July 05, 2011

Casey Anthony Found Not Guilty Of Murder - How Did She Escape A Murder Conviction?

Photo journal above shows evidence from the trial. Right click any image and open in a new window to enlarge image

Orlando, Florida (The Weekly Vice) - Casey Anthony, the Florida woman accused of killing her toddler daughter Caylee Anthony has been found not guilty of murder. She was also found not guilty on the secondary options that were presented to jurors - manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.

Caylee Anthony, just two months shy of her third birthday when she disappeared June 2008, mesmerized the nation with her disappearance and the ultimate discovery of her death.

Her mother, Casey Anthony, was arrested when it became apparent that she waited a full month before reporting that her child was missing and then provided false information to police.

While the nation is currently in shock at the jury's verdict, we'll offer some details about the trial that show why the jury reached a not guilty verdict. If you did not have time to watch the entire case, we'll recap the history of the case and then present some of the key arguments made by prosecutors and Casey Anthony's defense team.

Case Background and Recap:

According to Casey Anthony's father, George Anthony, Casey left their home with Caylee in June 2008 and didn't return for 31 days. Although Cindy Anthony inquired about the the little girl, Casey Anthony claimed that she was too busy with a work assignment to bring the child by for a visit.

Casey Anthony also claimed at times that her child was with a nanny, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzales, who never materialized as an actual person police could identify.

In July of 2008, the case reached a turning point when George Anthony received a certified letter that said Casey Anthony's car had been found and was being stored at a local tow yard. When George picked the vehicle up, both he and the tow yard attendant noted a strong odor coming from the trunk. An odor that resembled the smell of a decomposing body. No decomposing body was found in the trunk, however police later gathered secretions from the carpet that police speculated had the same properties of a decomposing body.

Caylee Anthony's disappearance was first reported to the Orange County Sheriff's office by Cindy Anthony after Casey Anthony reportedly admitted to her mother that her child had been missing for 31 days. Casey Anthony was present during the call and confirmed to the 911 operator that her child had been missing for quite some time.

In the investigation that followed, detectives found multiple discrepancies in Casey Anthony's story of how the child became missing. Casey first claimed that her child was kidnapped by a nanny. No one in Casey Anthony's family or circle of friends had ever met this nanny, and it was later determined that the nanny never existed.

Casey also told police that she was working at Universal Studios at the time Caylee disappeared - another piece of information that turned out to be false.

When police discovered that Casey had been fired several years prior to Caylee's disappearance, they asked Casey to take them to the office she presumably worked at. Casey led police aimlessly around Universal Studios grounds until it became obvious she had been caught in a lie.

Casey was first arrested on July 16, 2008 on charges of giving false statements to police, child neglect, and obstruction of a criminal investigation. Casey was released from jail after the nephew of a bail bondsmen, Leonard Padilla, flew to Florida in August to pay her half-million dollar bond.

Casey was arrested again a week later on charges of forgery, fraudulent use of personal information, and petty theft. Police alleged that Casey had stolen a friend's credit card and forged up to $700 in worthless checks.

Caylee Anthony's remains were found in a plastic bag on December 11, 2008, after a meter reader called 911 on several occasions to report a suspicious item that was found in a wooded area near the Anthony home. The child's skull was found with duct tape covering her mouth and several items that were later tied to the Anthony home. The body was confirmed as Caylee Anthony the next day and Casey Anthony was charged with First-Degree murder shortly afterward.

While Casey Anthony was incarcerated, police confiscated evidence from her car, home, computer, and cell phone. Many of the items that would later be used in trial were either leaked or released to the media in the run-up to Casey Anthony's murder trial.

Casey Anthony's Trial:

At trial, the jury sat through nearly six weeks of testimony and evidence. Prosecutors presented evidence from Casey's computer which showed that she had allegedly searched the term "chloroform" a number of times. Prosecutors claimed that Casey used chloroform to subdue Caylee, and then placed tape over her mouth to suffocate her to death. Casey Anthony's defense team claimed that the little girl perished in the family pool and that her death was a case of accidental drowning.

