The case against Casey Anthony: The slam dunk that wasn’t
From the start the case against Casey Anthony lacked direct physical evidence tying the defendant to her daughter's death. And the prosecution's demeanor and tactics may have alienated the jury.
Casey Anthony’s acquittal in the death of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, has sparked outrage and disbelief among critics across the country who blame the Florida jury for failing to endorse the prosecution’s case.Skip to next paragraph
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But the state’s capital murder case against Ms. Anthony was never the slam dunk many legal pundits seemed to suggest.
Despite a massive investigation and a seeming impressive array of forensics, prosecutors were unable during the month-long trial to present any direct, physical evidence tying Anthony to her daughter’s death.
Instead, prosecutors relied on overwhelming evidence that the mother repeatedly lied to family, friends, and the police about the whereabouts of her missing daughter. Instead of grieving or hiding, Anthony spent nights with her boyfriend, entered a “hot body” contest at a night club, went on shopping excursions, and got a tattoo that proclaimed: “Bella Vita,” beautiful life in Italian.
IN PICTURES: Key players in the Casey Anthony trial
These activities angered many of those who followed the case from investigation through the trial. How could a mother with a missing child – or a child that had recently died – behave that way?
While outrage over Anthony’s lies and other behavior was certain to win a conviction in the court of public opinion, the rules and requirements in a court of law are far more demanding.
A gruesome theory
At trial, prosecutors advanced a gruesome theory that Anthony drugged her daughter with chloroform and then suffocated her by applying duct tape over her mouth and nose. The murder weapon: duct tape.
Chloroform was a necessary part of the theory, presumably, because the pieces of duct tape recovered with the remains were only six to eight inches long. If Caylee was conscious and her hands free, she may have been able to reach up and pull the tape off her face.
The problem with the state’s case was that there was no physical evidence that Ms. Anthony pressed the tape against her daughter’s face. Nor was there evidence that the tape covered both Caylee’s mouth and nose. If the tape did not cover both the mouth and nose, it could not be the murder weapon proclaimed by prosecutors.
Prosecutors and the Orange County Medical Examiner said there was no reason duct tape would be applied to a child’s face other than to kill the child. That was a logical conclusion, but it still didn’t prove how the three pieces of duct tape found near Caylee got there, and why.
After Caylee was killed on June 16, 2008, prosecutors alleged, Anthony hid her body for several days in the trunk of her car, and then dumped the body in a wooded area a quarter-mile from the Anthony family home. The remains were not recovered until Dec. 11, 2008.
‘Very difficult to prove’
The state attorney for Orange County, Lawson Lamar, characterized the investigation and prosecution of Anthony as a “dry bones case, very, very difficult to prove.”
In a statement after the verdict Tuesday he added: “The condition of the remains worked to our significant disadvantage.”
But some of those disadvantages were created by the investigators themselves.
Caylee’s remains could have been recovered and analyzed as early as Aug. 11, 2008 – four months sooner than the actual discovery and only two months after her death – had police simply responded to a 911 report of a small skull in a wooded area close to the Anthony home. The caller, Roy Kronk, contacted police each day for three consecutive days before giving up.
For reasons that remain unexplained, Mr. Kronk waited four more months before he returned to the scene, found the skull again, and called the authorities. Had police responded to Kronk’s original call, there might have been more of Caylee’s remains to analyze.
More importantly, the duct tape discovered with Caylee’s remains would have been only two months old in August (rather than six months old in December), significantly increasing the opportunity to detect the fingerprints and DNA of whoever handled the duct tape.