Should We Care About Casey Anthony?

“Mike Spindell, guest blogger”

Three years ago, the story of missing toddler Cayley Anthony became a media sensation. This was a story with all the elements of human drama. It had a pretty, young mother who appeared to be partying while her cute toddler went missing for 31 days. At the end of the 31 days, after having repeatedly lied to the grandparents about her child’s whereabouts the mother, Casey, admitted to her parents, Cindy and George that she didn’t know where the child was. She told them her mysterious “Nanny”, named “Zanny” had purportedly fled with the child for parts unknown. The Police were called and a media circus began.

The devoted Grandparents went on TV pleading for information about their missing child and setting up their own search “headquarters”. The daughters’ interviews with Police became increasingly bizarre as she lied incessantly about what had happened and even took them to her workplace, where after a period she admitted hadn’t worked there for two years. Phone pictures and videos surfaced of her inappropriately partying during the 31 days her child was missing. Photo’s and home videos of this cute child incessantly appeared on the TV in the vain hope that someone would recognize her. It was “the stuff that dreams are made of” for media people hawking their product. After months of searching and continual reportage the decomposed skeleton of the child was found in a wood, down the block from the Anthony’s home. Police had already arrested the mother, first for lying to them, obstruction of justice, Neglect. She made bail was arrested again on bad check charges, bailed and finally arrested for Felony Murder in October 2008. Check here for all the summary details without the emotion: .

This trial has taken HLN, CNN’s trashy headline network into the ratings stratosphere:  HLN  became the network of record for this trial.

Here are some links to the HLN website to providing an idea of the quality of commentary and the coverage this trial is getting.

The guilt or innocence of the defendant is not for me to write, since I haven’t watched the entire trial from the jury’s perspective and I do firmly believe in the process of law. What has concerned me and what I think should interest readers here, is that the sensational coverage of the story degrades the public’s view of legal processes. The guest commentary is supplied by guest Judges (former), prosecutors, lawyers, a psychic, a psychologist, and others, offering critiques of the case, speculation about the witnesses and a verbal box score of the trial’s progress. Naturally, everyone opines about the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

It would be fair to say that with a sequestered jury, this is irrelevant to the disposition of the case. It’s not, however, the fairness of the trial that is of interest to me

Pre-trial publicity, evidentiary leaks and media circus could well have influenced this case before it began. There is a long history of this behavior in our history. In my lifetime from Caryl Chessman, to Sam Shephard to OJ and in many other instances pre-trial publicity affects outcome.

Besides the toxicity of pre-trial publicity, there is another factor that I’ve found very upsetting as I listen to the commentary on this case. For the sake of transparency, I must admit I’ve been one of the 4:00pm to 6:00pm viewers boosting HLN’s ratings. As a non-expert legal buff, I am fascinated on how the public focused away from the legal issues, such as “reasonable doubt” and towards the inanities such as Grandfather George Anthony’s alleged affair.

Average people, uninterested in the intricacies of our legal system, are thirsty for seamy details and use these to make up their minds on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. When we here use guilt or innocence, it is in the context of adherence to timeworn legal concepts. To the public it is a visceral matter and when someone who the majority believes is guilty, based on media accounts, is acquitted because the evidence falls short of surpassing “reasonable doubt”, outrage, and cynicism towards our legal system ensue. Members of that public will possibly called upon to man jury panels. They will take with them all the information provided by shallow, sensational punditry, a belief that the prosecution is always correct and an eye for details that may be irrelevant to their decisions.

Tomorrow, the final arguments will begin, the TV audiences will swell, and the public will watch in droves, probably already having decided guilt or innocence.

Sadly, their beliefs not be informed by an understanding of the legal process of a trial and they will feel vindicated or disappointed either way the verdict turns out, based on the rumblings of their “gut”. My own feeling is that there should not be a conviction of felony murder because the cause of death is uncertain and there are only unsubstantiated theories of motives and methods. Hey, but what do I know?

While I have pretensions to wisdom on occasion, I must admit bafflement on how we as a country can restrain sensationalistic pre-trial publicity and educate the general public on proper trial procedure, within the constraints of freedom of the press, which is so necessary in the maintenance of a democratic system. Given the wide scale disappearance of Civics curricula in our schools, in tandem with budget reductions, we are generally less educated in essential knowledge of the Law than in times past. How do we deal with this to maintain a society where justice, in its legal context, prevails?

59 thoughts on “Should We Care About Casey Anthony?”

  1. All laws enacted to soother public outrage are bad laws that usually have unintended negative consequences. The emotional soothing of inflamed members of the public by passing ill-conceived laws is an anathema to constructively running a government.

  2. Go to and sign petitions to force government to:
    1.) enact Caylee’s Law (requires parents to report missing children with 24 hours and keep Casey and jurors from profiting from her crime.)
    2.) keep Casey Anthony from being able to profit off the death of her child; which most people believe she was involved with

  3. Jonathan,

    I am glad I read your column ” Should we care about Casey Anthony”, because I thought I was in the minority. Now that I see that an informed and an intelectual person thinks the way I do, it is very comforting to me. As much as I dislike this Casey Girl, the case for death penalty was not proven beyond the reasonable doubt, therefore she should get life in prison.