The Prosecutor's Arguments:

Prosecutors presented hair samples recovered from Caylee's body that seemed to show "banding" marks. Prosecutors claimed that the trace banding marks showed that she was kept restrained in a hot trunk (Casey Anthony's trunk) for a matter of days before the body was dumped on a roadside.

Prosecutors handed the jury bits trash that were recovered from Casey Anthony's trunk. Prosecutors then asked jury members to sniff the items (hoping that they'd smell a decomposing body).

Prosecutors also presented a photo and testimony of a shovel that Casey Anthony borrowed from her parents during the time her daughter was reportedly missing.

A heart shaped sticker found with Caylee Anthony's body was later matched to a sheet of stickers found at the Anthony home. Prosecutors used the stickers and other evidence found with Caylee's body to argue that the child was likely never out of Casey Anthony's direct control prior to her death.

Prosecutors presented various bits of evidence designed to reinforce that the body found at the scene was indeed Caylee Anthony. Jurors were presented bone samples, a t-shirt Caylee often wore, a pair of shorts, a doll and numerous photographs that were used to identify the decomposed body as Caylee Anthony. Jurors were also shown many photos of the wooded area where Caylee Anthony's body was discovered as well as several items of trash that was found in and around the scene. Several items were matched back to the Anthony home to in an effort to show that Caylee Anthony couldn't have likely been with anyone else prior to her death.

Prosecutors presented evidence and witness testimony that showed Casey Anthony acted happy and carefree while her daughter was reportedly missing. A tattoo artist was presented at trial who testified that Casey received a tattoo that reads "Bella Vita" (the good life) after her child turned up missing. Surveillance camera images were presented to the jury that showed Casey Anthony shopping instead of searching for her child during the 31 days Caylee's disappearance went unreported.

Several photographs were entered into evidence - taken from Casey Anthony's computer - that showed Casey Anthony smiling and partying during the time her child was reportedly missing.

Prosecutors presented jurors with an aerial photograph that showed just how close to the Anthony home Caylee's body was found.

Prosecutors closed their case attempting to drive home the fact that Casey Anthony never cooperated with investigators, provided false information to detectives during the investigation, behaved in an unusual manner following her child's disappearance and seemed to pursue or search for items that might be used to knock a child out before suffocating her to death.

The Defense Team's Arguments:

Casey Anthony's defense team presented evidence to back up their claim that Caylee Anthony had wandered into backyard of the Anthony home, climbed into a pool and died of an accidental drowning.

The defense team showed photographs of Caylee opening the back door of the Anthony home on her own, and images of Caylee and her grandmother climbing the pool ladder and then entering the pool.

The defense team stressed that Caylee Anthony was able to leave the house under her own power and was quite familiar with how to enter the family's pool.

The defense also presented a plastic Gatorade bottle found near Caylee's body that contained a syringe who's contents tested positive for testosterone and a strong cleaning fluid. That evidence was likely entered as an alternative account of how Caylee died, instead of the prosecutor's claim that Caylee was subdued and then suffocated.

The defense presented an enlarged photograph of the area where Caylee Anthony's body was found. The defense then put an expert witness on the stand who testified that leaves and root growth around Caylee's remains indicated that the body had only been at that location for about two weeks prior to her discovery. This testimony put into question the prosecutor's timeline of events.

The defense called another expert witness, Dr. Werner Spitz, who testified that Caylee Anthony's autopsy was "shoddy" and that the duct tape found on the skull was placed on Caylee Anthony's face after her body had already decomposed.

The defense team presented evidence that showed FBI forensics experts tested all of Casey Anthony's clothing for trace blood evidence and came up empty handed. The FBI also failed to find trace blood evidence at the Anthony home.

The defense presented a suicide letter from George Anthony that was presumed to be written before Caylee Anthony's body was found. The letter suggested that he knew Caylee was already dead and was ready to "go be with her." The defense would go on to accuse George Anthony of molesting Caylee. During testimony, George Anthony confirmed the suicide attempt but denied ever molesting Caylee.

