America is once again in the throes of a high-profile criminal trial with its attendant media circus. This one is taking place right in the Turkey’s backyard: Orlando, Florida. We here in Central Florida have been trying the case unofficially since the news of the missing child first broke almost three years ago. However, now we will have an OJ-esque month of testimony to review to either corroborate or refute the theories we developed in our informal deliberations, and a jury decision to decide the case once and for all (pending appeals, of course).
I admit that I am hooked. I will try to keep my verbal gobbling about the trial to a minimum out of respect for the people around me who are sick and tired of the mediafest already. However, I will occasionally bombard readers of this meager blog with my opinions concerning the event. Your Turkey figures that you know how to navigate elsewhere when you’ve had enough!
For those of you outside the area, a two year-old child, Caylee Anthony, “disappeared” almost three years ago. The mother, Casey Anthony, a 22 year-old single woman at the time, waited thirty days from the time the child vanished to report her missing. This immediately cast suspicions upon the mother, who contrived a story about a mythical babysitter being the last person to have seen young Caylee. Around this time, Casey was also convicted of forgery, having stolen a friend’s checkbook and cashed one of her checks. Casey has been in jail ever since; she was formally indicted for the premeditated murder of her daughter while in the slammer.
One problem early in the progression of events is that no body had been found; however, eventually, decomposed remains positively identified as the missing child turned up in a wooded area down the street from the Anthony home, where Casey lived with her mother, Cindy, and her father, George. The discovery was made by a meter reader who ostensibly had entered the woods to urinate. Some of the circumstances of the discovery have been questioned repeatedly. At one point, defense counsel charged that the body had been planted there by the meter reader.
One of the reasons that this is such a high profile trial is that the range of punishments available to the court for this first degree murder charge includes the death penalty, which is bound to attract activists on both sides of the capital punishment debate. Another, which I mentioned before, is the large number of people who have already tried and convicted Casey in their minds, who now seek vindication by a formal verdict consistent with that of their mental kangaroo court. I did an informal, non-scientific Facebook poll asking if Casey did it. There were four possible responses: Yes (about 60%), No (0%), I’ll let the jury decide (30%), and I don’t give a rat’s ass (10%). The significant thing to note from my little study is that nobody feels passionately that Casey is innocent.
The jury was selected in Clearwater, on the Gulf Coast, in the hopes that prospective jurors would be less biased from the daily infusions of information and misinformation about the case against Casey. The pool of jurors was eventually pared down and the trial began in the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando yesterday.
The prosecution’s opening statements consisted of a timeline of events between the disappearance of Caylee and the present. It was well laid out but delivered in a flat, non-charismatic manner. The facts as represented by the prosecution are consistent with the opinions of many of the kibitzers who have decided the case from the peanut gallery, so there were no great surprises there.
The surprises came after lunch with lead defense counsel José Baez laying out his version of the story. He impugned the prosecution’s conclusions by stating an entirely new theory. Caylee was never missing. Instead, she drowned in an unattended above-ground pool in the Anthonys’ back yard. Meanwhile, Casey had been a victim of sexual abuse by both her father, George, and her older brother. This created a climate of denial and lying for poor Casey, whose own lying could now be quite well understood. Baez was graphically specific about one of the sex acts George allegedly repeatedly performed on Casey, burning into the jurors’ minds an indelible image of Casey giving oral sex to her father as a teenager as she readied herself for school in the morning. No one heretofore had mentioned anything about an abusive family relationship, so Baez was either grandstanding with an invented dysfunctional family story concocted with the intent of instilling reasonable doubt in the jurors, or he and his team are brilliant researchers. My personal suspicion is the former.
After Baez concluded his surprising opening, the prosecution called its first witness, George Anthony. Utilizing its plodding, methodical style, the prosecution team bored us by walking through George’s life, from his 20s until now, and then asking about the details of Caylee’s disappearance and related events. Ho hum. Are we going to have to put up with these anal retentive questioning sessions for the rest of the trial? And why do lawyers insist on starting every new question with “Now…”? I’ve noticed this during my stints on jury duty. You never see that on TV lawyer shows, where actors know how to deliver lines. “Now, back in 2008, you and your wife, Cindy, separated at some point?” But I digress.
Baez’s cross-examination (also replete with questions starting with “Now…”) was surprisingly dull, if not incompetent. He did not even pursue the whole area of sexual abuse. This leads me to believe that it might be a crock out of left field, which he hoped would generate doubt in jurors’ minds. Baez’s questioning was interrupted by prosecution objections far too many times, most of which were sustained by Judge Belvin Perry. Several lengthy sidebars caused the jury to yawn and fidget. They were clearly getting bored as this crap wore on late in the afternoon. Finally, Perry was asked by one of the attorneys, “May we approach?” A flat-out “No!” was the response. Perry also admonished Baez at least twice to allow Anthony to completely answer the question before interrupting him with another question. I can foresee the judge getting quite testy with this cast of characters as the trial progresses.
It appears to this Turkey that Baez is trying to pound some things into jurors’ heads which he spins as damning toward George, but which are not improper. At one point, Baez attempted to paint Anthony in a bad light by dwelling on the notion that he had contacted his attorney and discussed the matter with him before taking the witness stand. This is perfectly legal, as Judge Perry stated, reading the law verbatim to the jury so they would not hold the attorney discussion against George. The fact that the attorney in question was also an old friend of Anthony’s was brought out by the prosecution later, during re-direct examination.
