The Not So Obvious Lessons From The Casey Anthony Trial

The Not So Obvious Lessons From The Casey Anthony Trial

Posted Jul 14, 2011

Enough articles have been written criticizing the result of the Casey Anthony case. I am not here to do that. While cases such as this can be polarizing, they can also be instructive. After following the case, here are some things I thought stood out as significant, but perhaps were not so obvious.

CSI Effect

For a long time now, we in the law enforcement professions have noted and at times feared, what has come to be known as the CSI Effect. What is this? The false expectation that, as in the television series, conclusive and irrefutable evidence will always be found at the crime scene. If life were only so.

As many of my colleagues know, rare is the crime scene where there is a lot of incriminating evidence. Unfortunately, criminals don't roll their fingerprints on surfaces leaving perfect prints - usually all we find are smudges. Many criminals know that bleach destroys DNA evidence as does high humidity and swamp-like conditions. Some rapists now carry prophylactics with them or make victims shower before they leave. Nevertheless, jurors, having witnessed hundreds of hours of CSI type shows, fully expect the evidence to be overwhelming when most cases tried today are in fact circumstantial.

By being over reliant on forensic evidence, jurors erroneously reject other kinds of information which should be considered. For instance, in America, the people who most often hurt children are the parents or care givers; similarly spouses or former relations are usually responsible for adult deaths at home. So we don't have to look far. And in these cases, DNA is not an issue because these individuals have, or have had legitimate access to the victim so, unless they cut themselves while committing the crime, DNA is irrelevant. Also, keep in mind that there are many ways to kill without leaving any kind of DNA evidence, especially where the victim is small or can't resist.

When jurors expect forensic evidence to be decisive we find that they become intellectually lazy. Rather than engage the problem for hours by looking at what they have, it is easier for them to say, "We wanted more." In most cases there is enough there, it just has to be worked intellectually. Justice requires that no stone be left unturned, that jurors analyze every fact assiduously. It is intellectual laziness to say there wasn't enough.

Jury Selection

In most criminal cases in America there is no need for jury consultants. However, there is a reason why they exist and it is primarily to assist the defense pick the jury that will best help the defense, not jurisprudence. I will repeat: that will best help the defense, not jurisprudence. What this means is that jury consultants (mostly hired by the defense) are there to "game" the system in one direction.

What kind of jurors do jury consultants and thus defense attorneys prefer in homicide cases? Perhaps better not to offend by looking instead at who usually doesn't get selected: College graduates especially those with graduate degrees. The more years you were in college the lower the chance a jury consultant wants you for that jury. Firemen are out as are police officers. They prefer to keep Republicans out and members of the NRA. If you own or have owned several successful companies you won't be selected. If you have a job where you manage a lot of people and need to make difficult decisions everyday, they don't want you and the same goes for human resource officers for large firms.

If you read Scientific American, Nature, Science, The Economist, or International Affairs, you need not worry. I could go on and on. One could argue, perhaps they just don't want to burden these already busy folks? Interesting argument - but it is vacuous. For in fact, as you read the qualities of those that defense wants off the jury, we get a sense for the kinds of folks whom they prefer.

One more thing and this is important, jury consultants don't want leaders on that jury. The Casey Anthony case is just such an example. In this case, the jury was selected from Pinellas County, rather than Orange County (where the trial took place), in order to pick a more unbiased jury. Pinellas County arguably has one of the largest concentrations of retired professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, military officers) in the country and yet none made the jury.

You never hear of a Captain or a Major or a Colonel (even retirees) serving on a jury where a jury consultant is involved - especially in homicide cases. Here are people accustomed to making command decisions, who know how to think quickly and decisively, but they are weeded out. Why? For the very traits that make them special: they have high situational awareness, they can think and size up individuals quickly, and they know how to lead. Which is why, in the OJ Simpson case, one of the jury voir dire questions was: "Do you seek out positions of leadership? (Please check answer) Always? Often? Seldom? Never?" Incidentally, those who have served as officers most likely also know the distinctive odor of decomposing bodies and how it is different from mere garbage.

Getting back to those they don't like. If you are in a job where you are used to doing high-level cognitive tasks, where decisions require intellectual rigor, they don't want you either. They don't want people who are willing to work hard to connect the dots. Also if you are an independent thinker, no need to worry - people who prefer consensus and harmony will more likely be selected. Obviously no defense attorney or jury consultant is going to get exactly what they want, but they will try. And of course, it only takes one juror to derail a conviction.

