The Story: Caylee Marie Anthony (August 9, 2005 – ca. June 2008) was an American two-year-old girl who was reported missing in Orlando, Florida, in July 2008, and whose remains were found in a wooded area near her home in December 2008. Her then 22-year-old mother, Casey Marie Anthony, was tried for the first degree murder of Caylee but was acquitted. She was, however, convicted of misdemeanor counts of providing false information to police officers.
Caylee lived with her mother, Casey, and her maternal grandparents, George and Cindy Anthony. On July 15, 2008, Caylee was reported missing to 9-1-1 by Cindy, who said she had not seen Caylee for 31 days and that Casey’s car smelled like a dead body had been inside of it. She said Casey had given varied explanations as to Caylee’s whereabouts and finally admitted that day that she had not seen her daughter for weeks. Casey fabricated various stories, including telling detectives the child had been kidnapped by a fictitious nanny on June 9, and that she had been trying to find her, too frightened to alert the authorities. With the child still missing, Casey was charged with first degree murder in October and pled not guilty. On December 11, Caylee’s skeletal remains were found with a blanket inside a trash bag in a wooded area near the family home. Investigative reports and trial testimony alternated between duct tape being found near the front of the skull and on the mouth of the skull. The medical examiner mentioned duct tape as one reason she ruled the death a homicide, but officially listed it as “death by undetermined means”.
The trial lasted six weeks, from May to July 2011. The prosecution sought the death penalty and alleged Casey murdered her daughter by administering chloroform, then applying duct tape, because she wanted to free herself from parental responsibilities. The defense team, led by Jose Baez, countered that the child had drowned accidentally in the family’s swimming pool on June 16, 2008, and that Casey lied about this and other issues because of a dysfunctional upbringing, which they said included sexual abuse by her father. The defense did not present evidence as to how Caylee died, nor evidence that Casey was sexually abused as a child, but challenged every piece of the prosecution’s evidence, calling much of it “fantasy forensics”. Casey did not testify during the trial. On July 5, the jury found Casey not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, but guilty of four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer.
With credit for time served, she was released on July 17. The verdict was greeted with public outrage, and was both attacked and defended by media and legal commentators. Some complained that the jury misunderstood the meaning of reasonable doubt, while others said the prosecution relied too heavily on the defendant’s allegedly poor moral character because they had been unable to show conclusively how the victim had died. Time magazine described the case as “the social media trial of the century”.