Casey Anthony, the Florida mother acquitted of involvement in the death of her two-year-old daughter, was ordered on Thursday to pay more than $97,000 to law enforcement agencies as compensation for their efforts to find the missing child.
Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry rejected a demand by the State Attorney’s Office that Ms. Anthony be forced to pay more than $500,000 in investigative and prosecution costs.
Instead, the judge said he would assess costs only related to the missing persons portion of the investigation, when investigators believed Caylee Anthony might still be alive.
However he did leave the door open for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to revise upward its reported costs for the 30 sheriff’s office employees who worked on that portion of the investigation.
At Ms. Anthony’s month-long trial, Defense Attorney Jose Baez revealed that Caylee had been dead a full month before police were notified in July 2008 that she was missing. He told the jury that the toddler had accidentally drowned in the family’s swimming pool and Anthony panicked and tried to cover the death up rather than notify the authorities. The toddler’s skeletal remains were found in December 2008 in a wooded area a quarter mile from the Anthony home.
State prosecutors charged Anthony with first-degree murder in Caylee’s death and were seeking the death penalty.
The jury acquitted Anthony of all charges related to Caylee’s death. But the panel found her guilty of four misdemeanor counts of lying to police during the initial stages of the investigation.
The judge’s order was based on a little-known Florida statute that requires judges to assess investigative and prosecution costs whenever a state agency requests it. The statute mandates that convicted individuals be assessed no less than $50 per case for a misdemeanor conviction and no less than $100 per case for a felony conviction. The law does not establish an upper limit on a potential assessment.
It is unclear how often Florida judges have ordered defendants to repay the state $97,000 or more in investigative costs. In most cases that have reached appeals courts, the assessments have been token amounts of a couple hundred dollars.
In a hearing earlier this month, prosecutors had urged the judge to force Anthony to pay more than a half million dollars, arguing that if she had told the truth at the start, the extensive search for Caylee and the investigation into her death would not have been necessary.
Defense lawyers countered that the four false statements Anthony made to investigators had been quickly exposed as lies by police. They noted that by the end of September 2008, the investigation shifted from a missing persons case to a homicide case – with Anthony as the prime suspect.
Since her convictions for false statements were related to the missing persons aspect of the police work, the assessment should be limited to that portion of the investigation, defense lawyers argued.
Anthony’s lawyers also noted that had police diligently followed up on three leads called into police in early September, they would have found Caylee’s remains three months earlier.
Judge Perry left open the possibility that the assessment will increase. He ordered the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to file revised investigative expense reports reflecting work performed on the Anthony case from July through September 2008. The judge gave the agency until next Monday to submit the revised reports.
Specifically, the judge ordered Anthony to reimburse the Florida Department of Law Enforcement $61,505, the Orlando Police Department’s Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation $10,284, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office $25,837.
Perry also ordered Anthony to pay the minimum $50 assessment to the State Attorney’s Office for the cost of prosecuting the four false statement charges.
Although the statute requires the judge to set out a payment schedule, Perry did not specify when or how Anthony must pay the state.
Anthony has been declared indigent by the courts and her defense costs have been paid by taxpayers. Some analysts have suggested Anthony may benefit from lucrative book and movie deals, as well as paid interviews. But no deals have been disclosed.
Anthony is currently serving a year of probation for an earlier check-fraud conviction. She is living in an undisclosed location because threats have been made against her.