Casey Anthony with her daughter Caylee
“I want to commit the murder I was imprisoned for.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
We live in an age where the media is playing a pervasive role in our lives. It has entered various spheres including that of ‘justice’ and has even gone to extent of trying to challenging the verdicts of the existing judicial system. At times it almost plays the role of the judge and pronounces verdicts. In this article, I will attempt to deliberate through the recent Casey Anthony case in Florida, USA, the extent to which the judiciary is influence by the media and the ramifications of such an influence.
Like cases before, such as the O.J. Simpson (CNN, 1995) and Rodney King (CNN Wire Staff, 2012), the State of Florida v Casey Anthony trial was no different. Casey Anthony, the mother of Caylee Anthony was tried in Orlando, Florida from May 9 to July 5, 2011 for the alleged charges of her involvement in the murder of her two year old daughter and acquitted. As a In view of the nature of the crime she courted notoriety. Time magazine dubbed her case as “the social media trial of the century” [Cloud, 2011] to being described as the “Most Hated Woman in America” [Roberts, 2011].
Casey Anthony was tried on seven counts which included, first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to law enforcement authorities [Wikipedia, 2013]. According to the verdict she was acquitted from the first three counts. The case against Casey Anthony was mostly circumstantial, but as it unfolded she was portrayed in the trial as a promiscuous, self-centered woman who became a cold-blooded killer. The motive, prosecutors alleged, was to allow her to live a carefree life; it was alleged that she used chloroform to suffocate her daughter. However, the defense attorney, Jose Baez, stated these claims to be baseless and maintained that the death was the result of unintentional accident resulting in Caylee being drowned in the family swimming pool. Furthermore, due to lack of evidence it became extremely hard for the prosecution to prove the case as much of the information given by Anthony was misguided. She was charged guilty for having left her daughter Caylee at an apartment complex with a babysitter causing law enforcement to pursue the missing babysitter; for having informed two “employees” of Universal Studios, Jeff Hopkins and Juliet Lewis, at Universal, of the disappearance of Caylee; and for seemingly having received a phone call from Caylee on July 15, 2008, thereby causing law enforcement to expend further resources.
From left: The not-guilty charge divided many people who followed the case. Flora Reece, center, of Orlando protests the verdict outside the Orange County Courthouse on July 7, 2011. From right: Tim Allen, right, and David Antolic hold signs in front of a jail in Orlando, Florida, on July 16, 2011, the day before Anthony will be released.
Americans were furious after the verdict as majority of Americans as well as the media believed that the jury had got it wrong. Media personalities such as Julie Suzanne Chen of CBS expressed her dismay in her daytime show, ‘The Talk’. The people expressed their views against the verdict through social media like Facebook, Twitter etc. Few media persons such as Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel felt the verdict was fair as the prosecution did not have enough evidence to establish guilt or meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
At the end of the day, what was remarkable was that the attorneys from both the sides believed that justice had been done. The defendant attorney Jose Baez stated that the American system of justice has not dishonored Caylee’s memory as it prevented a false conviction [Hayes, 2011] whereas on the other side, the prosecution attorney Jeff Ashton still continues to hold a strong faith in his country’s system of justice. In his first interview about the case on ABC’s ‘The View’ on July 6, 2011, Jeff Ashton commented that it is impossible to hold faith in the rule of law and not accept that sometimes it doesn’t go the way you think it should. Furthermore, during the interview, he also mentioned that the Casey Anthony case struck such a nerve with the public as they feel that Casey Anthony had not played the role of a mother. Seeing her partying soon after the death of the child outraged them and felt that she ought to have penalized for such an unbecoming behavior.
As the great Stoic philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said that if we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living. Indeed, this can be said with regards to Casey Anthony. In an telephone interview to Piers Morgan on CNN’s ‘Piers Morgan Tonight’ on July 12th, 2012, Casey Anthony confessed to being ashamed in many ways of the person she was and furthermore referred to herself as a stupid girl who has gone through hell. However, as her lawyer Cheney Manson puts it Casey Anthony has accepted the reality of having the reputation of being the most hated person in America. She has resigned to the fact that it would be not advisable to be seen in public as she has received death threats. She is also aware that at the present moment nothing can be done about that tag attached to her. Furthermore she is revisiting motherhood and recently on the same show on January 31, 2013 it was confirmed that she has filed for bankruptcy as a step towards closure and longs for a normal life.
This case is just one of the many reminders to us that we need to reassess the role of media that can sensationalise a case to the extent that it can vitiate the public perception of the justice system. The resulting public hysteria in the case, made a free and fair verdict difficult if not impossible. Though, Casey Anthony has got justice, but her right to privacy and her self-image has been tarnished. Ever since, the media saw a TRP boost in this case, justice was compromised.
By: KESTER PEREIRA
Cloud, John (2011): “How the Casey Anthony Murder Case Became the Social-Media Trial of the Century”, Time, June 16th
CNN (1995): “Simpson judge OKs jury prospects who admit bias”, CNN
CNN Wire Staff (2012): “Rodney King dead at 47”, CNN, June 18th
Hayes Ashley (2011): “Casey Anthony not guilty of murder, other charges in daughter’s death”, CNN, June 6th
Roberts, Kristal (2011): “Casey Anthony considered the most hated person in America, according to celebrity poll”, ABC Action News, October 8th
Wikipedia (2013): “Timeline of the Casey Anthony case”, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Casey_Anthony_case > (last viewed on 6th February 2013)