— Though a recent Gallup poll finds that nearly two-thirds of America believes that Casey Anthony was guilty of murder, one of her defense attorneys considers himself squarely in the minority on that topic.
“I do believe her story,’’ defense attorney Cheney Mason told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie on Monday. “I believed it from the first time I met her. I have never for one minute had any doubt at all. She did not kill her child. Period.’’
Mason was part of a defense team that secured an acquittal for the 25-year-old Anthony on the charge that she murdered her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, a jury decision that outraged much of the nation. Anthony was convicted on four misdemeanor counts of lying to police and is expected to be released on Sunday.
Despite the established pattern of dishonesty by Anthony, Mason has not been dissuaded about his position that she was telling the truth when it came to being uninvolved in the death of her child. “I don’t think her story has changed from the very beginning,’’ he said.
Mason said he met with Anthony in her home weeks before he officially became a member of the defense team. Even at that time, he told Guthrie, he believed her story.
Frenzy and frustration
Yet as the poll numbers and angry protesters outside the courthouse indicate, Anthony has been convicted in the court of public opinion. One juror has even gone into hiding: Her husband told NBC News that she retired from her job over the phone, packed a bag, and left the state shortly after the trial.
Cheney’s frustration with that public outrage and the accompanying media frenzy recently boiled over. While celebrating Anthony’s acquittal with some cocktails at a restaurant in Orlando, he flipped his middle finger to reporters looking in the window, and the image was captured by an Associated Press photographer.
“She was not only tried, but convicted and sentenced by the news media, and that conviction was overturned by the jury,’’ Cheney told Guthrie.
He said his vulgar gesture was directed at a specific, unnamed entity. “My frustrations are not with the news media itself or in general,’’ Mason said. “There was one particular stalker that had been stalking our defense team, morning, noon and night, every day of the trial, yelling obscenities and threatening and trying to embarrass and expose [fellow defense attorney Jose] Baez, myself and the others. [This person] went so far as to even ask some of the women on our team, on the street, whether or not they were on their periods.
“That little non-human person deserved what he got. He’s fortunate he wasn’t in the same room.’’
While Mason feels Anthony was unfairly convicted in the headlines, he was also asked whether the defense team unfairly tarnished Anthony’s father, George, who was portrayed by Baez in opening arguments as having molested Anthony was she was 8 years old. No evidence was ever presented, and George tearfully denied the allegations.
Guthrie asked Mason if that was a savvy strategy by the defense or a dirty trick.
“It wasn’t a dirty trick,’’ Mason said. “The allegation wasn’t new in trial. It had been made in the public eye from letters written in jail sometime before that. Sometimes testimony in trial doesn’t turn out what you expected it to be.’’
That was one of many sordid details and allegations that arose during the trial, with Anthony’s defense team portraying her family as dysfunctional. In addition, her mother, Cindy, recently tried to visit Anthony in jail but Anthony refused to see her.
It does appear unlikely that Anthony will reconcile with her parents, Mason opined. “I don’t know that anything is ever beyond repair, but I would say odds are pretty strong that it is,’’ he said about the relationship between Anthony and her parents. “She may have a relationship in the future with her brother at some point. I don’t know when or how, but I think with her parents, that’s pretty well burned.’’
Anthony and Mason have reportedly received death threats, so there is a worry about Anthony’s safety upon her release. But Anthony should not leave the country out of fear for her well-being, Mason said.
“I don’t know [where she will go], and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,’’ Mason told Guthrie. “Yes, we are all concerned about her safety and her future, but one thing at a time.
“It’s as much her country as anybody else’s. She just needs to have some time and counseling and be re-introduced to society. She’s been in lockdown for 23 hours a day for three years.’’
In addition to the issue of where she will live, there is the question of Anthony’s mental competence. In the midst of the trial, her defense team moved to have her undergo a psychiatric examination. But Anthony is not mentally ill, in Mason’s opinion.
“No one was asking her to be found incompetent,’’ Mason said. “We just wanted to have her examined and make sure she was OK to continue with the trial. She’s under a lot of pressure. Not only is she in trial for her life, but [when] she is not in the trial, she’s back in lockdown.
“Just imagine 23 hours a day for three years. Most people would be drooling.’’
While she never took the stand, the emotional Anthony could often be seen crying or reacting demonstrably to others’ testimony during the trial. That was understandable given the circumstances, Mason felt.
“We sometimes warned her when the cameras were focusing on her, but she’s pretty savvy,’’ he said. “Nobody coached her about doing anything. If anything, we tried to keep her emotions down, but that’s pretty hard to do when your family is testifying against you and people are calling for your blood like a lynch mob.’’