Nearly 6 years ago, Casey Anthony was arrested on suspicion of child neglect. She was represented by the then-unknown Florida defense attorney Jose Baez. A Florida grand jury indicted Anthony only months later on capital murder charges. It wasn’t until two months after that, that the body of Anthony’s daughter was found. Watching from the sidelines was Cheney Mason, another Florida defense attorney. Mason, a former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Lawyers, had been recently selected by Florida Monthly magazine as a top lawyer in the state of Florida. He was appalled and shocked at the media coverage, not just about the accused, but also about Baez.
“I was offended by it. I was offended by the fact that he wasn’t being treated fairly…”
Mason had never met Baez at the time. But, Baez soon began asking Mason for advice with the aim of having him join the case. Mason was a very experienced death penalty qualified attorney. Soon, Mason wanted to meet Baez’s client. He remembers going to the jail.
“They brought her to the room [in the Orange County Jail] and I have to tell you I was really surprised to see how small she is…I stood looking at a child herself. I said this can’t be.”
Mason’s new book, which chronicles the Anthony case, Justice in America is available for preorder now. Mason insists that the jury got it right and the media and public were wrong.
Mason described Anthony in an interview with CNN’s Jean Casarez as quiet, afraid, and unsure. After that first meeting, with Anthony’s approval, Mason joined the case pro bono. Mason estimates that he spent well over “a million dollars” in unpaid professional time and a few tens of thousands of dollars of his own money out of pocket.
BOMBSHELL OPENING STATEMENT
Mason says that when Baez delivered what has been described as a “bombshell” opening statement, he was stunned. Baez had been describing what the evidence would show when he turned the case on its head by telling the jury about the sexual abuse allegations.
“I didn’t know that he was going to say that. We had talked about all aspects of it, and I did not know. I don’t know if anybody knew…” Mason recalled.
Mason knew that the defense could not establish with evidence that sexual abuse had occurred.
The prosecution’s case was largely circumstantial and they rested on June 15th. Anthony’s defense maintained that there was no murder and that Caylee Anthony had died by accidental drowning in the family’s backyard. Afterwards both Anthony and her father panicked and covered up the death. In the midst of the defense’s case, the prosecution suddenly offered a plea deal.
“Casey got very angry about that. She got very angry to hear talk about it. She didn’t want to hear it,” Mason said, “Casey would fight it ’til her last breath. She didn’t kill her daughter.”
Mason said that it took a lot of courage and strength to end plea deal talks when Anthony’s life was literally at stake. There were at least 3 plea deal offers during the trial, but all were turned down.
On July 5th, after deliberating for 10 long hours, jurors announced a verdict.
“She was holding her breath like a deep sea diver, waiting as we all were,” Mason said.
Anthony was acquitted of the most serious charges by the 12-person jury, but was convicted of providing false information to law enforcement.
WHAT IS LIFE LIKE TODAY FOR CASEY ANTHONY
Casey Anthony lives in an undisclosed location in Florida and doesn’t go out.
“She has to live constantly on guard…” Mason said.
She works inside the home and is living as a “housekeeper, clerk, secretary, and stuff like that.”
“I think Casey has a lot of world left to have to deal with. She hasn’t been freed from her incarceration yet ’cause she can’t go out. She can’t go to a beauty parlor, she can’t go shopping to a department store, she can’t go to a restaurant, she can’t even go to McDonald’s. She can’t do anything,” he said.
Mason and his wife, Shirley, have continued a relationship with Anthony. Now three years later,
“Casey is aloof. She is kind of, I think, afraid of people…she’s not real close to. We’ve had a couple of occasions to have social gatherings that can include her — close friends, the (legal) team. She still likes to back away…”
Mason said that reports that Anthony is talking to her family are not true. She has zero relationship with her father and has only had a handful of conversations with her mother in recent years, but no relationship with her.
“[She] does not have any blood family…”
She maintains relationships with Dorothy Clay Sims and Lisabeth Fryer in addition to Mason and his wife.
“I’m a cross between a friend, a mother…someone who is older who has had experience in the world she has not had,” Shirley Mason said.
“My hope for her is it gets better for her and the world or the people who have been so hateful can let that go and they can move on,” she said.