In closing arguments, the defense team argued that Caylee Anthony drowned in the family pool and that a panicked George Anthony (and Casey Anthony) concealed the child's death. The defense also argued that every piece of evidence presented by prosecutor's was circumstantial and that no witnesses were presented that actually saw Casey Anthony murder her child or try to hide the dead body afterwards.

The defense also drove home the fact that no expert could definitively say exactly how Caylee Anthony died. Caylee Anthony's body was too decomposed to make a conclusive finding as to the child's cause of death.

The Verdict:

After deliberating for less than 11 hours, the jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of her daughter's murder. The jury did, however, find Anthony guilty of providing false information to law enforcement officers.

During the deliberation, the jury did not ask to review any evidence - sending a strong signal that the evidence presented by prosecutors fell well short of the reasonable doubt threshold they are required to overcome.

The Weekly Vice Opinion:

It seems unbelievable doesn't it? Not Guilty.... How is that possible with all of the "evidence" we've been presented with over the last few years.

For starters, the defense team was right. Prosecutors presented a mountain of evidence in this case, but most of it (if not all of it) was indeed circumstantial. The defense team only needed to put a reasonable doubt into the jurors' minds - and they certainly accomplished that task quite thoroughly.

Most of the media is confused as to why the defense team presented the Gatorade bottle and syringe as key evidence. I believe it was a significant part of the defense team's case - posing a strong challenge to the manner of death put forth by prosecutors in the case.

Remember, all the defense team needed to do in this case was show a reasonable doubt, and the issue of how Caylee Anthony died turned out to be an important detail in this case.

Prosecutors seemed to get bogged down with the task of proving that the decomposed body was Caylee Anthony and devoted a large chunk of time to that task. Prosecutors also spent a lot of time showing how carefree Casey Anthony was during the time Caylee Anthony was missing. A lot of time was also devoted to the fact that Casey Anthony lied to police about working at Universal Studios.

Prosecutors did a great job of showing Casey Anthony as a heartless liar, but they didn't effectively tie her to the act of murder.

Let's say the little girl did drown in the pool just as the defense team claimed. A large amount of the evidence presented at trial could have supported that claim just as well as it supported the prosecutor's claim.

Prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey was a negligent basket case - but they did not prove that Casey murdered her daughter. No eye witnesses. No 100% certainty as to how Caylee died. No direct evidence like blood samples or finger prints that were out of place.

It's my guess that this "doubt" is exactly why jurors refused to validate a first-degree murder claim by prosecutors. In the end, the jury couldn't convict based on speculation, even if there was a lot of circumstantial evidence to support that speculation.

I wonder if the case might have turned out very differently if prosecutors had approached the case from a child negligence or child neglect standpoint. With a charge of negligent homicide, prosecutors would not have had the burden of identifying Casey Anthony as the force that caused Caylee Anthony's death directly. It might have been the much wiser choice with a case that was built on a large amount of circumstantial evidence.

Prosecutors were able able to win over jurors in a very similar trial - the Scott Peterson case. But this method simply did not work with this particular jury. This jury demanded more tangible evidence, and the prosecution couldn't deliver it.

In my opinion it seems clear as daylight that Casey Anthony likely murdered her daughter - but a court of law always deals with what can be proven, not speculated.

Do I think Casey Anthony murdered her child? Hell yes.

Do I think the jury did their job? Yes.

I don't like the outcome of this case - but based on the evidence presented at trial, I can certainly see why the jury felt that the prosecutor did not provide a strong enough case to merit a first-degree murder conviction. Any of the secondary options jurors were presented with would have still required them to find Casey guilty of murdering her daughter in a direct manor.

I won't play the role of Monday morning quarterback. Prosecutors put on a very thorough case based on what they had to work with. But in the end, the jury just didn't think the evidence confirmed Casey Anthony as the cause of Caylee's death. And that one small detail turned out to be the biggest sticking point of the entire case.

Danny Vice
The Weekly Vice

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