July 5, 2011

Casey Anthony: A Case Study in Failed Prosecution

This is the first of a pair of stories analyzing the Casey Anthony case from a layman's point of view.  Later this week, I'll address the defense.

I haven't talked much about the Casey Anthony case.  Frankly, I was disappointed at all the stories going around long before the case came to court.  It was obvious that the State Attorney had decided to start Anthony's trial in the media. And to me, that was a clear indication that they had no case.  After all, why release so much data that could taint the jury pool?  The answer; to pre-dispose the jury pool.  And once again, my earliest impressions were spot-on.

I did an earlier story about a defense offered  by Ms. Anthony's lawyers. 

But I digress.

Now that the Casey Anthony trial is over, and she's been found 'Not Guilty,' a lot of people are outraged, claiming that this is proof that the justice system is broken.

But no, the justice system is intact; this isn't a case of the system being broken, it's a case of a state attorney's office being broken.  Or at least, it shows a level of arrogance and incompetence that is unnacceptable.  But the justice system itself is intact.

Casey Anthony very likely killed her daughter.  Given the facts we have - which are too few - it's hard to place them in a meaningful context without assuming that Casey Anthony killed her daughter.

But the facts do not actually prove that; they only indicate it.  Our justice system demands that a prosecutor must prove his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt.  That means that if the conclusions drawn by the prosecutor or the evidence he presents can reasonably be explained away, the jury must find the defendant "not guilty."

And while I personally believe that Casey killed her daughter so she could party like a kid in her twenties, the fact is that the prosecutor did not and could not prove that.  It's a damned shame for Caylee and her grandparents, but it means that you and I are less likely to be convicted of a crime we did not commit.

Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton was apparently hoping that the jurors would be convinced by the narrative he could create with the available facts.  Instead, the jurors noticed that while he could demonstrate that the narrative was logical, and that out of all the available suspects, and that she fit that narrative best, Ashton couldn't actually prove that anyone killed little Caylee Anthony. 

Ashton can prove she's dead, and that someone dumped her body in the woods.  And that's about all he can prove.

We don't know what she actually died of. As far as I can tell from what's been released to date, the only causes of death not on the table are incineration or being run over by a steamroller.

I sense that you may not believe that the case against Casey was as weak as it was.  Let's take a look at it...

Cause of Death
The biggest hole in the prosecutor's case is the fact that we don't knowhow Caylee actually died.  You might assume that because the medical examiner declared the cause of death to be murder, there must be clear evidence to back this assertion.

But there isn't. 
...Orange County Medical Examiner Jan Garavaglia, told the jury that based on an examination of Caylee’s skeletal remains and all other available evidence that she had concluded that the case was a homicide – an intentional killing. But she added that she, as medical examiner, was unable to uncover enough evidence to identify the means used to kill Caylee. - CS Monitor
In short, Dr. Garavaglia assumed it was murder because Caylee's body had been stuffed in a garbage bag and dumped in the woods.  Which, I agree, is not an unreasonable assumption.  But it's still an assumption.  A

Conclusion: Our legal system requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and failed to prove how the victim died.

The Duct Tape as Murder Weapon
Caylee's remains had several pieces of duct tape where her face had been; it's consistent with tape across her mouth, and across her nose.  Tape in this location, had it been placed pre-mortem, would have sealed Caylee's airway.

Except that this isn't quite accurate.  There was tape with the body. It had some of the corpse's hair on it, and it was the right size to have been over the face.  The prosecution showed an adorable video of what the tape might have looked like on Caylee's face.  It did not provide a photograph or any other evidence showing that the the tape was ever actually on her face.

It was not possible to determine that the tape had been placed while she was still alive, and it was not even possible to prove that it was actually sealing her airway. 

One witness, forensic pathologist Dr. Wagner Spitz, testified that since DNA was not found on the tape, it must have been applied after she was dead - long after, in fact:
“They took a piece of duct tape in a roll – it comes in a roll – and tore off a number of sections, maybe this long, and stuck them on the skull,” Spitz said. He said it may have been done to hold the lower jaw in place and to keep the skull intact. - CS Monitor
Of course, this would indicate that the body had first rotted away, and then been placed in the bag and dumped, and no evidence was offered that indicated that this was the case.  But no evidence was offered that this was not the case, either.  Another question that remains unanswered.

Conclusion: while the tape could have been on her face, it was not conclusively on her face, and while it might have sealed her mouth and nose, it cannot be proven that it actually did so.

The Smell in the Trunk
Much has been made about the report that the trunk of Casey Anthony's car, after being recovered from an impound lot, smelled like "a dead body."  This lead to a detailed examination of the trunk, including samples of air that held chemical traces of odor.  But while the state of the art revealed the chemical markers that indicate a "decompositional event" could have had taken place in the trunk, the science  lacked the ability to determine that it was a human being that had decomposed.

Conclusion: while the smell of decay was distinctive, we can't prove that the smell came from any specific meat, let alone a human being.

Hair from a Dead Person
Much has been made about the discovery of Caylee's hair in the car.  As it turns out, they can't actually prove the hair was Caylee's.   But this single sample of hair, found in the trunk, displayed "hair banding."  This is a phenomena where the roots of hair form a dark band after death.  The argument is that this proves that a dead body was in the trunk.

Conclusion: since it can't be proven that the hair is actually Caylee's, the entire argument is moot.  It also ignores the fact that while the study showed that hair banding can occur after death, it did not state nor did it demonstrate that hair banding ONLY occurs after death.

