As my West Coast family deals with Carmaggedon, the East Coast is experiencing another sign of the end times. Casey Anthony is being released from jail today, after being acquitted of murdering her daughter Caylee back in 2008. The anticipation of her release has brought a crowd of protesters standing outside the Orlando jailhouse, where she will be making her exit from the jail and her re-entry into polite society. The television news coverage shows the crowd running to catch a glimpse of an SUV, presumably driving Casey away. I haven’t seen so much helicopter footage of an SUV since the summer of 1994 when O.J. took his famous ride. The parallels are there to be made, they both got away with murder. This trial, one of many in my life touted as the “Trial of the Century” took over the attention of the nation this summer, but no one was so entranced as the local people of Orlando. I just so happened to be home in Orlando for the summer, so I got a front row seat on the event. Before Nancy Grace and the rest of the world’s media showed up and planted a forest of satellite dishes in the middle of downtown, the people of Orlando were hooked to this story. My mother has been following every twist and turn in the case for the past three years. She and her friends created drinking games during the trial, trivia games to determine which of the neighbors knew Casey’s lies the best. Which states did Zanny the Nanny come from? New York, North Carolina and Florida. What is Zanny the Nanny’s sister’s name? Samantha. Who did Casey wait for in the parking lot of Universal Studios with her mother? Juliette Lewis. My mother and her best friend from high school desperately wanted to go to the courthouse to watch from the courtroom, but they feared the possibility of getting held in contempt. They claimed they always got in trouble in high school for cracking each other up, and the penalty for cracking up in the serious Judge Belvin Perry’s courtroom is a detention of a different sort, not suitable for aging suburban housewives. Mom even contemplated opening a lunch cart called “The Sidebar” that only served Casey-dillas. The SUV and another car just pulled into a parking garage, so the helicopters can’t track them anymore. Smart move, maybe they’ll pull the ol’ switcheroo and evade the media. But Casey probably won’t be able to evade the media for too long, unless she’s willing to go into hiding. The story that fascinates me is the story of the observers. The story of the people who got sucked into this media frenzy. To be honest, I became entranced myself. The case hits on many of my interests, psychology, the legal system, the absurd hilarity that often grows from human tragedy. As a writer, this story is full of possibility. I am developing character portraits of the trial watchers. My mother has given me lots of material to work with. I was personally both delighted as a writer and embarrassed as a daughter and rational human being when she called me to tell me she had gone down to the Anthony’s neighborhood and had her picture taken with Leonard Padilla while she held up her home made “Team Ashton” sign.
Padilla, the bounty hunter who originally bailed Casey out of jail in the early stages of the case, was hanging out on the corner of Hope Spring and Suburban taking photos and signing autographs at the neighborhood come tourist trap. Ashton was the lead prosecuting attorney. There is, of course, the horrible truth that an innocent child was murdered, and that she will most likely never be given justice. There is a concerted effort in the media to at least mention this with solemnity during the twenty four hour a day coverage. If not for that tragic fact, I would consider this nothing but a treasure trove event for storytellers. I want to tell the story of the watchers, the culture that created this media driven event and what this means for us as human beings. I think we are hooked on story, and this trial gave the world a story that competes with even the best of the Greek tragedies.