It is said that in the Casey Anthony case we should not blame the jurors. I agree - we shouldn't. That is like buying lemmings as pets and then being surprised when they act lemming like. Those jurors were preferred by the defense team for a reason and they performed as expected.

Intra Species Predators

Lastly, it is hard for us to deal with psychopathy. We as a society have difficulty absorbing their capacity to be, as Robert Hare says, "intra-species predators" lacking remorse or a conscience (see Robert Hare's, "Without Conscience"). We struggle to understand why an anti-social personality would do the things they do. We try to understand them using normal/moral brains not realizing that they, by their very nature, are using a very abnormal/amoral brains and that is where many get derailed.

Intra-species predators do what they do because they want to and we need not go further in understanding a Hitler, Pol Pot, John Wayne Gacey, or a Ted Bundy as to actual motive - it is a psychological curiosity but not a necessity of jurisprudence. That is why the law does not require us to find the motive - the law only requires us to look at the acts and intent. Motive and intent are not the same thing.

Many in the TV audience had a visceral reaction to Casey Anthony even before the verdict was handed down. Some felt this way as they witnessed the blatant lies she told to police officers trying to find her daughter Caylee Marie Anthony. Others were appalled at her ferocity in arguing with her parents who had done so much to make her life easier and were merely trying to help. Some were angered because the only one hindering the investigation of Caylee Anthony was Casey Anthony, the mother, whose behavior post disappearance was best characterized by her own defense attorney as, "a lying, no-good slut."

Both Robert Hare and John Reid Meloy (author of The Psychopathic Mind) report that predators have a tendency to make us feel queasy, uncomfortable, anxious, or even irritated. As Gavin de Becker in his book "The Gift of Fear" cautioned us, we have the same reaction to dangerous reptiles for an evolutionary reason: our safety. After we witnessed Casey Anthony lying, obfuscating, intentionally and repeatedly leading investigators astray as to the whereabouts of her daughter Caylee, our stomachs turn in revulsion because we are witnessing, first hand, someone who appears to have all these features:

1. No remorse or conscience - they don't feel bad about what they do, only getting caught
2. Glibness/superficial charm - when they want to, and it benefits them, they act as they need to - they are chameleon like & superficially interesting
3. Aggressively narcissistic - everything has to be their way, if you don't agree with them, you are a hindrance and an obstacle
4. They believe themselves above the law which for them are formalities to bend or break
5. Grandiose sense of self-worth - they over value themselves and their needs and devalue the needs or worth of others.
6. They are pathological liars; lying even when they don't have to and doing so with great facility
7. Cunning/manipulative - extremely versatile from a very early age
8. Lack of guilt - a key feature of psychopathy. While others are being destroyed physically or emotionally, they don't feel a thing
9. Emotionally shallow - their emotions are lacking or blunted, or at times inappropriate
10. Callous/lack of empathy - don't really care about the feeling of others only themselves
11. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions - always someone else's fault never their own.
12. High need for stimulation/proneness to boredom - they would rather play than work which is routine and boring
13. Parasitic lifestyle - would rather let others work - better to leech money off of other than earn money
14. Poor behavioral control - irresponsible behavior is a large factor as is putting others in danger
15. Promiscuous sexual behavior - what some would call "slutty" behavior
16. Lack of realistic, long-term goals - they live for the moment without planning for the future
17. Impulsiveness - doing what they want when they want as they want
18. Criminal versatility - the ability to commit crimes and lie with ease
19. Criminal behavior - they routinely steal, cheat, lie, or fail to comply with laws
20. Use people - people are to be used or manipulated, not cared for

And so this is why, I think, so many reacted as they did to Casey Anthony pretrial and post verdict. Knowing that a person such as this, with so many pathological traits, is about to be set free makes us reel back in horror. What we must never be surprised by is how cruel and inhuman individuals like this can be, when they chose to, sometimes on a whim.

Have I mentioned already Caylee was thrown in a swamp-like area in a garbage bag along with duct tape around her face? Now, who would do such a thing?


Joe Navarro is a former FBI special agent and criminal profiler, he is the author of: Louder than Words, What Every Body is Saying, Clues to Deceit, and How to Spot a Psychopath. He can be contacted at or follow him on twitter: @navarrotells or here in Psychology Today. Copyright © 2011.