Much has been made about the fact that someone at the Anthony household looked up "chloroform" on the internet, and that traces of chloroform were found in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car.
An expert in the field of human decomposition said the amount of chloroform found in the trunk of Casey's car was 10,000 times more than he would expect to see. - ABC News
First, let's note that this indicates that he would expect to see some amount of chloroform, just not as much as he believes was found.
The same testing done on a "control sample" of carpet from a similar make and model vehicle also showed chloroform, but the level was much lower, he testified. - WESH
The expert, Dr. Arpad Vass, scraped samples of acetic acid from the wheel wells of her car.  It is not only a by-product of chloroform, it's also a by-product of decomposition. 

Chloroform is made by mixing acetone, (a reduction of acetic acid), with bleach; both are common dark room chemicals, and Casey was a photographer. But did she every use a darkroom in the age of digital photography?  Highly doubtful.

But that's not the only way chloroform can appear:
Triclosan, widely used as an antibacterial ingredient in household hand sterilization products, breaks down rapidly when exposed to chlorinated water and produces toxic chemicals including chloroform... - NaturalNews.com
Conclusion; chloroform is a chemical one might expect to in the trunk of a car like Casey's, and its presences in high amounts may be explained by the presence of common household chemicals.

Casey's Constant Lying
The most compelling evidence against Casey Anthony is her own behavior during the period when Caylee first drops out of sight.  In the first month of Caylee's disappearance, Casey tells everyone - friends and family alike - that Caylee isn't missing.  She claimed that her daughter was with a nanny.  A nanny who took her daughter off to Disney World.  For days.

It's an absurd story from the start: Casey didn't have a full-time job.  Having failed to graduate high school, it's not surprising she didn't have a good job. 

When the police finally become involved, Anthony claims that she had lost the phone number for the nanny, and that the nanny had moved.  She identified the apartment she claimed the nanny had lived in; not only had the unit been empty for months, it was in a 55 or older community, and Anthony described her nanny as being in her thirties.
She even had a name for the nanny; and the only person who had that name didn't know Casey Anthony - and had alibis.

Casey then claimed that someone she worked with at Universal Studios had introduced her to the nanny.  So the police went to Universal with Anthony, who led them around the park for awhile before admitting that she did not work there.

Since we now know that Caylee Anthony was already dead at this point, the lies are particularly damning. 

Soon, new stories start coming from Casey Anthony; her defense lawyers claim that she was frantically searching for her daughter.  But these claims evaporate under photographs of Anthony partying at clubs every evening, and statements from friends that she never seemed outwardly concerned about her daughter, and that she dismissed inquiries with the lies about the nanny.

Conclusion: while a stunning indictment of Casey Anthony's lack of concern for her daughter, the absurd fairy tales she spun still do not constitute proof that she killed anyone.

Our justice system is designed to prevent innocent people from being sent to jail unjustly by allowing the defendant to have a counselor who makes sure that the state has met the burden of proof.  And in this case, it is apparent that the state really did fail to meet this standard.


  1. You're a clueless moron.

  2. the autopsy also states that toxocology is negative for choloroform.

  3. i have been trying to search the web to find out about the casey trial and this is the BEST review i have read... the prosecution were arrogant assholes... but the worst thing, they fucking LIED!!!!!! casey was sent a joke on myspace and she is such a fucking idiot (it is reported that she did not pass high school) she did not understand and did a search for chloroform that lasted 3 mins... not 84 searches... 1 fucking search... then with this manufactured evidence, they go on to pull chloroform in the trunk out of their ass and have their expert say the substance in the trunk was "consistent" with chloroform... the internet searches and the chloroform "evidence" should never even been allowed into the trial... a complete fucking scam and a disgrace... i think casey is a fucking piece of shit... but i have no idea if she "murdered" her daughter...

  4. So your saying that they cannot technically prove that there was a dead body in the trunk and a strand of hair that showed decomposition? Well, a child was dead. Don't tell me that the decomp was from meat, that might have been so if there wasn't a dead child you idiot!!

  5. There is a smell of decomposition. There is a dead body.
    There is no conclusive evidence that the two are related.

    Do I think they are related? Of course I do. Can anyone prove it? Apparently not.

  6. meet...not meat.

    and I really liked this synopsis. Better than any other explanation as to why she got off. Thanks for your contribution.

  7. I think a lot of legal systems and law enforcement officers from around the world have learnt from this case.

    Recently there was a murder here in Australia and the details coming out about the murder case are very hush hush. The news has very little info from the police to hand out except very small details that can't taint the possible future jury.

    Everyone is speculating of cause, it's always the way with murder cases no matter what. But with this case it really does feel like the police are making sure to get everything lined up straight before they go for the blow. And I feel that this really is the best way for law enforcement to proceed.

    They aren't keeping secrets but they aren't also causing possible counter arguments which could sound plausible to a jury.

    Do I think Casey is pathological liar - absolutely
    Do I think she lead the police around like donkeys following a carrot tied onto stick - yeah well she got away with the first lie so why wouldn't she keep it up.
    Do I think she has any true sense of remorse even if it was for parental negligence - Hell no. She got caught out. She got caught out and she is feeling sorry for herself. Hence the theatrics. People do not go out and party like everything is like it was before they had a child while their child is missing/possibly dead.
    If she "did" commit the crime, has she got a high chance of re-offending and murdering again? - Chances are high. She knows what they look for and how to cover her tracks both physical and psychologically. Given the right moment in time, it will happen and next time no one is going to know about it.