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One Little Girl: Caylee Anthony and why we care

Lately, I've had a hard time concentrating on work. I keep wondering what the heck is going on in Florida.

Of course, you all know what I'm talking about. I'd bet the majority of folks in the U.S. have at least heard of the tragic death of two-year-old Caylee Anthony. We first learned in July 2008 that this precious child was missing, when her grandmother, Cindy, called police, saying Caylee hadn't been seen in a month. For the past three years, we've been mesmerized by the search for the child, the discovery of her body, and the bizarre behavior of Casey, little Caylee's mom. Now our attention has turned to the courtroom drama as Casey is tried for her daughter's murder. A guilty verdict could bring the death penalty.

Apparently I'm not the only one having this problem, trying not to watch the coverage and keep up with my life and work. I belong to true-crime groups, where I pop in to do everything from sharing recipes to dissecting the latest sensational case. In all the groups, the posts are dominated by the Anthony trial. And when I post about it on my facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1191774642], I'm flooded with comments.

Let's face it, the Anthony case is one of those, like the Peterson sagas (Scott and Drew), that many of us find nearly addictive.

Why? I've done a lot of thinking about this, and I keep coming back to thoughts I had even before Caylee's body was discovered; so this blog post is my guess, my best shot at explaining why the death of one little girl and the family/courtroom drama surrounding it has garnered so much attention.

At times the Anthony case has brought to mind of one of my favorite movies, a 1951 Billy Wilder noir classic, Ace in the Hole. In the film, Kirk Douglas portrays an unethical, down-on-his-luck reporter who stumbles upon a story with worldwide headline potential, a man trapped in a cave. We quickly learn that the poor sap is a good guy married to the shrew of the century, so vile that while her husband remains in harm's way, she seduces the Kirk Douglas character. Although the husband could be easily saved, the reporter and the wife conspire to draw out the rescue for their own gains, until it's tragically too late.

Why does the Anthony case remind me of this old movie? It's something I believe Douglas's editor says in the film, an explanation for why the cave story has legs, endurance in the news biz. I can't quote it verbatim, but it's on the order of: If there were 100 miners trapped it wouldn't be as compelling a story, but one little guy, one common man the readers can identify with, that makes it huge.

Now, I may have parts of that wrong. It's been a long time since I've watched the film. Maybe Douglas's character not the editor muses about what fascinates readers? It's possible. But the point is that little Caylee is like that man trapped in the cave. She's a solitary sympathetic victim, in this case a beautiful, innocent child. We get angry, thinking about all the options Casey Anthony had, how so many families would have loved to adopt, care for, and keep that sweet child safe. We're sad that a mother could be so unfeeling and cold. The prospect that she could murder her own child is chilling. Yet mothers do kill, we all know that, tragically often.

Today I watched snippets of Cindy Anthony, Casey's mother, on the stand, called by the defense. Earlier, she was a prosecution witness, recounting how she'd smelled something foul in the trunk of Casey's car. Today, she appeared to be trying hard to shore up her daughter's case, saying she not Casey was the one who'd searched for chloroform on the Internet. Personally, I didn't believe Cindy. To me, it strains logic. The happenstance is just too farfetched. Plus there's the contradiction that twenty-seconds before the term was searched for, it appears Casey was on the computer checking her myspace page.

Yet I do feel sorry for Cindy. What a horrible situation to be in. Her granddaughter is dead, and now her daughter is on trial for her life. Can you imagine a Greek tragedy with more drama? I can't.

What would you do confronted with such a situation, a daughter on trial for murdering your granddaughter? Where would your allegiance take you? How would you reconcile testifying for or against your own child? There's no doubt that Cindy Anthony is caught in the cross-hairs, is there?

Yet at the same time, there's the other side of that coin, and I have to admit that it has most often appeared that the Anthony family like the characters in Ace in the Hole are more concerned with their own desires than finding justice for that poor, precious child.
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