Everyone knows the story. A hard-partying single mother failed to report her two-year-old daughter missing for a month, then told a series of lies to police, beginning with a claim that the child had been kidnapped by a non-existent nanny. There was also the foul smell in the trunk of the mother's car before Caylee Anthony's remains were eventually found in the woods. Inside the Orlando courtroom, the seven women and five men of the jury in the Anthony case had to look beyond the shocking details and decide: Was there proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter, Caylee?

Their answer was no. On Tuesday, the jury acquitted Anthony of murdering her child back in June of 2008. Legal analysts and court observers commented that despite the endless media frenzy surrounding the investigation and trial, the prosecution's case simply did not hold up. There was no forensic evidence — such as DNA or fingerprints — directly linking Anthony to her daughter's death. The actual cause of Caylee's death was unclear and could not be confirmed.

This was not like most other murder trials, though, that have involved celebrities or people of very high profile prior to the incident. Casey was just a suspect in a murder case, and there have been plenty of young women involved in murder cases across the U.S. So why did the Anthony trial get so much coverage?

Casey is not the only mother accused of killing her child, but maternal homicide is an abnormality in our society, so these types of cases bring out every criminologist, psychologist and expert in the field. Most mothers say they would give their lives for their children, and Casey consistently seemed indifferent to her child's whereabouts. One reason this case received so much attention is that every new discovery was more bizarre than the last. Usually, we see the mother on TV crying and begging for someone to help; in this case, it was Cindy Anthony, Caylee's grandmother, who reported the child missing.

Then, there were the photos of Casey partying, getting a tattoo, going on shopping sprees with stolen checks, and moving in with her boyfriend and spending days in bed — none of which we expect from a grieving mother of a kidnapped child. Then, there was the multitude of lies that Casey told to the police including the made-up kidnapping nanny who supposedly cared for Caylee since she was born, and made-up friends and children who played with her daughter. And let's not forget the irate protesters that camped outside of the Anthony home and courtroom, screaming things like "baby killer" and "cover-up." Within the trial itself, the defense accused Casey's father and brother of sexually abusing her. The whole thing seemed like a mix of reality TV and a soap opera. Another significant factor: Florida's laws allow cameras in the courtroom.

Despite the strange details unearthed by investigators and journalists, the most influential reason for excessive coverage was typical: ratings. Nancy Grace's relentless pursuit of the truth about Caylee Anthony's death put CNN's Headline News (HLN) in second place during June, the channel's best month ever. It also helped the network challenge Fox News during primetime. Naturally, the bigger cable news outlets like MSNBC, Fox News and CNN noticed HLN's ratings success and began shoveling more and more of their air time onto the case. By the time Tuesday's verdict was announced, almost every major media outlet was covering the trial.

The media personality that stood at the center of it all was Grace. As a mother of young twins, Grace conveyed a deep-seated, emotional reaction, and was the first to push the story. When the trial started in late May, HLN was sunk in a sea of low ratings, and Grace's passion for the Anthony case became the channel's way of ending its slump. At this point, the whole channel seemed totally built around Grace and her ferocious coverage of the trial.

While this trial may be a blessing for Grace's career, many have questioned the fairness of her coverage that eventually evolved into media hysteria. After hearing the verdict, Grace, a trained lawyer, refused to accept it and declared, "Somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight." The amount of hostility that burst from her show infiltrated the entire channel, leaving no room for viewers to relish anything other than a guilty verdict. Critics have called her a pseduo-journalist, linking her coverage to some sort of vendetta. Whether Grace is a journalist or not would seem important; HLN is the property of CNN, the cable network that prides itself on being unbiased. But in response to Grace's blatant opinions on the case, CNN's producer clarified that CNN views HLN as more sensationalist and the stories it pursues as tasteless.

After the verdict was announced, defense attorney Cheney Mason gave a statement to reporters condemning those who obsessed over the trial to boost their network ratings: "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." The real lesson could be that intense media coverage gives defendants enough celebrity profile and resources that it is tougher for juries to convict them of serious crimes. Prosecutors spent half of their case depicting Anthony as a liar and a bad mother, but that did not prove she killed her daughter, said Donald Jones, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law. "The jurors can't look at this case as a soap opera or a reality show," Jones said. "They had to put their emotions aside and look at the evidence. And they saw there wasn't any."

I admit I was pretty convinced she was guilty from what I saw when I turned on the TV; I assumed the decision was between life in prison or death. But now that I have done my own research and am more aware of the facts, I realize my immediate guilty assumption was a bit ignorant. Common sense says she was most definitely involved in some way, whether she murdered her daughter or knows what happened, but there was not enough proof beyond a reasonable doubt. How can the jury convict someone of first degree murder when there is no official cause of death or forensic evidence specifically linking Casey to her death? At this point, those of us watching from home can only speculate, but I think defense attorney Jose Baez's swing at the media minutes after the verdict still holds true: "We have the greatest Constitution in the world, and if the media and other members of the public do not respect it, it will become meaningless."


  • GabrielaTilevitz
    GabrielaTilevitz on

    This seriously messed up. The more I read about it the less I understand. But I can say this, the woman didn't want her baby and it sucks she had to go through the means that she did to deal with it.

  • Victoria
    Victoria on

    I still don't know what to make of the case. Rationality tells me we can never know what happened to that little girl. But everything else is telling me she was killed by her young and selfish mother. It's all so confusing.

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