The state of Florida has concluded its compelling, though largely circumstantial case in chief against Casey Anthony, the accused mother who allegedly suffocated her child Caylee to death with duct tape. Casey’s alleged motive was that she wanted Caylee dead so the yummy mummy could party hardy without having to worry about finding a babysitter.
But given the potential emotional impact of some of their evidence, the prosecution finale fell short. As I predicted Tuesday morning, their last witness was Bobby Williams a tattoo artist who etched “La Bella Vita” on Casey’s left shoulder in flowery, starry lettering. The court later said that it was Italian rather than bad Spanish and that it meant “The Beautiful Life.” The prosecution intent was to show what a heartless bitch Casey is. How could the slut get a tattoo celebrating her newly ‘beautiful life’ just sixteen days after her toddler died?
Whether little Caylee was suffocated by her mom, as the prosecution alleges; or died by accidental drowning, as the defense maintains, the child was certainly dead by July 2nd, when both sides agree she got the tattoo. So why wasn’t Casey in mourning?
Doesn’t it prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she murdered her two year ten month old toddler whose adorable face is now familiar to everyone who has followed the case?
Yes and no. Had the tattoo testimony gone smoothly it would have been powerful conclusion to a presentation that strongly suggests that Casey committed the ultimate crime. But suggesting isn’t proving. And when Latino defense attorney Jose Baez asked tattoo artist Williams whether many people get tattoos to commemorate rather than mock lost loves ones, Baez planted the seed that maybe the inscription wasn’t so bizarre and obnoxious after all.
And even if Casey is responsible in whole or in part for the death of her child, does the crime merit the extremely rare application of the death penalty? This defendant is surely the most unpopular woman in America right now; but should she forfeit her own life for the crime?
As the prosecution rested this Wednesday morning, the defense made the pro forma motion for a directed verdict of acquittal from the judge. The grounds, as they usually are in these motions, is that the prosecution has failed to make its case; that they failed to prove either premeditated homicide or aggravated child abuse, and that therefore the case should be dismissed. The motion was denied. They almost always are. But the judge missed a chance to do the right thing.
Because the real issue is the death penalty.
Since there is scant evidence that little Caylee Marie was neglected or tortured or starved to death, or in the words of the Florida statute was murdered by aggravated child abuse that was ‘heinous, atrocious and cruel,’ can Casey really be guilty of First Degree Murder as charged? As her other attorney Cheney Mason argued Wednesday morning, “there is no evidence of any prior trauma, injury or violence to this child whatsoever.” So should she face execution, or is the mother instead guilty of a lesser crime, like Murder Two or Aggravated Manslaughter?
Unfortunately, Judge Belvin Perry said that the issue was a matter of fact, rather than a matter of law, and that therefore it was for the jury to decide, not the judge.
He was wrong. And my point of view is buttressed by the fact that women are almost never put to death for their crimes, however hideous. In fact only two women have been executed in the last century in Florida. One of them was Aileen Wournos, the infamous serial killer of seven, whose sick life is portrayed in the movie ‘Monster,’ starring Charlize Theron. The only other female recipient of Florida’s death penalty was the aptly nicknamed ‘Black Widow,’ another multiple killer.
Regardless of how the Casey Anthony trial turns out, I hope it focuses renewed attention on the 3-5 American children killed each day in this country, usually by their parents, step-parents or some other adult in the home, usually the mother’s boyfriend. Latino households have more than our share of these dreadful crimes. Having covered the sustained torture murder cases here in New York of Eliza Izquierdo, Lisa Steinberg and Nixzmary Brown, and attended their funerals, I am still haunted by their memories.
Let Caylee Marie Anthony’s death stand for something other than raw revenge against her mother. Let the lesson be that if a parent doesn’t want the responsibility of raising his or her child, let someone else do it.
The defense case begins Thursday. Attorney Baez tells me that he will begin with a vigorous attack on the state’s forensic evidence against his client. So the melancholy saga continues.
Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.