The Casey Anthony verdict is shocking, but not unique.
I knew an actress named Marcia Brushingham, 47, murdered by her brother David, 64, who stuffed her body in a plywood box he built and dropped at a bus stop at Lincoln Center in NYC in 1990. In the media, the case was known as “The Fox in the Box Case.”
David’s life had been colored by tragedy for over twenty years. His 5-month old son mysteriously suffocated in his crib. His business colleague died while they were out on the town together, and David married his young widow a few weeks later. His 5-year old daughter drowned in the ocean near his home while in his custody. His 35-year old stepson vanished without a trace the night before he was set to testify against him. His wife died shortly after leaving him. His elderly landlady died of sepsis, leaving everything she had to her tenant in a handwritten will. His best friend died under mysterious circumstances and David found the body.
No one was ever charged with any of those deaths. Then in 1980, David shot and killed his 18-year old son the night before he was due to appear in court. Still, David was acquitted by a Florida jury of white retirees when he claimed he heard his son call for the “black man.” In fact, his son was with his friend, a boy named Blackmon. None of that had anything in the least to do with the case, but just saying it aloud in court was enough to win him an acquittal.
It took nearly a lifetime, but David Brushingham finally had his true day in court after confessing to his sister’s murder. He didn’t have a lot of choice. There were blood spatters on the wall where he was standing, he’d written his plan down on a calendar, he’d emptied Marcia’s bank accounts, and his ailing mother was tied to a chair in the next room when the police arrived.
David demanded a trial, which was his right, even though he had confessed. He was sure he could outsmart the jury. It had worked for him his whole life.
I sat in the courtroom for six weeks in 1992 and watched the Brushingham story unfold before the jury because I was writing a book about the case. Each time a piece of evidence was disallowed, I worried that it would be the piece that would exonerate him in the jury’s collective mind. But the judge, Leslie Crocker Snyder (who I must say looked like Candice Bergen and was every bit as cool as Murphy Brown), kept admonishing the jury to exercise “reason, logic, and common sense.” She said it a million times and I’ve never forgotten it.
David was found guilty and sentenced to 39 years to life. At his sentencing, Judge Snyder declared that execution would be “too quick and painless… I hope in prison you suffer emotionally for the physical and emotional pain you have brought to others,” she said.
David Brushingham wrote me a letter from Attica after his sentencing. (I must say that it’s somewhat disconcerting to get a letter with the return address of “Attica Prison, Cellblock 304.”) It was a literate and polite handwritten note in which he spent two pages explaining to me what a witch Marcia was and how people just didn’t understand how completely it was all her fault. That was the bottom line. Everyone had done him wrong. He bore absolutely no responsibility for anything in his entire life.
He died in prison at 76.
So back to Casey Anthony. I never heard the judge in this case admonish the jury to exercise “reason, logic, and common sense,” so I’m not sure they did. It does feel like that piece was missing from the outcome. But thanks to those thirty-one days during which she admits she knew her baby was dead and floating in a swamp near her home, most of us believe she did it, on purpose or accidentally. Doesn’t matter. She will never be able to explain that time away, and she probably won’t try… or she’ll lie, convincingly enough for some people. And that will frustrate us again, Nancy Grace will kick sand in our faces, and the cycle will continue.
I don’t know whether Casey has the capacity to change. I don’t know what she’ll do with her life. But you can’t expect contrition from sociopaths. You’ll only be disappointed. Better to embrace the concept of karma and to know that she’ll have the life she creates for herself and that it’s really not our job to judge it as happy or sad, right or wrong, good or bad, earned or stolen. It surely makes for a fascinating story, but let’s not take it personally.