For almost three years, the story of Casey Anthony, the single mother accused of her two-year-old daughter Caylee’s murder, has riveted the United States. Her trial, spanning 33 days in an Orlando courtroom, has become a summer soap opera, a national obsession fed by a media circus. Dozens of TV tabloid and talk shows have made the Florida case – accompanied by lurid allegations of child abuse, incest and one contentious suicide attempt – their daily diet.
Monday, after concluding arguments by prosecuting and defence attorneys, Ninth Circuit Court Judge Belvin Perrydelivered the case into the hands of the jury, seven women and five men. (Five alternatives are also available, to replace any juror forced to withdraw). The 12 have been sequestered in hotels in virtual isolation for six weeks, denied access to families, television, radio, newspapers or the Internet. They are conducting their deliberations in a conference room, outfitted with an erasable writing board, a kitchen, and a bathroom. They deliberated for five hours and 45 minutes Monday without reaching a verdict and retired for the night.
The prosecution case
On paper, it looks like a slam-dunk. Resenting the burden posed by her daughter, and interference with her active social live, Ms. Anthony, it is charged, applied chloroform to Caylee, wrapped duct tape around her nose and mouth, then dumped the body in a nearby woods.
Asked to account for the girl’s disappearance, the now 25-year-old lied – repeatedly – and, in the six months before the decomposed corpse was found (wrapped in a tattered Winnie the Pooh blanket, with a heart-shaped sticker on her lips), partied hardy. She visited a tattoo parlour and had the words Bella Vita (beautiful life) etched onto her left shoulder. Forensic research allegedly found traces of chloroform in her car’s trunk, and chemical evidence of human remains. Ms. Anthony declined to testify in her own defence.
“At the end of this case, all you have to ask yourself is whose life was better without Caylee,” lead prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick asked the jurors. “That is the only question you need to answer in considering why Caylee Marie Anthony was left on the side of the road, dead.” Then, pointing to a photograph of Ms. Anthony’s tattoo, she added: “There is your answer.”
The defence case
As Ms. Anthony’s attorneys argued, the state’s forensic evidence is tissue thin. “There is no evidence to establish when the child died … where she died, how she died, who if anyone was with her in attendance when she died,” lawyer Cheney Mason contended.
Another defence lawyer, Jose Baez, acknowledged his client’s execrable record of fabrication – she invented a series of elaborate stories to account for the month between when her daughter had last been seen and the first formal report of her disappearance (by her grandmother) to investigators. But he insisted that the toddler had died as the result of an accidental drowning in a backyard swimming pool. Her death was an “accident that snowballed out of control.”
Ms. Anthony has blamed her own mother, Cindy, for the tragedy, saying she had left the pool’s ladder down. And she claimed that her father, George, a former police officer, disposed of the body, attempting to cover up the drowning by constructing a fake murder. Her litany of lies was rationalized as the product of a mother’s inconsolable grief over a daughter’s death.
Father’s controversial role
Mr. Anthony has denied any role in Caylee’s death, just as he has denied Ms. Anthony’s allegation that he sexually abused her during her own childhood, as well as suggestions that he might have fathered his own granddaughter. No evidence of either sexual abuse or incest was presented at the trial. But exactly who fathered Ms. Anthony’s child remains unknown. Paternity tests given to her father, brother and a former fiancé all proved negative.
In January of 2009, Mr. Anthony made a failed suicide attempt, complete with a note of self-exculpation. Ms. Anthony’s lawyers ridiculed that attempt, saying no one contemplating taking their own life would use a six-pack of beer and high blood-pressure medicine.
Ms. Anthony is charged with first-degree murder and six additional charges of aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and giving false information to police. If found guilty on the murder charge, she faces a possible death sentence. In that event, jurors will return for additional testimony, during the so-called penalty phase of the trial. If convicted on lesser charges, she could still serve decades in prison.