Looking back, it is not difficult to see that there has yet to be a “Trial of the Century” in this set of 100 years. Perhaps the last “Trial of the Century,” the first O. J. Simpson trial (1995), was such a media-saturated event that Americans — including members of the media — felt that it could wait. Still, one contender appears to have arisen. The Casey Anthony case, just started in Florida (Tuesday, May 24), may fit the bill as this century’s first “Trial of the Century.” Why “first”? Because there are always more than one “Trial of the Century.”
The Casey Anthony case has positioned itself, with the help of 24-hour news outlets, true crime shows, and the ever watchful and opinionated blogosphere, to be a closely watched event. Most of the particulars of the case are well known going in.
Casey Anthony, 23, was arrested in October 2008 for the murder of her daughter, 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, who had been reported missing in July of the same year. Police soon discovered, however, as TruTV.com recounts the events, that the little girl had been missing for a month prior to the semi-hysterical 911 phone call Anthony’s mother, Cindy, made to the police in July that precipitated the investigation into the matter. After several holes were found in Anthony’s stories about her daughter, including one that the little girl had been kidnapped by a former babysitter, the arrest was made.
Caylee Anthony’s remains were found two months later by a county employee less than a quarter mile from the home of Cindy and George Anthony, the child’s grandparents. Although traces of chloroform were found to be present and the skull found to have duct tape adhered to it, cause of death could not be determined, nor could the exact time of death. Manner of death was ruled a homicide. Prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty.
The story made national headlines and ran on shows like HLN’s “Nancy Grace” for months, especially when the young mother’s less-than-motherly behavior became public knowledge. In fact, the story continues to be updated constantly. As jury selection began two weeks ago, the media began gearing up for more headlines. And as prosecution opened with their theory of murder, the defense opened with a new twist to the story: Caylee Anthony had accidently died while in the care of grandfather George and the body had been hid to cover up the child’s death.
As for trials of the century, there were several in the 1900s. Besides the trial and acquittal of O. J. Simpson for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, there was the Lindbergh baby abduction trial (1935), which H. L. Mencken described as “the greatest story since the Resurrection.” Bruno Richard Hauptmann was found guilty of the kidnapping, often called “the crime of the century” and sentenced to death.
The Scopes Monkey trial of 1925 was also considered the “Trial of the Century,” when it pitted a Tennessee biology teacher, John Scopes, against the state’s laws against teaching evolution. Famed lawyers Clarence Darrow (defense) and William Jennings Bryan (prosecution) argued the case. Scopes was found guilty but the verdict was later overturned on a technicality.
The Manson Family murder trials in 1970-71 also garnered their fair share of publicity. The antics of Charles Manson and his “Family” members were headline news following the Tate-LaBianca murders. Self-styled messianic prophet Charles Manson, who masterminded the killings, still resides in a California prison.
As history shows, there are several trials that have been considered trials of the century, which means that the Casey Anthony murder trial may not be THE “Trial of Century,” but it could possibly be the first.
Chuck Hustmyer, “Caylee Anthony,” TruTV.com
Kyle Hightower and Michael Schneider, Associated Press, “2 causes of death offered in Caylee Anthony case,” PostAndCourier.com