commentary by Patrick H. Moore
It’s been three years now since Casey Anthony was acquitted of first degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee Anthony. On this anniversary of her acquittal, Florida criminal defense attorney Cheney Mason, who is writing a book about the case and who worked pro bono on Ms. Anthony’s defense team, has made a number of rather fascinating, and perhaps controversial, remarks about both the case and Ms. Anthony herself.
It is noted that Mason , a former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Lawyers, had been disgusted at that time of the trial because the conviction-hungry media had not only worked overtime to drum up anti-Casey Anthony vitriol, but had also gone after her lawyer, the relatively inexperienced Jose Baez, with all the delicacy of a mastodon gumming a hairy mammoth to death in a Siberian tar pit.
I sat down with Mason exclusively to talk with him about his new book, “Justice in America.” In it, he insists that the jury got it right, and the rest of the country had it wrong.
Baez started asking Mason, a Florida death penalty qualified attorney, for advice. That propelled Mason to want to meet Anthony. He remembers going to the Orange County jail to introduce himself.
“Could she look you in the eye?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” Mason responded, describing her demeanor as quiet, afraid and unsure.
Mason explains that after meeting Anthony, with her approval, he decided to join the team pro bono.
Mason reports that just before jury selection, he “got word that Anthony’s handwritten letters describing sexual abuse at the hands of her father were going to be made public under Florida’s open records law.”
“We had them one at a time come into my personal office and made the announcement: ‘Monday’s going to be a bad day for you George. I felt man to man I would tell you in advance.””
Mason said George Anthony’s reaction was “basically none.” “He looked at me … I turned sideways a little bit, he clapped his hands down on his thighs — let out a big sigh but didn’t say anything,” Mason said.
“He never admitted doing anything,” Mason said. “All we had were the letters and (separately) the statements Casey had made to the psychiatrist.”
Nonetheless, Mason was shocked when during his opening statement, Jose Baez told the jury that his client was a victim of sexual abuse by her father. Mason was also concerned because he felt that Anthony’s defense team could not possibly prove the allegation unless George Anthony confessed to the alleged child abuse while on the witness stand, which of course he did not, denying it emphatically when questioned by Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton.
The prosecution spent weeks attempting and failing to build its case before finally resting on June 15, 2011. When it was Anthony’s team’s turn, they maintained that Caylee was not murdered but rather drowned in the Anthony’s above-ground pool, and that Casey and her father then panicked and covered up the child’s death. George Anthony, of course, denied that in his testimony and as for Casey Anthony, she stated:
“I didn’t kill my daughter.”
As the case ground along, the prosecutors, apparently fearing it was losing, did what prosecutors often do in such situations; they proposed a plea agreement and Anthony was approached with the possibility.
“Casey got very angry about that. She got very angry to hear talk about it. She didn’t want to hear it,” Mason said. “Casey would fight it ’til her last breath. She didn’t kill her daughter.”
In his interview, Mason opined that it took plenty of courage and strength for Anthony to refuse to even discuss the possibility of a plea agreement, considering that if convicted of first degree murder, given the incendiary nature of the case, she might very well have received the death penalty.
Finally, on July 5, 2011, after deliberating for 10 hours, the jurors announced they had reached a verdict.
“She was holding her breath like a deep sea diver, waiting as we all were,” Mason said.
As is now part of true crime history, Anthony was acquitted of the most serious charges, including first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter of a child. She was convicted on four misdemeanors for providing false information to law enforcement officers.
* * * * *
Although Anthony has been one of the most reviled defendants in American trial history, based in part on her flamboyant, party-hearty lifestyle during the six-week period in which search crews searched for her daughter’s remains, she now appears to be a sadder, wiser and more thoughtful person.
Due to the public hate and continued threats on her life, she currently lives in an undisclosed location in Florida and doesn’t leave her residence.
“She has to live constantly on guard. She can’t go out in public,” Mason said.
Sequestered in her secret location, Anthony reportedly supports herself by doing clerk and secretarial work.
“I think Casey has a lot of world left to have to deal with. She hasn’t been freed from her incarceration yet ’cause she can’t go out. She can’t go to a beauty parlor, she can’t go shopping to a department store, she can’t go to a restaurant, she can’t even go to McDonald’s. She can’t do anything,” Mason said.
Mason explains that Anthony really “does not have any blood family anymore.” Although she may have had a few conversations with her mother, according to Mason, they do not have a “relationship”, and, unsurprisingly, she has no relationship with her father.
If Anthony has a real friend, it is probably Shirley Mason:
“I’m a cross between a friend, a mother, but not a mother — only someone who is older who has had experience in the world she has not had,” she said.
“My hope for her is it gets better for her and the world or the people who have been so hateful can let that go and they can move on,” she said.
Anthony “tries to make her life work,” Shirley Mason said. She takes care of herself and stays physically fit by working out in the house.
Although Anthony declined CNN’s request for an interview, Cheney Mason believes that she “wants to speak out”, so perhaps one day, when the time is right, she will “face the nation”.
* * * * *
It’s also sad and tragic that Caylee Anthony had her life snuffed out by unforgiving water at such a young age, especially given that based on Casey Anthony’s apparent new-found maturity, it’s entirely possible that she would be a decent mother now if her daughter was still alive.
I have been working with criminal defense attorneys for nearly 11 years now. Some of them are very good; some of them are mediocre; and some of them combine true expertise with caring and compassion. Although Cheney Mason appears to obviously love the limelight and is not above trying to make money through the publication of his book on the Anthony trial, he does seem to care about Casey Anthony at this point.
I have been taken to task for falling for Cheney Mason’s “rap” and am probably guilty of naivete. I was not aware that he was originally of the belief that Casey Anthony was guilty of murdering her daughter. My bad. With respect to the book he is publishing, it is my experience that most lawyers will not write about the cases they are involved in and it certainly suggests a desire on Mason’s part to cash in on the notoriety of the case. On the other hand, I am not convinced that Mason does not take a fatherly interest in Anthony at this point.
Until I am proven wrong, however, I stick to my perhaps naive belief that Anthony is probably a better person, post-trial, than she was before all this happened. However, I obviously cannot prove this.
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