Getting Away with Murder

Part One - Casey Anthony
A series of three posts about accused killers who, in my opinion, have gotten away with murder. In each entry, I will explain any updates and then excerpt the Afterword, my personal reflections on the case, found at the end of each book.

I wrote Mommy’s Little Girl and St, Martin’s Press published it more than a year before Casey Anthony went to trial for the murder of her toddler daughter, Caylee. In the process of completing the manuscript, I reviewed a mountain of documents relating to the scientific evidence, police reports and interviews with those close to the investigation, including Casey Anthony. I also visited the area and interviewed many individuals.

I believed, without any doubt, that the evidence available was thorough, complete and compelling. I had no doubt that Casey would be convicted because of it. I, like many others, were stunned when the jury acquitted Casey of all but one minor charge.


The following the Afterword, excerpted from Mommy’s Little Girl:

Why? The death of little Caylee Marie would seem senseless no matter how she died.  An innocent child deserves the opportunity to stretch a long shadow into the future. If a toddler dies from illness, we direct our anger at God. When it’s by accident, we look for someone to blame. But when a precious one is lost through murder, the natural response is outrage and horror.

Still, we want to know why because until we do, we cannot do anything to prevent it from happening again to another child. We have to believe there is a way to prevent such a death, or we slide into an endless pit of despair. Our only hope is knowledge, awareness of the red flags that portend disaster and an ability to recognize the warnings in real time.

In initial interviews, many of Casey’s friends were convinced that Caylee’s death had to have been an accident—something bad happened without any evil intention, causing Casey to panic and dispose of the body.  Even Cindy and George contemplated that scenario when they talked to each other about the pool ladder.

Casey’s Uncle Rick started there but quickly reached a different conclusion.  “She looks at people like they’re objects.  They have a shelf life—when she’s through with them, they’re gone.  Caylee was an object, a possession…  I know in my mind and heart that Casey planned it.  Caylee was getting old enough that she could tell on her and that was complicated by the tremendous jealousy Casey felt towards Cindy.”

Just as Casey’s lies made it clear to many that she was involved in her daughter’s death, her months of silence made it apparent that what happened wasn’t an accident.  If Caylee drowned in the pool, or overdosed from medication intended just to make her sleep or died from any other mishap, surely Casey would have stepped forward and accepted responsibility, throwing herself on the mercy of the court.  But she did not.  She clung to her lies and toyed with her hearts of her family members.

Were her tears during videotaped conversations with her parents born from self-pity, were they manufactured for the purpose of manipulation or were they the product of genuine regret?  She may have sincerely regretted her actions after the fact when she realized that by killing little Caylee, she had eliminated the one person who believed everything she said without question, who looked up to her with adoration and loved her without passing judgment.

If Casey did indeed suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as some have suggested, the death of Caylee wouldn’t fit.  A young child feeds into a narcissist’s need for adulation.

Psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall suggested Casey’s actions were the product of a Borderline Personality Disorder, saying, “Casey is a bully.  She uses words like weapons.  She uses them as objects to control other people…  There’s a ragefulness, impulsivity, lack of empathy toward other people including her own child, a disregard and violation of the rights of others.”  But one of the hallmarks of this disorder is self-injury, of which there appears to be no evidence.

Psychologist and author Dr. Juliann Mitchell wrote that “Casey is a sociopathic, superficial sensationalist…  She fits the description of someone with an antisocial personality disorder…  Everything she does is designed to protect herself by outwitting and outsmarting the legal authorities…  Others are always expendable…  Sociopaths are incapable of remaining in love, or even selflessly loving anyone.”  That diagnosis seems to track with the last few years of Casey’s life but does not seem compatible with her friends’ earlier memories.

Some have turned to Dr. Otto Kemberg’s theory of malignant narcissism as the diagnosis that answers the mystery of Casey Anthony’s actions in the wake of her daughter’s disappearance.  He saw that condition as being the mid-point on the spectrum between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Anti-social personality disorder—a place where there are feelings of entitlement, superiority, invincibility and immunity to the laws of others.  A disorder that often leads to the destruction of the source of frustration.

There is a lot of overlap in the symptoms of different personality disorders.  But no matter where you place Casey on that continuum, you have an individual whose self-absorption and insensitivity to others is a destructive force, which damages anything that stands in its way.

It is easy to point to her parents and blame them for creating this monster but is it fair?  Just as model citizens dedicated to helping others can be the product of dreadful parents, perfect parents sometimes nurture hellions.  It is impossible to say how much of the blame for Casey’s actions derives from the way she was enabled by her parents.

As a close observer of these events and of the Anthony family, I don’t know how I’d react if I were in George and Cindy’s shoes.  I hope that I would be able to embrace reason.  But who knows?  That acceptance would come with a huge burden of guilt—one that very easily could lead to the suicidal ideation George experienced in January.  There is nothing in life that can prepare you for being the family of a victim of such an awful crime, no less its possible perpetrator.

Perhaps the Anthony family could have dealt with their unenviable position better if they had not been trapped in the piercing headlights of national attention, if they had not been constantly besieged by news sources wanting sound bites and headlines and attention-seekers wanting to be part of the story.  Maybe with time for quiet reflection, they could have come to terms with the situation without the hostility and frustration that erupted in the months after Caylee’s disappearance.

Could they have acted sooner to prevent this tragedy from happening?  You could argue that was possible.  They could have encouraged their daughter to give up her child for adoption.  They could have fought for custody of their granddaughter when it seemed that Casey had begun to abandon responsibility.  Looking back, it is easy to see other possibilities; but how could they know where their lives were headed?

After the fact, they, like the rest of us, were caught up in a carnival of bright lights, loud voices and the public’s ceaseless appetite for entertainment.  This story had it all—a young, attractive perpetrator, a resort city locale and an endless supply of interesting side attractions.

Often lost in the sensationalism was the victim, Caylee Marie Anthony—the one little girl that mattered the most.

What of other little children?  Is there anything we can do to save future lives?  Our only hope is vigilance and empathy.  We need to be compassionate and non-judgmental toward women facing an unwanted pregnancy.  We need to recognize the warning signs of a parent whose irresponsibility extends to their child. As a society, we need to be ever-vigilant about the well-being of our most helpless.  With luck and determination, we can protect the little ones who cannot protect themselves—not every time, not in every place.  But to save a single child from Caylee Marie’s fate is an accomplishment worthy of any sacrifice.

Diane Fanning, author of MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL