Orlando, July 07: It began as the story of missing 2-year-old girl that transfixed the country and snowballed into homicide charges for a young mother accused of loving the fast life more than her daughter. Then, a stunning acquittal that left many Americans believing she had gotten away with murder.
By the time Casey Anthony, 25, was brought to trial for the 2008 killing of little Caylee, the case had achieved such notoriety that people from around the U.S. were lining up for what had become a macabre tourist attraction in a county better known as home to Florida's Disney World.
Many in the crowd of about 500 people outside the courthouse reacted with anger after the verdict was read Tuesday, chanting, “Justice for Caylee!” One man yelled, “Baby killer!”
The prosecution, which must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, was hampered by a lack of forensic evidence linking Anthony to the crime. Among other reasons, because the child's decomposed body was found in the woods near her grandparents' home six months after she was last seen, and a medical examiner was never able to establish how she died.
So, prosecutors were left to hammer away at Anthony's character, showing jurors pictures of her smiling and partying during the first month Caylee was missing and of a tattoo she got a day before law enforcement learned of the child's disappearance: the Italian words for “beautiful life.”
They also harped on the lies she told when the child was missing: that she couldn't produce Caylee because the girl was with a nanny named Zanny—who doesn't exist; that she and her daughter were spending time with a rich boyfriend who doesn't exist; and that Zanny had been hospitalized after an out-of-town traffic crash and that they were spending time with her.
“Her stories are so extreme and fantastic, it's hard to believe they're true, but that's what engrosses people. This case has sex, lies and videotapes—just like on reality TV,” said Robin Wilkie, 51, who traveled halfway across the U.S. to attend the trial, spending some 3,000 dollars on hotels and more than 100 hours waiting in line for tickets.
Prosecutors contended that Anthony—a single mother living with her parents—suffocated Caylee with duct tape because she wanted to be free to visit the nightclubs and spend time with her boyfriend.
The defense maintained the little girl accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool and that Anthony panicked and hid the body because of the traumatic effects of being sexually abused by her father. George Anthony denied abusing Casey and taking part in the cover up.
But while the jury of seven women and five men didn't buy Anthony's alibi, convicting her on four counts of lying to investigators, they took relatively little time to find her not guilty of murder.
State's Attorney Lawson Lamar lamented the lack of hard evidence.
“This is a dry-bones case. Very, very difficult to prove. The delay in recovering little Caylee's remains worked to our considerable disadvantage,” he said.
Defense attorney Cheney Mason, blasted the media after the verdict.
“Well, I hope that this is a lesson to those of you having indulged in media assassination for three years, bias, prejudice and incompetent talking heads saying what would be and how to be,” Mason said.
The case played out on national television almost from the moment Caylee was reported missing in July 2008. CNN's Nancy Grace dissected the case at every turn with the zeal of the prosecutor she once was, arguing that Anthony was responsible for her daughter's death.
Jurors were brought in from another county and had their identities kept secret by the court because of the publicity surrounding the trial.
One juror, Jennifer Ford, told ABC News in an interview, “I did not say she was innocent,” according to an article posted on the network's website Wednesday. She adds, “I just said there was not enough evidence.”
Ford says she and other jurors cried and were “sick to our stomach” after voting to acquit Anthony of murder. Ford says that's why jurors didn't want to face the media right away, as the verdict sent shock waves across America. AP