Soap Opera Justice

When Jamie was three, I took her and Nick to get their pictures taken at the Harborlight Mall in Weymouth. Olan Mills. Christmas pictures. Nick didn’t like being a baby and struggled against it at every turn. You can’t make me sleep. Or eat. Or be in a silly-snowsuit! I hate one-piece suits. And you can’t make me. He was five months old.

I struggled with Nick. I explained to the receptionist that he was just being Nick. He didn’t like being a baby. It was too confining. Jamie, who was just being Jamie, wandered out of the store and into the mall.

I was fighting with feet. I turned, as mothers do, to check Jamie out of the corner of my eye. But she wasn’t there. I placed my hand on Nick’s chest and turned completely around. Nick became still.

Jamie was in the mall in her cute red velvet dress. Walking away. Holding a man’s hand.

I yelled. The receptionist took Nick.

I ran into the mall, screaming, Jamie, Jamie! She didn’t have hearing aids yet. I screamed louder. JAMIE! Stop! That man, that man has my baby!

There were construction workers in the mall. In my memory, they are putting up Christmas decorations, but I don’t know that that’s true.  Rationally, I think it would have been too early for Christmas portraits if they were hanging decorations. But there were men working in the mall. Construction men. Maybe they weren’t working there—maybe they were shopping. But they seemed official. Like they were supposed to be there. They heard my screams, followed my pointed finger. Quickly narrowed the search to Jamie, a miniature me. Well, except the red velvet dress, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a red velvet dress.

The construction workers grabbed the man. Took Jamie’s hand. Waited for me to catch up. The receptionist, Nick balanced precariously on one hip, called the police.

The man, a mostly nondescript man, young-ish, green eyes, dressed in nondescript clothes, told the construction workers Jamie was his child, I was a crazy woman, thank you very much. He pulled Jamie’s hand and started to walk away.

I grabbed her hand. The receptionist, seeing the struggle walked towards us—she would be my witness. Jamie was my child. The construction workers looked at Jamie, me, and then the man. Jamie looks like me. A lot like me.

I called the police. The receptionist shouted.

The man dropped Jamie’s hand. Jerked loose of the construction worker hold and walked away.

The police arrived. Two uniforms. No harm, no foul, they said. Nothing to charge him with.

We did give a description. They nodded politely. Did nothing. There was nothing to do.

A week later, a young girl, a little older than Jamie, disappeared from the mall and was found dead. I never went back to that mall. Never picked up those portraits.

Jamie had been missing about thirty-seconds. I wanted the whole world to know. I didn’t know I could scream that loud. The rest of my children, and grandchildren, always had a hand to hold in the mall. If, for some reason, I needed both of my hands, they had to put a hand in my back pocket—thank god for Levi-Strauss! I held hands long after diapers, and kindergarten. No discussion.

So, when I heard that someone had a child missing for thirty-one days in Florida, before reporting it to the police,  I thought, really? How is that possible? Thirty-seconds and I wanted the police by my side—and I could still see my child. Something in the picture in Florida was wrong, very, very wrong. And I know people without my experience thought so too: Casey Anthony did something to that little girl.

And then her car smelled like something died. Nancy Grace vilified her. Nancy Grace is a villain in my opinion. A shrill, despicable, bitch. She makes her living damaging characters. Not that it took much in this particular instance, but that’s beside the point.

Then there were the lies. Why lie if you have nothing to hide? Accusations. The lives of total strangers invaded, disrupted, changed forever. Made up nannies, boyfriends, jobs… Casey Anthony’s drama would make a great soap opera. Erica Kane’s life looks mundane in comparison. And so Casey Anthony became a soap opera. Everyone eagerly awaited the next twist in the story. Her brother is Caylee’s father—her father molested her, the man who found the body knew more than he was saying. The woman whose name Casey borrowed for her fictitious nanny sued. Her parents retained a lawyer.

