04.30.09

Did the Porn Biz Kill Them?

Former sex crimes prosecutor Wendy Murphy says the grisly murders of Caylee Anthony and Sandra Cantu may have been linked to the child-porn industry—and their killers likely didn't act alone.

It’s fascinating to hear one “expert” after the next analyzing the “unusual” nature of the cases now pending against Casey Anthony in Florida and Melissa Huckaby in California.

Anthony is accused of killing her little girl, Caylee, and Huckaby is charged with murder in the death of her neighbor, 8-year-old Sandra Cantu. Most people are scratching their heads, trying to understand such brutality at the hands of these two seemingly nice women.

OK, maybe not so nice, but not exactly Jeffrey Dahmer types, either.

A few pundits have suggested the women did not act alone. As a former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor, and an advocate for victims for more than 20 years, here’s why I think they’re right.

Casey Anthony’s computer was taken and searched, and early reports said certain photographs of little Caylee—who went missing last June, two months before her third birthday, and whose skeletal remains were discovered in December—had been deleted.

Maybe Casey Anthony didn’t kill Caylee. Maybe she died while engaged in some nefarious business—and Casey was forced to dispose of her child’s body. Maybe Huckaby found herself in a similar situation.

In both cases, there’s evidence the crimes are related to sex offenses.

A notice referring to the prosecution of Casey Anthony as a sex crime was filed with the court in August—around the same time a detective from the sex crimes unit visited the Anthony home.

Huckaby stands charged with child rape in addition to murder in the death of Sandra, whose body was discovered in a suitcase, submerged in a pond, on April 6, 10 days after her disappearance.

Both women had money problems. Casey Anthony was reportedly stealing from her own family and friends; Melissa Huckaby had a past criminal record of theft crimes.

It’s worth asking whether women desperate enough to steal might also be desperate enough to get involved in the dangerous business of selling kids for sex and porn. The U.S. attorney general says child porn is a multibillion-dollar business and that the most common producers of the stuff are parents.

Both cases also include evidence that children have been sedated, and experts in the child porn business know that drugs like valium and chloroform are commonly used to make young victims compliant. Such drugs also affect the memory, so victims have no recall of the abuse when the drugs wear off—a nice benefit if you’re trying not to get caught.

Sedatives were taken the Anthony home in connection with a search warrant issued after Caylee’s body was found. Police can’t take drugs from someone’s home without reason to believe they’re tied to a crime.

Chloroform was detected in the trunk of a car where Sandra’s body was reportedly stored for a period of time, and Huckaby has been implicated in prior crimes involving kids where sedatives were given to the victim.

So here’s a thought: What if Casey was bringing her daughter to a place where people made money off the child for sex and porn? What if Huckaby provided a similar service in her neighborhood?

Maybe what happened to these women is not unlike what happens in the illegal drug business. The little guy takes all the risk—does all the running—and gets the product delivered. When things get hot, the little guy gets arrested. And when things get out of control and someone has to go to jail, it’s the little guy who takes the fall and, as with the drug business, the little guy never rats out the big boys.

Maybe Casey Anthony didn’t kill Caylee. Maybe she died while engaged in some nefarious business—and Casey was forced to dispose of her child’s body.

Maybe Huckaby found herself in a similar situation.

None of this means these women get a pass, but it does mean we might need to change the conversation from “these women killed because they’re evil and deranged” to “these women are taking the fall for others.”

We can’t know for sure at this point because too much of the evidence is being withheld from public view.

While we’re waiting for the truth to come out, let’s hope law enforcement is still investigating the possibility that these women did not act alone. Cops may have a couple of women on the hook, but an awful lot of folks watching these cases unfold are not persuaded that they “got their man.”

Xtra Insight: Wendy Murphy on Obama's weak reaction to "Sexual Assault Awareness Month."

Wendy is a former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor who teaches at New England Law|Boston. A Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School from 02-03, Wendy is an impact litigator who specializes in the representation of crime victims, women and children. She is also an appellate attorney who has written numerous briefs in courts around the country, and she writes and lectures widely on victims' rights and criminal justice policy. Her first book, And Justice For Some, was published in late 07 and is a scathing expose of the American legal system. She appears regularly on cable and network news programs as a legal analyst. A former NFL Cheerleader, Wendy lives outside Boston with her husband and five children.