In December 2008, the body of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony was found a quarter-mile from her Orlando home. She had been reported missing by her grandmother, with whom she lived, along with her grandfather and her mother, Casey.
Three years and countless headlines later, Casey Anthony’s murder trial was the courtroom spectacle of 2011 (or, as CNN described it, “one hot ticket”). The media furor had been whipped up partly by Casey’s astonishing number of lies, which had eroded her faltering credibility. Still, no one had a clue how sharply this trial would seize the public imagination in 2011. Obsessed “tot mom” watchers descended on Florida from across the country, waiting in long lines overnight to duke it out for one of the coveted 50 courtroom seats reserved for the public.
Police were called in more than once to deal with brawls and stampedes.
A media circus
A look at Yahoo! searches revealed that the highest percentage of people following the Casey Anthony case online were women in the 35-54 age range. No surprise there — as the success of shows like “Law & Order” and “Bones” have proven, women do love a good mystery. And in the publishing world, women — often middle-class — are more drawn to true crime. But it wasn’t just homemakers and mommy bloggers showing up for a glimpse of the live-trial drama. The proceedings spawned a media circus on par with the 1997 O.J. Simpson trial and the 1993 Menendez brothers’ trial. More than 600 media passes were given out, and every major network had at least one reporter at the Anthony trial. The coverage was salacious and predictably sensational, much of it originated by Casey’s own defense lawyer, Jose Baez. He referred to her as a “lying slut” and accused Casey’s father, George, of sexually molesting her. On the stand, Casey’s ex-fiance testified that she had also mentioned being sexually abused by her brother, Lee.
The more the trial coverage intensified, though, the more the public freaked out — and the ratings skyrocketed.
A stunning verdict
For most Anthony-watchers, the verdict was a disappointing reminder that real life was nothing like our favorite prime-time police procedurals. We didn’t get our righteous Hollywood ending, no matter how fervently Nancy Grace fought for it. (Her postverdict assessment that “the devil is dancing tonight” was typically, uh, candid.) Other media types were equally flummoxed — “The Talk’s” Julie Chen broke down crying when she announced the verdict on-air. ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams tweeted that he was “stunned.” And celebrities such as Sharon Osbourne, Niecy Nash, and the Kardashian sisters also took to Twitter to vent their shock.
In the end, Casey Anthony was convicted of nothing more than lying to police and being a terrible mom — neither of which necessarily make her a murderer. In the court of public opinion, she was already sentenced to life, which will surely make the rest of her days insufferable.
People are, naturally, still curious about what the rest of those days will look like, searching on Yahoo! for “where is casey anthony.” She’s been forced to stay in Florida on probation for check fraud, and she seems to be in hiding. In July, Casey was offered a porn deal with Vivid Entertainment (no word on whether she accepted, but at this point, nothing would shock us). More recent Casey news was less glamorous: In September it was reported that she was “broke, sober, and unemployed.”
Laura Barcella is a freelance writer and a Yahoo! copy editor. She has written pop culture, news, arts, and lifestyle pieces for more than 40 publications, including Salon.com, the Village Voice, AlterNet, ELLEGirl, Nylon, Time Out New York, CNN.com, BUST, and the Chicago Sun-Times. She’s also the editor of the forthcoming anthology Madonna and Me, a collection of Madge-centric personal essays by women writers.