.”  Amen.

I wasn’t there to witness Jose Baez’s advocacy on the Casey Anthony case. But I know from the coverage that he and his team brilliantly exploited an alternative explanation for her child’s death, and in so doing painstakingly and methodically generated the necessary amount of precious doubt necessary for 12 Florida citizens to utter “not guilty” on charges of murder. Perhaps, as some have claimed, the jury was cowardly or malfeasant in ignoring the legal weight of circumstantial evidence. Perhaps they were collectively cynical or stupid, as some have speculated. The declaration by one of them to the gossip site TMZ that he’d talk about the case but only if he was paid to do so certainly lends some credibility to that theory. But all of this is beside the point.  Baez did his job.

As offensive as it is to many, Baez is technically correct when he claims he could tell his daughter after the trial that he “saved a life today.” He did.  The state of Florida, under its death penalty statute, sought to end the life of Casey Anthony for the murder of her daughter. Baez and his team stopped that from happening. In pretty much every sense of the word, he is correct.

I happen to wish Baez had failed. I believe Casey Anthony is a psychopathic killer, and I know how to use the term “psychopath” professionally, not just colloquially. It’s not easy to find a doctor who will do a permanent tubal ligation on a 25 year-old woman, but despite what my religion commands I hope she gets one. I’d very much prefer that she bring no further children into the world, as I am convinced that she will snuff out their lives as quickly as she snuffed out Caylee’s once they become inconvenient. That’s what psychopaths do with things, living or dead, that inconvenience them. They remove them. The creativity, skill and labor they must engage in to eliminate the obstacle differs depending on its nature. But the underlying drive is the same.

But none of this was Jose Baez’s concern, nor should it have ever been. He was rightfully focused on his client alone, protecting her as best he could from the efforts of the state to imprison and execute her. That’s how the system works. Baez stated publicly after the trial that his client did not murder her child, and perhaps he believes that. But frankly, he doesn’t have to. Far more offensive were the crass remarks of co-counsel Cheney Mason who insinuated that the media had engaged in “character assassination,” presumably with regard to Casey. Note to Mr. Mason: Your client was not found “innocent.”  She was found “not guilty,” meaning that the government failed, in the jury’s determination, to meet an extremely heavy burden regarding her legal guilt. They adjudicated that question in the negative, and thus it is legally correct that Casey go free for those charges. Whether it is morally correct, logically correct or factually correct is beside the point. The verdict addresses none of these questions.

In terms of what disgusts me, (other than what I believe were the actions of Casey herself), I can’t help but mention the fixation this country had for this particular case when children suffer fates like Caylee’s every day across 3.8 million square miles of America and generate no media frenzy. It’s perhaps awkward but no less accurate to note that Caylee herself was a white, physically beautiful child, and her mother a telegenic, thin, and yes -sexy- woman. The media hyped photographs of Casey (other than the ones with evidentiary value) showing her taunting the camera with pursed lips in Halloween costumes or football jerseys were no accident. There are certainly aspects of this case- the search efforts, the slowly leaked details regarding evidence and litigation- that made it particularly compelling.  But ultimately, when it comes to what sells copy and gets people to tune in, the murderer is more interesting, and so is her act, when both she and her victim are photogenic and culturally appealing.

Baez acknowledged correctly that there were no winners in the the State of Florida v. Casey Anthony. His mini-rant regarding the death penalty was misplaced as the issue wasn’t reached in this case, but his other remarks, including the tender message in Spanish to his mother and family, were appropriate. His statement about the American Constitution was particularly spot-on, regardless of his point of view. Casey Anthony was tried, competently and at great cost, in a public trial by the representatives of an elected attorney empowered to bring the force of the law and its iron accouterments against one citizen. Efforts to prove her guilt to an appropriately lofty standard failed. Out she goes, then, into the stream of life with the rest of us.

