“I’ve done what I thought is fair based on what I know.”
– The Honorable Judge Stan Strickland
When I awoke Monday morning, I still believed the Anthony trial was at 10:00 am, with a plea of some kind, and a hearing Tuesday afternoon. Somewhere along the line that changed. Had it been at 10, I wouldn’t have been able to go. Because it was changed to 1:30 pm, it posed no problem and I made it a point to arrive at the Orange County Courthouse at least a half hour early, fully expecting there to be a huge crowd fighting to get in. There wasn’t. Is interest waning? As I walked toward the entrance, I asked a cameraman if he knew what floor it was going to be held on. He told me the 23rd, but he didn’t know which room. I thanked him, without missing my stride, and I walked through the main doors into the awaiting arms of security guards and metal detectors.
Once in, I took the elevator all the way to the top. I had never been there before, although Bob Kealing from WESH told me some of the earlier hearings were held in this particular courtroom. He was the first friendly face I spotted as I approached the sparse crowd sitting and standing idly by behind the stanchions and velour ropes that kept us from the entrance. Nearby were George and Cindy, who remained relatively out of reach while we waited for the courtroom doors to open. Bob also told me it was a huge courtroom and reporters were sometimes told to go upstairs to the loge/balcony area that overlooked the room. He said it was very difficult to hear some of the conversations going on because of the room’s scale. Soon after, Kathi Belich arrived and I told her I caught her cold from the last hearing. She apologized and I said I was kidding and that my folks had been sick, too. She said her cold lingered for almost another month after we sat next to each other and she had already had it for a month at that point.
A bench sat outside the courtroom and several people filled it. Among those people were two women. One looked at me and smiled. She asked if I was Marinade Dave. I said, yes, I am. Gee, I almost felt like a silly-ebrity. We had a nice little chat and I asked her how she knew about me, not out of vanity, but because she recognized me. “We’re on Websleuths.”
“Oh, yes, I go there sometimes.” I try to go to all of the sites to read and learn, and when a cluster of hits come into my blog from a particular site, I like to see what the commotion is all about, good or bad. I am quite familiar with Websleuths and it was nice to meet a real sleuther, even if there is no such word. She goes by the name littlemisslegal. Unfortunately, I neglected to mention Tulessa, a very nice person I am familiar with. There may be more, but sometimes I get forums mixed up. Anyway, there’s more I could write, but enough of the informalities. I just wanted you to get the feel of the small crowd while we waited with anticipation to enter the courtroom.
As a guard unlocked the door for the prosecution and defense attorneys, we were let in soon after. Bill Sheaffer was allowed to follow the team of lawyers and he was all smiles as I approached him and shook his hand. This time, the State sat on the left, with the defense on the right. As I said in the past, you sit where you find a seat and this time, I parked directly behind Bill Sheaffer and Kathi Belich on the prosecution side. When I sat down, I did not pay particular attention to where the case attorneys were.
The room was vast compared to the other hearings I attended, and it had a high ceiling that was three stories tall. In bold, deep and perfectly chiseled letters were the words EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW set high above the judge’s bench. This was, no doubt, the county’s trophy room and I have no question this will be the room where Casey will sit when she is brought to trial for murder. Though not too opulent or magnificent, it had a very commanding presence that told you this was not a simple traffic court.
Suddenly, a side door opened and Casey walked in, flanked by a sheriff’s deputy and the now familiar court bailiff, the same one who called me in front of the judge. I heard no clink, clank of shackles as she walked to her seat where Jose and Andrea waited patiently. With constant whispering back and forth for the fleeting moments we all had, it came to a halt as those two big words were spoken, “ALL RISE.”
Judge Strickland reminds me of the type of guy who would, outside of a courtroom, hush people and tell them not to make a big fuss over him, but such are the formalities of his position as a circuit court judge; all judges, actually. He has such a nice demeanor and he goes out of his way to excuse himself and apologize for minor interruptions he might cause, although it is his court. He would probably correct me and say this is the people’s court. He exudes nothing of the sort that gives pause to believe he is overtly in charge, but you would want no other captain of the court ship he commands. He is a natural and it is he, the man, that garners such respect, and all attorneys I have spoken to have nothing but praise for him. Today was going to be a testament to his fairness.
As soon as we sat back down, court was in session. I should point out that these were individual seats, not benches, and each one was cushioned. I had no problem with hearing Judge Strickland, but Bob had warned me that it was tough to hear in there, and when State Attorney Frank George spoke, none of us could hear a word. Whatever he said went by the wayside until after I got to watch the videos. Some things I could distinguish between the 13 counts Casey was charged with, but that was about it. Jose Baez was clear, Andrea Lyon was clear, and so were Linda Drane Burdick and Jeff Ashton. I heard Casey loud and clear, too. Casey entered wearing a loose fitting light blue dress shirt and gray slacks. Her longish dark brown hair was pulled tightly back into a ponytail. One of the first things I noticed was that her face looked gaunt. Quite clearly, she had dropped enough pounds since the first hearing I attended. I turned to Drew Petrimoulx, a WDBO Radio journalist, sitting to my right and quietly asked him what he thought. Yes, he agreed, she looks like she dropped more than just a few pounds. When she spoke, it was the first time I ever heard her soft and feminine voice. On the street, you would never think by the sound of her that she could possibly be facing horrendous charges like she is. Her voice was delicate and frail, not like the monster she is made out to be.
