She was the perfect villainess: a callous, self-centered, derelict mother straight out of central casting. When her toddler daughter disappeared, she partied for a month without reporting the child missing. Then she blamed everyone from a fictional nanny to her own parents for the demise of the little girl whose remains eventually were found rotting in the woods.
The circumstantial evidence against Casey Anthony was more than enough to convict her in the court of public opinion: a trail of Internet searches on “chloroform” and “neck-breaking” before her daughter’s death, gleeful diary entries and a tattoo boasting “The Beautiful Life” acquired afterward, the smell of rotting flesh emanating from her trunk and a pack of outrageous lies told to throw investigators off scent.
Ultimately, though, that evidence could not compensate for the prosecution’s failure to prove exactly how little Caylee Anthony died. So her mother, last seen sporting long hair and a sociopathic grin at her sentencing, walks free. She can resume the wild life of erotic dancing and beer bongs she enjoyed before she got pregnant, before a doe-eyed baby girl spoiled her plans to live solely for number one.
“The devil is dancing tonight,” HLN anchor Nancy Grace seethed after the verdict.
Grace’s anger was shared by many Americans, who saw Casey Anthony and her case as symbolic of everything wrong with our society and legal system.
That outrage makes a certain sense. Anthony embodies in extreme, pathological form the same narcissistic syndrome that afflicts many men and women today who mistakenly believe that the world revolves around their desires and fail to recognize that they owe anything to the children they conceive.
As comforting as it is to regard Anthony as a unique case of evil incarnate, however, the deadly consequences of her me-first fixation are more common than we care to believe. And, too often, the violence done to children in the name of protecting adult freedom not only goes unpunished, it is not even prosecuted.
Take the case of the 20-something Virginia mother who gave birth in her grandparents’ home in 2009 and promptly suffocated her newborn, according to police. Although the mother showed no remorse for killing the child she did not want, prosecutors did not charge her with a crime because the infant’s as-yet-uncut umbilical cord rendered the baby’s life of no legal value.
“In the state of Virginia, as long as the umbilical cord is attached and the placenta is still in the mother, if the baby comes out alive the mother can do whatever she wants to with that baby to kill it,” investigator Tracy Emerson told a local newspaper. “She could shoot the baby, stab the baby. As long as it’s still attached to her … it’s no crime.”
Similarly skewed logic led to a free ride for the 17-year-old pregnant girl in Utah who paid a man to punch her repeatedly in the stomach in 2009 to induce a miscarriage of the baby that she and her boyfriend did not want. Prosecutors initially hoped to convict the woman for solicitation of murder, but a judge dismissed the case, saying her actions were legal since Utah law allows “any and all procedures undertaken to kill a live unborn child.” Paying someone to punch the life out of your unborn child may be “crude,” the judge said, but legally, it’s just another way for women to exercise their “right to choose.”
Such cases beg the question: What if Casey Anthony had decided to snuff out the life of her daughter three years earlier, while Caylee was still in utero? Would her refusal to put her daughter’s right to life before her own desire to live unencumbered by a baby still outrage us? Would we still cluck that the least she could have done was allow someone else to adopt her daughter if she was unable or unwilling to meet her maternal responsibilities? Or would we congratulate Anthony on her courageous decision to put her own needs and desires before the claims made on her body and her life by some faceless blob of tissue?
Perhaps the answer would depend on how and when Caylee died: as a robust, full-grown fetus dismembered by a late-term abortion or as a 6-week-old embryo with barely formed eyelids and arms erased with a pill.
In the eyes of the law, of course, it would not matter. Caylee would have been just another statistic, another one of those million-plus abortions that happen every year in America while we yawn and click our remotes to ogle the next arch-villain, someone whose inhumanity reassures us that no matter how callous our nation has grown toward the young and defenseless, we could always be worse.