While Orlando is known for Disney theme parks, another reality set in on Tuesday in the opening statements in the Casey Anthony trial. While some wonder whether she killed Caylee, her 2 year old daughter, the real question is whether she can get a fair trial. And regardless of the answer to the question of guilt or innocence, she is entitled to a fair trial. The case while having been tried by the media for the past few years, the real trial starts in earnest now.
The prosecution will not have a slam dunk. The case as it unfolds is a circumstantial case with no eyewitness and little CSI forensics as seen on TV. There is no cause of death as the body was too badly decomposed when found. So, there will be no testimony on how she died. But, her death was ruled a homicide. A homicide means a killing did occur and she did not die by natural causes. Casey Anthony is facing charges of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter and 4 counts of lying to police. The state has an emotional case with photos of a cute 2 year old and those of her mother partying, getting tattoos and lying after her child’s disappearance and the stink test, if allowed. The prosecution wants the jurors to smell the stench that was found in the trunk. Casey’s mother said the trunk smelled like a dead body had been inside it. There is no eyewitness testimony, linking Casey Anthony to any crime.
The defense’s hardest job will be to undo what are perceptions about a mother killing her own child. Yet, studies show that children under the age of 5 in the US are more likely to be killed by a parent than a stranger, contrary to popular belief. The studies of parent child deaths between 1976- 1999 show 30% committed by a mother and 31% committed by a father. While motive is not an element of murder, no doubt jurors will wonder why a homicide occurred.
Now the defense counters in its opening that Caylee’s death was an accidental pool death that was hidden by Casey and her father. While not required by law, I hope they have an explanation for the duct tape that was covering Caylee’s mouth. And they will also need to cross examine the prosecution’s recovery of computer data that shows google searches of “how to make chloroform” and neck strangulation, if allowed into evidence. Traces of chloroform were found in Casey Anthony’s trunk.
The state always has the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense does not need to put on any witnesses nor does the defendant need to testify. In this case, it will be even more than problematic to put Casey Anthony on the witness stand. She faces the death penalty, if convicted. Her testimony, if disliked by the jury could very well have her facing the death penalty.
The trial for the jurors will be the most challenging job they’ve ever faced. Holding someone’s life in your hands will not be as easy as assessing and judging the case as a non- juror through the media lens. Judge Belvin Perry intends to hold trial 6 days a week, with Sunday off for good behavior, for the next estimated 6-8 weeks. This schedule is also unusual. But then again, there is nothing usual about this murder trial so far. The jurors will be sequestered away from their families in a hotel.
Judge Perry has spoken about the need to ensure that the case will withstand an appeal, should a guilty verdict be rendered. (The state has no right of appeal, if they lose). The most important thing is that Casey Anthony receives a fair trial. Right now, Judge Perry is committed to making that happen, whether she did it or not.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and legal and political commentator who frequently is seen in the media speaking on issues affecting women. She also writes for the Huffington Post, Politic 365 and other online publications. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of PA.