Judge Strickland called Casey and her two attorneys to the podium. Jose told him that she was ready to plea to the court, and plea she did. Prior to Monday, Casey had filled out a plea form and the judge had it in his possession. From that point, it was up to the defense and prosecution to argue over elements of the 13 third-degree felony charges before the judge would ultimately decide her fate. After a few more words from Jose, Casey was sworn in. Judge Strickland made sure she understood all of the charges she had decided to plead guilty to, that she was in complete control of her faculties, and that she did so freely and voluntarily. She also said she was completely satisfied with the services of her attorneys and that she was aware of the minimum and maximum sentences for all of the offenses she was charged with. She said yes to everything, including waiving her right to a trial.
State Attorney Frank George stood up at his respective podium and began to speak. On July 8, 2008, Casey wrote a check in the amount of $111.01 that accounted for charges 2, 3, and 4. She wrote this check at Target. On July 10, she passed a check at Target in the amount of $137.77 that accounted for charges 5, 6, and 7. Also on July 10, she passed a third check at Target for $155.47 and that took care of counts 8, 9, and 10. Counts 11, 12, and 13 took place on July 15 when she wrote a check for $250 at the Bank of America. He then brought up count 1 which referred to a deliberate scheme of conduct overall. She planned on writing checks until they bounced off the walls, I would guess. Good thing we live in the information age, where account balances are instantaneous almost everywhere we go. Here, one thing perplexed me. Where was the Winn-Dixie check? Unless George misspoke, I don’t know.
Judge Strickland gave the defense an opportunity to challenge the charges. We can discuss the lack of brevity or the levity of the arguments, but let’s cut to the chase – it came down to the judge. First, it should be noted that Casey had no prior convictions and she did make full restitution and Baez did bring up “equal justice” for his client. He asked for one year of probation and credit for time served, rather than the five years of incarceration the State sought. In the end, His Honor sentenced the 23-year-old Casey to (jail) time served – 412 days – plus $5,517.75 in investigative costs and $348 for court. The amount may be discussed and negotiated at a later motion hearing because the defense found the investigative charge too high and not justifiable. He also adjudicated Casey guilty on six of the fraud counts and withheld adjudication on seven, plus he tacked on a year of supervised probation, which could be problematic and complex later on, given that she still faces a huge mountain of charges ahead. He said that he had given this a lot of thought prior to sentencing.
“There was not an even number of offenses, so I withheld in seven, I adjudicated in six. If that seems Solomon-like, it is.
On each and every count, Casey must submit a DNA sample because she is now a convicted felon. There it is, the words everyone has been waiting for… convicted felon. Time to move on to the next chapter, but first, Casey apologized to Amy Huizenga.
“I’m sorry for what I did. I’d like to sincerely apologize to Amy. I wish I would have been a better friend.”
Two motions were heard after Casey’s plea. The defense wanted to question Jill Kerley under oath. Kerley is Roy Kronk’s ex-wife. Anthony’s attorneys claim that testimony from her will introduce evidence that suggests he could have been a suspect in the murder. The defense states that Kronk should not be looked at as a suspect today, but he should have been last year and it is meant to impeach his material as a State witness. In this respect, whether anyone likes it or not, this is the way defense strategies work. I spoke to Bob Kealing about this before we entered court. I explained that everyone thinks the defense is trying to point the finger at Kronk. No one in the media really believe that’s the case. It is to ruin his testimony as a credible witness. In court, Andrea Lyon explained that Jill Kerley is much too ill to travel to Orlando from Tennessee and a means to interview will be made, something like Skype, most likely. Judge Strickland granted that request.
In the final motion, prosecutors wanted Strickland to order Anthony’s defense attorneys to provide the names and addresses for any and all witnesses they intend to call into subsequent hearings and at trial. Linda Drane Burdick explained that the prosecution has a lot of names, but they need addresses, too.
The judge asked that both sides meet after the hearing to come up with a schedule and possible trial date. Earlier, Burdick said a murder trial this summer was highly unlikely because of the slow pace of depositions and motions. Baez said he was anxious to get the trial underway, too. (Later in the day, the judge denied the defense’s motion to stop jail visits from being videotaped.) Alas, we will not see a trial this summer, sad to say.
By the way, what was it about those latent prints that were mentioned? Linda Drane Burdick stated the defense has already received 90% of discovery documents. What does that last 10% hold?
Finally, I want to say that this was a very friendly crowd of journalists, sleuthers and attorneys. After the hearing ended, I asked Bill Sheaffer if he thought this was a fair judgement and he said, yes, it was. When I left the courthouse, I went to the parking garage to retrieve my video camera. The first person you will see in my video is littlemisslegal. The second part is the press conference which is impossible to hear because I don’t have a boom microphone. To watch and hear that from the WFTV Web site, please click the link below. The final part of the video… well, let’s just call that a surprise ending. With that, let me say that I learn more about this case the closer I get to it. As much as I let things had gotten me down, I become invigorated and inspired by doing what I love to do, and that is to bring you my unique side of the story, as up close and personal as possible, where the people are real and the humble judge treats everyone, including Ms. Anthony, with dignity and respect. This was a sign of things to come, and what I saw was a very compassionate man behind the bench.
Vodpod videos no longer available.