The trial was a three-ring circus. Nancy Grace erected a two-story tent across from the courthouse. Casey’s lawyers argued she didn’t do it. You can’t prove it. She wasn’t even there. Her dad molested her. Caylee drowned. Casey, afraid of her dad, told the lies because she is a victim of sexual abuse… No wait, she’s crazy! No? Ok, so the death penalty is unconstitutional and we should therefore dismiss the whole thing… Casey didn’t do the searches on the internet! No! Casey’s mom did them—at home on the computer—while she was at work. She got on the stand and said so. That her time card, and work email records proved otherwise was not relevant to her…

Forensic experts discussed how one goes about testing the smell in a car. They collected the air from the car. Really. Insect larvae was explained in detail. Everyone’s character was assassinated. The judge threatened both the defense and prosecution with contempt—with the Bar Association reprisals. People lined up and stood overnight for a chance to watch live in the courtroom. Jose Baez missed his calling, he should be writing for daytime tv!

All My Children announced it was going off the air. No way to compete.

I believe the circumstantial evidence against Casey Anthony was overwhelming. I believe, in cases where all of the evidence is circumstantial, the death penalty should not be an option. No witnesses, no DNA, no murder weapon with fingerprints. I don’t think Scott Peterson should have gotten the death penalty either—for the same reason. I also believe not reporting your child missing for thirty-one days is neglect. And she wasn’t even found guilty of that. Even if you buy the defense fantasy—in which they don’t deny that the Anthony family hid the body—aren’t there laws against improper disposal of a body?

Body. Caylee’s body. A two-year-old child. For whom there will now never be justice. She got so lost in this whole drama. I think about my friends who have lost children to disease; people who are struggling with terminally ill children who are committing every millisecond to memory. And I find myself wondering, how did we get here? How does the drama of dysfunction overtake the tragedy of an innocent life lost? I know more about Casey Anthony and her family than I want to. But after two years of investigation and six weeks of a trial, I don’t know what really happened to Caylee.

I wasn’t in the jury room. I don’t know what their discussion was. And I know they weren’t exposed to Nancy Grace and the constant sidebar discussions, the interpretation, the TV drama. But really? Misdemeanors? Casey Anthony will probably spend less time in jail than Caylee lived. And some other dysfunctional family out there—some other crazy person–probably took very good notes… So this trial won’t be the last of its kind.

We should all feel just a little bit dirty. This wasn’t a soap opera, this was a little girl. Who are we? Who have we become? Even Palmer Cortland would be horrified in this picture!

Word Count: 1281



6 thoughts on “Soap Opera Justice

  1. I paid very little attention to the whole affair so I learned quite a bit from reading this. Amazing story.

  2. Wow, I had forgotten about that, I remember when Jamie was grabbed. That was scary, she was so sweet, and trusted everyone. It’s truly sad that Caylee couldn’t trust her own mother to protect her, and keep her safe. I don’t care if she was molested, bad stuff happens to people, in the words of Don Henley, “Your momma’s too fat, your daddy’s too thin – Get over it” My 16 year old beleives there should be a legal penalty for being a crappy parent. I’ve had crappy parent days, but she’s not entirely wrong.

  3. When my daughter was three, she wandered away from me at a street fair. In the maybe 10 seconds I had my head turned. In that 10 seconds, another adult picked her up and took her to the information booth. It was probably 5 minutes before we found her–the longest 5 minutes of my life. As I watched the police snap to attention and mobilize their forces (yes, that fast), I realized that anyone could be carrying her away from me, disappearing into the crowd, and that my world could be ending, that we could be those people on the news. I don’t know much about the Anthony case. Haven’t followed it. But your story–that one stopped my breath. Once you know that kind of fear, you don’t get to un-know it ever again. It doesn’t matter if it all worked out OK, for you. Every time I hear of a child gone missing, I know there is someone who hasn’t felt the flood of relief I got to feel when my girl was back in my arms. And I wonder how they can possibly stand it.

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