ST. PETERSBURG -- Many of the thousands who followed the Casey Anthony trial did not get the guilty verdict they wanted, nor did they learn the truth about what happened to the 2-year-old daughter she was accused of murdering.
And for the public, that may be one of the most frustrating parts of the case: Despite all the speculation and theories, they will never know how or why Caylee Anthony died.
“I think we know as much as we ever will know,” said Beth Hough, a 27-year-old administrative assistant from Chicago who followed the trial. “We don’t know exactly what happened, but if we did, it would help people to finally just move on and to end the story.”
That’s what’s missing: an ending. And because we’re so used to neatly packaged, hour-long TV crime dramas where the bad guy is usually put behind bars, the fact Anthony could be convicted only of lying to police has left people unsatisfied. And they have been vocal about their dismay, turning to Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustration.
So what’s left? Some fuzzy defense claims that little Caylee drowned and that her grandfather tried to make an accident look like a homicide.
“One of the quite healthy and appropriate satisfactions we get out of a well-functioning justice system is the belief that the justice system will give us the best answers to questions,” said Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University.
A little girl ended up dead in the woods near her grandparents’ home with duct tape over her mouth, and her mother didn’t report her disappearance for more than a month. But how did Caylee die?
That’s where it gets complicated.
The defense said Caylee drowned in the family’s swimming pool. Prosecutors couldn’t say how Caylee died because the girl’s body was too decomposed to harvest DNA or other forensic evidence. So the state relied on circumstantial evidence: the trunk of Casey’s car smelled like a dead body to some witnesses; someone did an internet search for chloroform -- a chemical that can be used to knock someone unconscious -- at the Anthony home; and there was duct tape on Caylee’s skull when it was found six months after she was last seen in June 2008.
“If we don’t know how Caylee died, we can’t assign responsibility for the factors that led to her death. So there’s no justice,” said Maryann Gajos, a 51-year-old mother of two and a sixth-grade reading teacher in Inverness. “Watching all of these crime shows has spoiled all of us. In TV shows, the coroner always has the answer.”
But in this case, the coroner didn’t have the answer. Dr. Jan Garavaglia told the jury that Caylee had been murdered, but she couldn’t establish exactly how she died from only a skeleton.
And in the life-imitates-TV irony of this case, Garavaglia is also the star of her own reality TV show on Discovery Health Channel called “Dr. G: Medical Examiner,” in which she solves cases through autopsies.
“It’s frustrating that they can’t come up with a definitive reason for this girl dying,” said Sherri Cohen, a self-employed photographer from Fort Lauderdale. “Archaeologists can tell you about bones that were found thousands of years ago, but they can’t tell you how a 3-year-old girl died three years ago.”
How Casey Anthony acted in the weeks and months after Caylee’s disappearance also contribute to the perception of whether the jury ultimately delivered justice.
“I feel that the way Casey Anthony behaved during the month her baby was ‘missing’ and her lies to the police and others have really frustrated people who want to see justice served,” said Marjorie Stout of Pinellas County., the same area where the jury was chosen because of the intense publicity in the Orlando area. “Not just for what is perceived to be murdering one’s own child but her lack of concern for Caylee as well.”
Berman, the Ohio State professor, has another theory about why folks are so frustrated: Casey Anthony never spoke. The defense made a strategic decision for Anthony not to testify -- a decision that clearly worked in her favor, he said.
“It’s not just that the jury decision came out differently than we had hoped, it’s that the jury decision wasn’t a statement of her innocence. It was a statement of ‘We can’t figure out what happened.’ And in some sense, that’s even more frustrating than if the jury said, ‘We don’t think she did it.’”
That’s only amplified by the circumstances surrounding the case. After all, plenty of people are acquitted at trial because there isn’t enough evidence, said Jennifer Zedalis, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. But, she said, “there aren’t a lot of cases where that happens where the victim is a 2-year-old and the mother was out partying when her daughter was missing or dead.”