    I also agree with you that Tabloid TV is anathema to justice. As a constitutional scholar I know that you cannot recommend banishing those shows off the air. A blog like yours help indentify trashy shows like Nance Grace. Please keep up with your blogs. I love to learn from brilliant persons like you.

  4. Pete,

    Are you suggesting that Hillary….our SOS…would have a demon for power…no I am not talking about Bill….lol

  5. AY:

    ” I knew there was a reason I liked you…we agree on so many things”


    While reasonable people can differ, on the fundamental issues, they rarely do. Right back at you there AY

  6. OS,

    Back in the day, I had a copy of Eliza. I got it as part of my high school’s advanced placement computer science class. Interesting bit of programming that. It wasn’t written in the original SLIP, but rather in LISP. I spent many hours playing with Eliza and poking around her code. Good times. :mrgreen:

  7. Yes, I was referring to Eliza, which was based on the communication skill model pioneered by Carl Rogers. It managed to fool even skilled therapy professors. Those same professors were quick to dismiss the computer responses as mindless and automated (a correct analysis) but failed to recognize the potential. Game designers did see the potential, and the rest is history.

    Speaking of mindless automatons, did you notice the last response by our current resident Eliza? That is a perfect example of what we are talking about.

  8. OS,

    Spot on in re testing and ecological validity.

    Also, were you referring to Eliza (the computer program) earlier?

  9. mepo,

    I knew there was a reason I liked you…we agree on so many things…Atwater at his best was the most likable vile person that ever existed in the political spectrum….but death does bring one to ones knees…especially if they have lived the life that he did….

    Ken lay on the other hand….I believe was taken down by a government operative that did not want the inside deals exposed for what it was…kinda like that dead guy in DC and Foster was him name…oh…. it happens to the best of em at some point and the powers that be feel that they are weak…not that any of this stuff happened in the LBJ days….lets just say if the press had been as powerful then as it was when LBJ was around….he’d be indicted or you’d be dead…was Hoover dead by the time Nixon was in all of that trouble? I think Hoover died in 72 or so and Nixon resigned in 74….

    You are probably aware that it is thought that Hoover was part black….I wonder if that could explain his passions…for suppression…

  10. If the Texas curriculum is so bad and Texas’s mandated pedagogy (to the extent it exists) is so bad, then how is it they do as well as other tests on a low stakes federal exam as blue states that presumably use more enlightened methods and curriculum?

  11. Woosty’s still a Cat:

    “do people really get paid to post here?”

    Yeah, seems the Republicon Eagles Nest has decreed that its minions must sally forth into intellectual discussions they can’t possibly fathom with their eighth grade view of the world, and try to inject all manner of nonsense and talking points into adult discussions. Sort of pathetic, but the dark Lords of Deception have no compunction about this since Lee Atwater decided that thuggery equals politics. Discourse among folks who see the world for what it is in shades of gray rather than the black-white perspective of the zealot represent a real threat. Atwater recanted on his death bed in an historic copout but, like the automatons they are, they continued and found a new Messiah in Heir Karl Rove.

    You can spot them with the three “F”s: frequency of posts; foolish, often out of context, publication of Republicon talking points; and fallacious reasoning. You don’t usually get them until the Republicon High Command feels antsy and then they descend like Orks. Come to think of it they seem to resemble our fictional friends form Middle Earth. Sort of Neanderthal-like — in word and deed.

    When they’re here, it means we’re winning and that, my friend, is cause to celebrate. Salud!

  12. As an expert on test design and construction, I am appalled by both the high stakes test design, the monitoring system (NAEP) and the requirement that the teaching should be to the test and not a broad overview where independent thinking is prized. There is the issue of ecological validity all over again. If I am teaching 1+2=4, and the monitoring test is set to see if students understand 1+2=4, then the test is a success. It is the curriculum that is the failure.

  13. kderosa,
    it isn’t bad districts in Texas, it is all districts in Texas using the state mandated curriculum. You are correct that I was referring to the tests that matter.

  14. NAEP is the federal test given to a random sample of students. As a result no one attempts to teach to it. It is low stakes. You are thinking of the texas state test TAKS. TAKS is a high stakes test. It is true that bad school districts try to teach to it. In any event, your confusion has led you to an erroneous analysis of the problem since teaching to TAKS to the extent it exists would have no bearing on NAEP results.

  15. kderosa,
    the point I was making and as OS suggests, was “whose” civics were Texas kids learning? If it is anything like the dribble in their history curriculum, then they are getting the Fox News version.

  16. NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress which is the testing. Of course they do well on that, which is exactly the point rafflaw was making. Teachers are required to teach to the test and straying from the state-mandated orthodoxy is forbidden. Kids are learning to regurgitate sanitized and propagandized version of history and civics.

  17. rafflaw, according to NAEP, texas students know their civics as well as students in other states, controlling for race and see.

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