Cut to the chase: There was a striking and dramatic verdict yesterday (July 5, 2011) to the Casey Anthony trial, which has been going on for the past three years in Orlando, Florida. The trail concerned the death of a two-year-old girl (Caylee), and her mother Casey, who stood trial on the murder of Caylee that was allegedly committed by dosing her with chloroform, suffocating her with duct tape and dumping her body in a wooded area. Yesterday’s verdict cleared Casey Anthony of all murder charges of her daughter Caylee (which would have likely carried a death penalty sentence had she been found guilty) and instead was found guilty of far lesser charges of providing false or misleading information about the case to law enforcement. For those of you who knew little to nothing about this case before yesterday (or even before now) there is no need to feel bad (I too knew virtually nothing of this case before the verdict was announced on Tuesday). However, for every person that passed over the tabloid reports of the case over the past few months/years, there were many (especially parents) who were utterly transfixed with the gruesome and tragic nature of the case. It is safe to say that the case captured the imagination (albeit a dark side of the imagination) of many parents struggling to grasp the meaning of the crime.
Much like the O.J. Simpson trial of the early 1990s, people have been utterly riveted by this case, with both sympathy for the tragic Caylee and absolute contempt for the mother on trial (I can’t say I have heard much defensive chatter for the scorned Casey who, at best, acted with an unimaginable level of neglect when it came to the wellbeing of her child). It is no surprise that the not guilty verdict handed down yesterday enraged many of the faithful following this case. According to the jury, the evidence was far too circumstantial, tenuous, and indirect to provide a clear conviction, so there for she was acquitted on all charges except for that of providing false information to investigators.
The particulars of the case and the allegations are truly horrible and not worth recounting here (if you are curious, you can read reports just about anywhere) but possibly the takeaway from all of this is not how justice was or wasn’t served (in this case justice was served in the sense that Anthony got a fair trial – but it still sucks for everyone that cared about the death of this little girl), but how we as concerned citizens and parents reacted and internalized this tragic tale. For many (especially parents) moving through the specifics of this case required them to try on both what it would be like to be the accused mother and what it would be like to give in to all of your most base and unreasonable reactions to the frustration of parenting. Lisa Belkin, who writes on issues of parenting for the Motherlode blog on The New York Times website said:
“And for some, I think, the fascination is mingled with fear. Not of the unthinkable, but of the familiar. The flashes of anger, of temper, of regret, or inattention that can be part of parenting. The moments of wishing you could trade the exhaustion and responsibility for a former, less enmeshed life. Is this case what happens when those flashes and moments explode and take control?”
Beyond the undeniable tragedy of the case (there is a child who died senselessly and a world of pain that continues to swirl around her absence) and the sordid details exploited by the media circus, what are we to derive from all of this pain and commotion? Does the case, or our fascination with the case reveal something about who we are as parents or fallible beings? Is it the macabre nature of the case, or the extremity, that intrigues us or in some dark reaches of our minds are we trying not to imagine what it would be like to fall so far from being the model parents that we think we really are?