What I Think
- Published: 05 July 2011
Why The Casey Anthony Case Haunts Us
I am not a Texan but I’m the father of a Texan.
I’ll never forget the telephone call. I happened to be on the set of Urban Cowboy, which was shooting in Houston in the fall of 1979, when I checked in by phone with my wife, as I had been doing periodically all day, to learn that she had gone into labor early. I sped across Houston—not a small city—to arrive at Rosewood Hospital just in time to be whisked by the nursing staff into the delivery room. In no time, there she was—my daughter! After a nurse cleaned her off, she handed her to me. She felt so small and fragile as I held her in my arms. The moment—the first time I held my daughter—was and remains the defining event of my life.
I am not unique. Anyone who makes parenthood one, if not the, central focus of his or her life feels the same way. Because of this, from the day of her birth virtually until the day she went off to college, I could tell you, at any given time, where she was and what she was doing. I certainly could for the first three years of her life.
That’s why, I believe, the Casey Anthony first-degree murder trial captured the public’s imagination the way it did, making it a national, even international, sensation that became perhaps the most famous case in American legal history. At the core of this fascination is what Casey Anthony did for the 31 days after either her daughter Caylee went missing, as the disappearance of the child was first reported, or drowned accidentally in the family swimming pool, as the defense argued in the trial itself.
Her actions in those 31 days are actually well documented. On June 16, 2008, the last day Caylee was alive, Casey rented two movies with her boyfriend at Blockbuster, watched them with him at his apartment, and then spent the night with him, as if nothing unusual at all had transpired in her life. Then, over the next month, Casey continued to proceed in a normal fashion. She spent weekends and other nights with her boyfriend, visited nightclubs, entered a Hot Body contest on one night out, went shopping at stores like Target and Ikea, indulged in manicures, and got a tattoo on her shoulder that read “Bella Vita”—the Beautiful Life.
And sadly that’s what Casey thought she was doing for that month after her daughter’s demise—living the Beautiful Life. She never called 911 to report her daughter missing or accidentally drowned. Indeed, she avoided the subject of her daughter at all costs, repeatedly lying about Caylee’s whereabouts when asked by friends. Her mother finally called 911 herself after Casey had eluded her for a month, habitually sidestepping the issue of where Caylee was.
In the trial the defense argued that people respond to tragedy—and express grief—in different ways. Here is the problem. What Casey Anthony did for those 31 days is not an expression of grief, not according to any psychological model I’m aware of for a parent whose child held the central focus of his or her life. And that’s what’s haunting about this case, the reason why it has become the object of such emotional reactions. No loving parent I’ve met would ever—ever—act the way Casey Anthony did for 31 days starting on June 16, 2008. And, for me at least, that fact is not open to debate.
Nancy Grace, the in-your-face, no-holds-barred television personality who has driven much of the coverage of this case for the past three years, has been criticized for being an unapologetic advocate, especially after declaring at the time the Not Guilty verdicts were handed down, “Somewhere out there, the Devil is dancing tonight!” In her life, Grace has filled many roles—lawyer, prosecutor, author—but since November of 2007 she has been a mother. Today, her twins are slightly older than Caylee Anthony was when she died.