Courtroom junkies such as I have much to look forward to in forthcoming testimony. The issue of the dead body smell in Casey’s car is sure to be explored literally ad nauseam. Mr. Krunk, the meter reader who discovered the body, is sure to be impeached by Baez. There will undoubtedly be testimony by Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner Jan Garavaglia, the famous “Dr. G” of television. The computer searches found on the Anthonys’ computer for terms such as “choroform”, “shovel”, “household weapons”, and “neck-breaking” surely will be beaten to death (no pun intended).
Hell, I have jury duty next week, so I can get into the groove this week. No way will I get anything as potentially interesting and yet at the same time as potentially boring as the Casey Anthony trial. But I don’t want to spend a month on the jury, anyway.
For those of you outside of Central Florida who crave coverage of the trial, there are several options. HLN (Head Line News) is covering the event live; however, the commercial breaks are frequent and annoying. Each of the network TV stations in Orlando is doing a streaming, live, commercial-free feed on its web site. These are WESH, WKMG, WFTV, and WOFL.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV. If you’re looking for a blog where you can get astute legal analysis, you’re in the wrong place. What you’ll get here is my opinion, which has no bearing on anything except my amusement and perhaps, yours.
I last heard about this trial last when they were trying to decide a venue. Did they move it out of Orlando area? Then I heard they were picking the jurors, so I am behind on the details. We had lots of coverage at the beginning of the child’s disappearance on TV and some in the paper. I have seen a number of things on US TV about it over the years as well. Casey seems like a irresponsible young women/mother from the media coverage and she probably has been tried already by the press and in the court outside of the legal one. This does not of course mean she is a murderer. What resonated with me was why she did not report her child missing immediately and had fabricated some non existant nanny who was looking after her. I predict she will trip up on the stand with a skilful lawyer but she seems quite narcisstic and sociopathic so these types can be very cunning and pathological liars. I saw all the venom thrown at her parents as well outside their home on TV earlier on by the public. No wonder the Dad had to take himself to the psychiatric unit. I don’t think we get the present TV coverage here but I will see bits and pieces of it in the news. Glad you are following it Ben to keep the voyeurs like me up to date.
I also was called for jury duty a couple of weeks ago for a hit and run case. A homeless person was hit and killed when he touched the accused person’s car at a light. I think both were probably intoxicated but we don’t know about the guy that went AWOL. They found him very quickly through the car discription which he had already unloaded and he was interviewed three times and denied it all. Anyway, he finally confessed and was going on trial with the defence saying he was schizophrenic and could not make proper judgments. He got convicted PDQ and is awaiting sentencing at this point. At any rate I was challenged and did not get a spot on the jury. My debt to the justice system is now paid as we can only be called twice in our lifetime.
The Nittany Turkey says
Casey doesn’t have to testify because she is the one on trial. I doubt that her fireball defense counsel will put her on the stand. But he might, because one cornerstone of his case is the notion that Casey doesn’t doesn’t excel at being truthful and that she was in denial about the baby’s supposedly accidental death. All kinds of intrigue and the fun is just beginning . All the defense counsel has to do is just instil reasonable doubt in one juror, so the more confusing a crazy quilt he constructs, the more likely it will be that jurors will be scratching their heads. They’re sequestered and two hours from home. (The trial is in Orlando but the jury pool was chosen in Clearwater, about two hours away.)
Did I write in disappearing ink or was I just too long winded?
That is it for now. Stay tuned.
After bitching for the past 3 years about excessive local news coverage “All Casey, all the time,” I am also hooked on the trial. Not having a television, it took me a couple of days to realize the local WESH television is broadcasting live on the internet with a rolling live blog. You’re right about questions starting with ‘Now,” although Baez saying “I just…” runs a close second.
When she granted jailhouse visits at all, it’s interesting to note Casey often chose to speak with her father rather than her mother, which hardly seems likely if they had an abusive relationship. As legal commentators pointed out, the defense chose not to have psychiatrists examine Casey, suggesting markers of psychological damage probably are absent.
Beyond the snide accusations leveled against George, I found Cindy Anthony’s testimony the hardest to take. They not only lost their beloved little granddaughter, they may lose their daughter. How the woman manages, I can’t imagine.
The Oak Ridge forensics experts proved interesting, especially the wonderful Dr. Vass, who has difficulty pronouncing the letter R. My own field, computer forensics, was slightly less interesting today as they discussed computer searches for “chloroform”.
This judge likes science. He and prosecutor Ashton introduced courtroom DNA evidence to the world many year ago.
I wrote a column for Criminal Brief here:
and a timeline here:
My jaundiced view when 80 some ‘psychics’ directed search efforts in the wrong direction:
The Nittany Turkey says
Thanks for your thoughts about one of the first of what will probably be ten or twelve “Trials of the Century”. I particularly enjoyed your blogs on the subject, which added details I had either forgotten or never knew. I was particularly interested to know that Judge Perry was a pioneer in allowing the use of DNA evidence in the courtroom.
As for computer forensics, the lack of talent in the OCSD is obvious, but the expert witness whose name and company escapes my lazy ass was impressive.
Casey got sick yesterday when the pictures of Caylee’s remains were shown. The defense refused to disclose the nature of her illness. It is all too easy to believe that she is putting on an act, given her history of lying and her possible motives for the crime she is accused of committing. The jurors must be getting fidgety, given that they’ve lost a couple of hours of real time due to the possibly phony illness. Scenes from the original Twelve Angry Men flash through my mind.
More excruciating detail from the medical examiner’s office today. Will we get a visit from our very own media celebrity, Dr. G?