Casey Anthony, it can be compellingly argued, will not face justice in this life. But as a prosecutor I learned a long time ago that earthly justice is a “long ball” concept that must be viewed separately from any particular case.

If you are among the many, many people convinced that justice was not done in this case, I beg you: take that long view. Let Caylee’s fate not be in vain by raising your own awareness and that of others to children everywhere who suffer neglect, abuse and death in cases less titillating but no less horrific. Support groups that fight for the lives of children. I’ve listed a few below, but it is by no means exhaustive.

The greatest gift of faith, to me anyway, is the impish games it plays with the blunt force of words in our language; the ones I’ve been battered with as an attorney for 15 years.

“Caylee is dead.”

“Casey is free.”

Examine those two statements through the prism of a God-gifted, God-ordained and God-ordered world, and they are not so horrific, offensive, or final.

Again.  Amen.

National Child Protection Training Center

National Center for Missing And Exploited Children

Love Our Children USA

National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse

11 comments

  1. I agree with much of what you’ve said. But just to be clear, are you claiming that you’ve examined and evaluated Casey Anthony and are comfortable giving a professional assessment that she is a psychopath?

  2. Roger Canaff says:

    The answer, of course, is no- I have not examined Casey Anthony in any way. But I will note that an assessment that a person is psychopathic is not always made with an actual examination of the person (i.e., some sort of psychological examination or interview), but rather with a close examination of various facts regarding their life, usually memorialized in records of various types. Psychopathy is not yet in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases and Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision, (DSM IV-TR), and thus is not yet considered an “official” diagnosis of any kind. To the extent that it is recognized in the psychological community, however, I’ll admit readily that I am not qualified to actually make such an assessment (I am not a PhD psychologist or a psychiatrist). Nor do I have the full required records regarding her life in order to do so.

    But, with what I have seen reported in the media, and for the purposes I seek to make such a claim (informal ones, at best), I’m confident in my assessment. Thanks, Andrew, as always, for your comment. You keep me honest.

  3. Carol Herman says:

    First of all, there’s a good chance Casey Anthony had been molested as a child. And, it was the judge’s decision that she HAD TO TESTIFY (which flies in the face of the 5th Amendment) … even to lay people who are not Constitutional scholars.

    And, there’s a good chance, since grandpa did testify, is that his testimony, and that of his wife, stunk to the high heavens.

    Inside the jury room 12 people learn how to come together. It’s sort’a like the comments section on the Internet. Where various opinions get dredged. And, sometimes you see something you didn’t see before.

    It’s not a room where people bring rope to hang the defendant.

    Gutter journalism, by definition, is so low down you can’t place measurements there to make a line where something doesn’t smell. Everything there doesn’t smell right.

  4. ksf says:

    Roger,

    Great post. When I look at the pictures of Casey Anthony partying during the 31 days after her daughter’s death, I cannot believe that the smile on her face would be there if her daughter had tragically drowned like Jose Baez said. I can believe that it would be there if an incredible burden had been lifted off her shoulders.

    I am surprised by the reaction of those who consider themselves Christians who are so angered by the verdict. Being a Christian myself, I am quite often puzzled by the attitudes that do not exude grace by other members of the faith. They should read Psalms 58 and Romans 12:19 and find the peace you mention. I found those passages quite comforting when I lost a rape case as a prosecutor in a case where I believed the accused admitted that he raped a girl in his barracks room.

    For those who are pro-choice and very angry about the verdict, I think they should re-examine their views regarding a woman’s right to choose or accept the verdict and move on.

    But, you are correct regarding the vast number of children who are being neglected, who are being brought up in meth houses, who have mothers and fathers who continue to breed despite the fact they cannot adequately care for the children they already have, and who are abused by their parents in such away that death is, in the long run, a comforting escape.

    Certainly, those who are angry about the verdict should direct their rage towards helping the children that can be helped, as opposed to committing a crime of terroristic threats, harrassment, stalking, assault, battery, murder, etc. against a woman whose case 12 people unanimously voted was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I would imagine that Casey Anthony will burn out on her own without anyone’s assistance, especially in a town like Orlando.