Anthony “tries to make her life work”. Mason told Casarez that Anthony wants to speak out, but that they have never talked about it, “I have never asked her that, but I know she has very strong feelings for what has happened to her. I also know she’s very saddened by her loss and she will never forget her daughter Caylee, ever.”
Mason had no problem defending Anthony. He told SuperLawyers.com in 2012, “She was being railroaded. Crucified by the media without facts.” Despite all of the animosity, Mason didn’t give up hope. No one asked to be part of the firestorm that the case became, but Mason isn’t the type to back down.
As a teenager, Mason became essentially homeless and supported himself. He dropped out of high school because he was “bored to tears”. He enlisted in the military in the 60s much like his namesake. Mason had been named after his uncle James S. Cheney, an Air Force pilot and judge advocate general. 3 years in Southeast Asia convinced Mason that the military wasn’t his life’s calling. After serving his country and preserving his fellow citizen’s rights, Mason turned to defending those rights. Back home, Mason opted for college at the University of Florida. He entered law school in 1968.
Mason always had a contentious relationship with the media, but was often asked to give legal commentary.
In 2004, Mason received the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ most prestigious award, the Robert C. Heeney Memorial Award.
STORY BEHIND THE FINGER SEEN ROUND THE INTERNET
During the Anthony case, Mason and his legal colleagues were repeatedly harassed by the public and the media as they made their way to work. One day, one person continually made sexual remarks about the female members of Anthony’s defense. He wanted to “beat his a**”, but refrained. On verdict day as the group was attempting to have some peace and quiet and celebrate, protestors gathered outside. Mason says that he gave the finger, which was captured by a photographer and propagated throughout the media for days to come, to that specific guy who was in the group.
In the Anthony trial, according to Tom Equels, a fellow Vietnam Vet and lawyer, Mason “kept his focus and established that the elements…couldn’t be proven.”
Like most lawyers who spend enough time working death penalty cases, nothing gets a lawyer going when their client faces execution,
“[It is] the highest calling a lawyer can have…To be willing to fight…to save someone’s life,” Mason said.
That’s a real person that the government would like to kill after all.
MASON’S FIRST DEATH PENALTY CASE
Just 3 years into his legal career, Mason took on his first death penalty case. He defended a man accused of first degree murder. That man was convicted of manslaughter.
In the late 70s, Mason tried to help stop the execution of John Spenkelink, who was convicted of murder. He got a stay, but couldn’t stop it. Spenkelink became the first person executed by Florida after the reinstatement of capital punishment in the 70s.
WHERE HAS THE INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM GONE?
Mason, always a straightforward talker, can dish as much as he can take. And while Anthony, her lawyers, and anyone who thought anything other than the case was a slam-dunk faced vitriol, Mason was infuriated that the media used the “Case Against Casey” as their coverage mantra. He said that many journalists, a.k.a. talking heads, are too ignorant and lazy to actually investigate cases, “I have never seen that more glaringly than [the Anthony] case.”
While the media circus continues to hang around a little and there are still those who remain convinced that Anthony is guilty, Mason has no patience for people who jump to conclusions or who pontificate without understanding.
Mason maintains that attorneys have a duty to educate the public not mislead them. Mason also has no patience for those who disrespect the justice system and impugn the integrity of the jurors on the case. Mason says that the jurors in the Anthony case should be celebrated for their courage to hand down the verdict that they believe was right, but was so unpopular at the time. They spent 9 hours every day in court, sequestered. They endured hardships financially and in their relationships during and after the trial. The jurors sat in the courtroom while protestors screamed outside and stared down those who sat in the public gallery with scowls on their faces. The jurors despite all of that and more still returned the verdict they thought matched the evidence.
For Mason, it’s a matter of protecting rights. After the verdict, he made his standard toast to the Constitution of course.
Justice in America: How the Media and Prosecutors Stack the Deck Against the Accused by Cheney Mason is available on Amazon here.
In his book, he answers questions previous authors have not about the Anthony case. He gives a play-by-play account and new behind the scenes information about the case. He shares never before revealed media bias and case secrets. This book will make readers re-examine their understanding of the case and is a must-read for anyone who followed the trial, anyone interested in the legal system, and absolutely anyone interested in truth and justice.