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. kderosa,
    Mike S. is correct about civics. If it isn’t on the ‘test”, teachers can’t teach it. If you are in Texas, they have made up their own history and civics to suit their liking so there is no wonder the kids don’t know what the truth is.

  2. Don’t forget the reveal of the H.B.Gary emails. That pulled back the veil just a bit. There is software being developed whereby computer bots can participate in trolling and be virtually undetectable by the reader. There was some research on this back in the late 1960’s where a computer would interact with a therapy patient. It was primitive, but as early as 1967-68 some patients could not tell whether they were talking with a psychologist or a computer program.

  3. Some do, W=c.

    Breitbart’s crew have even stepped out from behind their masks on occasion.

    Want to know why both political parties and neocons like the Koch Bros. use them?

    They’re exempted as registering as lobbyists.

    A lovely gift from the Senate.

  4. kderosa,

    I have a healthy amount of respect for the regulars and guest bloggers. I just want to request that we all ‘police ourselves’ out of respect for our host and other readers. I think trollish behavior—or whatever term people prefer to use—is in the eye of the reader. Therefore, replace my previous use of ‘troll’ with ‘alleged troll’ to ensure the utmost fairness because no one person here always exhibits those traits.

    I am no one special here so it should not matter to you that I do not respond to you again. Lastly, even if you are paid to post here, that still must not engender negative consequences since free speech is sanctioned, regardless of it being Citizens United-esque or not. However, a person entering this blawg is never forced to listen to or read another person’s free speech.

  5. @ Mike Spindell

    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.

    Your assertion that civics curricula is disappearing from our schools is unfounded and contradicted by this NCES report. Civics instruction is now mixed into the dodge-podge “social studies” but students appear to be getting about the same amount as they ever did. Not that we ever kept good records until somewhat recently.

    As far as budget reductions, you’d be hard pressed to find any school budget that’s been cut in real terms such that the budget falls below the budget of a couple years ago. Usually, the only budget cutting is in terms of the “rate of growth” and even then that’s a relatively new phenomenon as stateshave run out of money.

    Also, the NAEP results, the only longitudinal measure of student knowledge of civics without selection bias effects shows flat results.

  6. @FFLEO, I appreciate your effort in trying to reign in the “regulars,” but your passive-aggressive insults send a mixed message.

  7. BIL, I’m sorry to hear about your mother and as eniobob said, stay strong.

  8. Mike,

    Excellent job on your initial offering. This trial has been a circus. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my ill mother this last week and she has been watching the trial almost exclusively so I’ve gotten to see quite a bit of it. As Frank noted, it is unusual for a trial to carry on into the weekend, but having seen some of the shenanigans of the defense (which should merit a follow up disciplinary hearing and even suspension if not disbarment – surprise expert witnesses and specious claims about not enough time to examine evidence? – come on!) and the borderline unprofessional level of visible personal animosity from the prosecution toward the (admittedly annoying) defense attorney, I can understand why the judge would carry on into the weekend in the interests of time if nothing else. No sense letting either side have an extra weekend to spin before sending the jury into deliberations.

    And again, good job Mike and welcome aboard as a guest blogger.

  9. Mike Spindell,

    Congrats, regarding your new duty to inform us here while accompanying the other fine guest bloggers. I humbly request that you completely ignore anyone who takes ad hominem shots at you because of your new found responsibilities, because there are a jealous few who will attempt that effort.

    Bear in mind, there are lawyers and other professionals of many stripes who read this blawg and I think the guest bloggers have an obligation to maintain the high standards of excellence that Professor Turley embodies–whether they are posting guest topics or commenting on others’ topics.

    Your selection means we will get to read more of you on a regular basis, which is always something to anticipate with pleasure.

  10. eniobob: Very unusal to have a trial continue on a Saturday, let alone on a Sunday. I have never particpated in a jury trial on a Sunday in 34 years. Judges will extend a given trial day by starting early or staying late (beyond the “normal” 8:00 am – 5:00 pm. schedule Monday through Friday). Judges will stay late after the jury begins to deliberate until they have a verdict. Things are a little different in Flordia apparently.

  11. Mike Spindell : Great topic which with to begin your guest blogger duties! I enjoyed the discussion and various points of view. Kudos to you! Frank

  12. Mike S.,
    You are correct about the OJ trial and the hype that Furman and his friends created. The whole slow speed chase was unneccessary. They could have had a couple of cars behind him and had the same result to begin with. LK is correct that it was a bad case to begin with and the tainted evidence should never have been allowed in. Blouise and Frank are correct that the right to a fair trial should be the trump card in any decision.
    Mike S., great first article!!

  13. Thank you everyone for you thoughtfulness in commenting and your kindness in response. When Jonathan graciously asked if I would do this, beyond feeling greatly flattered, came a sense of responsibility. As I expressed to him I saw my role in this as one of stimulation, rather than advocacy, in discussion. I will keep within my own self-imposed guidelines. However there were in your comments some things that resonated with me.

    Bonnie said she was surprised I was old enough to remember the case.

    Chessman was executed during my sophomore years in H.S.. I clearly remember having a heated argument in class with my History Teacher. He believed Chessman should be executed and I believed that the fact that his dragging the victim 90 feet from his car, before sexually abusing her, was too broad a definition of kidnapping. Despite all the publicity surrounding the case much of the public was unaware that Chessman hadn’t murdered the girl. The argument developed into a shouting match and the result was I was banned from class until the final. The teacher believed I would need his final month of preparation to pass, he was wrong.

    OS, I too grew up with Murrow and his “boys” and when Walter Cronkite finally retired, the “golden era” of TV news ended.

    “Nancy Grace alone perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon.”

    Her coinage of “Totmom” alone for Casey Anthony serves as ample indictment of her capabilities.

    “I’d surmise our mainstream media stuck a wet finger in the air, and noted the quantum shift in the aggregate IQ. From that point on, the banal and incessant yammerings of “infotainment” were little more than a foregone conclusion.”

    Patric, amen. The frustrating thing for most of us older folks here like Frank and OS, is that we clearly remember different times. That is not the yammering of Old Codgers romantically remembering a non-existent past, but the truth informed by the experience of aging with ones eyes open.

    “The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life.”

    Mark, the breadth and pertinence of you knowledge and perspicacity continues to amaze and awe.

    “The networks care more about ratings than they do about the truth.”

    Elaine, so true and so sad.

    “Nancy Grace alone perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon.”

    K, she is the Madame DuFarge of TV news media.

    “I, for one, believe the right to a fair trial trumps (right to a free press), but hey, maybe that’s just me. (frankmascagniiii)”

    Frank and Blouise, we’re all on the same page.

    “The media in this country have more money and political clout that an individual lawyer or client who is in the trial being covered”

    Frank, from what your comments have revealed about you personally, this has been a decades long concern of yours as a
    defense attorney. Between the Prosecution, Police and the media a criminal defense attorney is almost always facing Goliath. I admire the work you do and can appreciate from afar the difficult tasks that face you.

    “By the time OJ got to trial I knew two things: he should never have gone to trial based on any evidence that came from the first, illegal, search (when the LAPD found the blood in his vehicle) and that he killed his wife.”

    LK, I couldn’t agree with you more. however, don’t forget the pre-trial publicity orchestrated by the DA’s office and the jumping his fence by Mark Furman. The amount of prosecutorial and police indiscretion, was matched only by the incompetence shown at trial. I too feel he was guilty, but to me the jury’s decision was actually quite in line with the Law.

  14. A little late to the post,but congrats Mike S,on getting “your beak wet”,I see that they will be deliberating to day ,Sunday-Unusual ???

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