    KSF

  5. Gaines Weaver says:

    One unfair statement, Roger. The decision of a juror to only speak publicly if he gets paid in no way reflects poorly on him or the jury. The jury spent 6 weeks of their lives sequestered from their families and everything they hold dear and normal. There is a good chance lawyers on both sides will get paid to write books about the trial. Why shouldn’t a juror make something fromthe disruption of his life when everyone else is?

  6. Bobbie Johnson says:

    I saw an interesting article yesterday in which five African American children had died in a similar fashion as Caylee Anthony but without the nationwide outrage. I found that sad. What I find even sadder is that so many are outraged that the justice system worked. I always taught that there was a big difference between being right and being just. I too believe Casey is complicit in the death of her child. However, despite all we see and hear in media, the jury can only rule on what is presented. Justice was served–we will have to let God sort out the rest. Ironically those who want her dead would probably be convicted by a Florida jury!

    On a separate note, I totally agree with one woman who interviewed said she was angry that so much of her tax money was spent looking for the child and paying for this trial when the “guilty” person went free. I do hope Casey never profits from this. I also think it would be criminal if she ever has the opportunity to have another child, not just because of the death of Caylee but because I do not believe she has a clue how to be a mother or raise a child. Nor do I believe she has had anything in her life to instruct her how to be a good mother. I think this has to be one of the most dysfuntional familes I have seen in a very long time and with 33 years in the clssroom I have seen a few!
    Thanks for posting this. I continue to enjoy your logic and your compassion.

  7. Roger Canaff says:

    Thanks, Ms. J. I don’t know if the state is looking into it, and my guess is it wouldn’t fly, but I do think a civil suit against Casey Anthony for the money that went into the months long, desperate search for the child might be appropriate. I don’t think there is precedent for filing civilly against an acquitted person for the costs of the criminal investigation and there probably shouldn’t be. But the tremendous amount of public resources that went into finding a child that Casey knew (even under the defense theory) was dead is another matter.

  8. brendon says:

    I don’t have an informed opinion as to whether or not Casey committed the crime – I did’nt follow the trial. One thing that has jumped out to me though is that in the circus following the acquital it appears that Casey is believed to be guilty for the same reason many sexual assault victims are labeled as “liars”: she failed to behave as a “proper” greiving mother should behave.

    Of course this is exactly what happens to so many complaining witnesses in sex cases where every little act or utterance is compared to some mythical model victim to determine if the complaining witness had the “right” reaction to her victimization.

    As I said, I don’t really have an informed opinion as to her guilt, but the degree of judgemental fixation on how she acted, how she partied, if she was promsicuious etc…. in the days and weeks following her daughter’s “disappearance” creates the distinct impression that the same sexist and patriarchial standards used to crucify complaining witnesses are at work here.

  9. Roger Canaff says:

    Your point is a fair one, Brendon, and of all people I should be sensitive to a situation where a person is perhaps being labeled unfairly because of behavior unrelated to another situation.

    I have what I believe is an informed opinion on this case, but of course I can only base it on what the media could deliver with regard to facts, evidence, etc. I’d also draw a distinction between Ms. Anthony, who was a defendant in this case, and complainants in sexual assault cases who are generally not legitimately subject to criminal suspicion. The choices Ms. Anthony made in various contexts, in my view, legitimately fuel suspicion with regard to the fate of her daughter because they can have (depending on the circumstances) actual relevance. They of course, in and of themselves, prove nothing, and I agree that convicting her (officially or unofficially) based on generally frowned-upon behavior alone would be a terrible injustice. In the case of most victims of sexual violence however, I’d argue that the behavior they sometimes engage in (and that is similarly frowned-upon) has little or no relevance to whether they were actually victimized. Thanks, as always, for your thoughts.

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