Focus turns on cast of characters as Casey Anthony trial ends

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

After the surprising verdict in the much-watched Casey Anthony trial yesterday, the focus is now turning to the cast of characters surrounding the 25-year-old Floridian. Below we roundup the lead players and developments in the aftermath of the Anthony verdict.

• An unlikely lead defender. Anthony's heretofore little-known lead attorney, Jose Baez, is a former bikini salesman who had been barred from practicing law for eight years f0r failing to pay child support and secure insurance for his children. He has quickly gone from a financially troubled rookie local lawyer to pulling off what some are calling the biggest legal upset since O.J. Simpson walked free.

TV host Nancy Grace called him "incompetent" in her coverage of the trial (she hasn't apologized for that, saying the "devil is dancing" at the verdict), and legal experts told ABC News that it seemed at times as though Baez were improvising and overwhelmed in the courtroom at times. Baez, a Navy veteran, had only been practicing as a lawyer for three years before Anthony heard other inmates talking about him and requested that he represent her.

"I can say I saved a life," he told reporters yesterday, apparently basking in the glow of his unexpected success, before he admonished the media's overheated coverage of the trial. "While we're happy for Casey there are no winners in this case," he said in the video below.

Early on in the case, Baez stunned the courtroom by arguing that Anthony had lied for three years about how her daughter died because her father, George, had repeatedly sexually abused her, damaging her for life. Rejecting the prosecutor's argument that Anthony killed her daughter and then didn't report her as missing for 31 days, he argued that 2-year-old Caylee Anthony accidentally drowned in her grandparents' backyard pool and Anthony's father panicked and covered up the death.The judge, Belvin Perry, warned him not to use the sexual abuse argument in his closing statement since he never offered any proof to back it up.

• The prosecutor who didn't quite laugh last. State prosecutor Jeff Ashton openly laughed during Baez's closing arguments, which you can watch in the video below. (The Orlando Sentinel editorial board referred to this as "sophomoric smirking.") Ashton is retiring, and has announced that his last day at the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office, where he's worked for 30 years, will be on Friday, The Orlando Sentinel reports. CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin called the decision a "historic rejection of the prosecution's case," since the state was seeking the death penalty and the jury only convicted on four misdemeanors. Toobin said the lack of a time and cause of death for the 2-year-old was most likely key in the acquittal.

• One uncontroversial verdict: media bashing. The one thing both teams of lawyers seemed to agree on is blaming the media. Baez and his co-attorney Cheney Mason criticized reporters for conducting a "media assassination" of Anthony's character, and Ashton made similar comments in his press conference. For more on the media circus descending on the trial, check out our sister blog The Cutline.

• Parents in hiding. Meanwhile, Anthony's parents, George and Cindy, have reportedly received death threats and are now in hiding, The Orlando Sentinel reported. George Anthony, a former homicide detective, attempted suicide at one point during the trial. The Anthonys said in a statement that Anthony's sexual abuse and accidental murder accusations are "baseless"--but added that they think the verdict is fair. They quickly left the courtroom after the verdict, while Anthony embraced her lawyers. It's unclear if the family will reconcile.

• Jurors on the hot seat. The Anthonys weren't the only ones going into hiding: According to ABC News, the entire jury planned to abstain from speaking to the media. "They are just not interested...a universal, unequivocal no," Orange County circuit court official Karen Levey said. But that pact quickly seems to be breaking down. Juror Jennifer Ford told Diane Sawyer that all the jurors were "sick to our stomachs" after voting not guilty. "I did not say she was innocent," she said. "I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be." One alternate juror also broke the vow of silence. Russell Huekler, an alternate who did cast a vote in the verdict, said the jurors made the right decision since the prosecution never presented a motive or cause of death. The other jurors' decision to hide so far may be a wise move, since the court of public opinion has not sided with those 12 members of our peers. On Twitter, people expressed their outrage about the verdict using the hashtag #notguilty. "Juror: 'It's like when you're kid's gone you just party for 31 days until someone finds you out. That's normal, right?'" joked comedian Kristen Schaal on Twitter.

• The social media furor. Other social media users compared the trial to the OJ Simpson case and complained that justice had not been served. "I would hate to let anyone know I was on that jury. Wait until they see the evidence that was kept from them," Kimberly Dawley Rodriguez said on Facebook, according to WDAM. "This really makes me lose all faith in our justice system. No justice for Caylee."

An online petition sparked by the case, which seeks to create a federal law making it a crime not to report your child as missing has 45,000 signatures.