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Caylee's Law Online Petition Builds Interest After Verdict

5:16 AM, Jul 7, 2011   |    comments
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ORLANDO, Fla. --An Internet movement to change the law in the hours after Casey Anthony was cleared of murdering her daughter has gone viral and is being supported by the masses disappointed by the verdict.

"Caylee's Law" would make it a felony for parents or caregivers to not report the death of a child to authorities -- accidental or otherwise -- within one hour. It also would make it a felony for guardians to not notify law enforcement of the disappearance of a child within 24 hours.

Michelle Crowder, of Oklahoma, started the online petition to create the law hours after the verdict was announced.

"When I saw that Casey Anthony had been found not guilty in the murder of little Caylee, and that she was only being convicted of lying to the police about her disappearance, I was sickened," Crowder said in a press release. "I could not believe she was not being charged with child neglect or endangerment, or even obstruction of justice."

In a verdict that made headlines internationally, 25-year-old Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, and not guilty of child abuse. She was convicted of four misdemeanors of lying to police as they investigated her daughter's disappearance. Casey Anthony waited 30 days before reporting her daughter missing.

At least one Florida lawmaker is supporting the notion.

State Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, announced Wednesday afternoon that he's currently drafting legislation consistent with the Internet movement. Hager is on the Justice Committee. The earliest he might be able to introduce the bill is during the next legislative session that starts in March.

"Placing a law on the books requiring parents and guardians to report missing children who are in significant danger in a timely manner will ensure that parents are held accountable for their actions," he said in a statement. "It will also assure that we put justice on the side of those among us who are most vulnerable. And finally, it will put an end to the kind of irresponsible and outrageous behavior we observed with Caylee's mother."

But some in Brevard wonder if a new law is needed at all. Brevard Circuit Judge Preston Silvernail said this conversation would not be taking place if the jury had returned a different verdict.

"I believe there are existing laws dealing with aggravated child abuse, child abuse, child neglect including placing a child in harm's way so I am not sure a new statute is necessary," he said. "I know some may have believed the defendant guilty, but the jury selected by both sides and approved by the court made a decision based on the law, the evidence and their own experience.

Defense attorney Steve Casanova questions the legality of such a law.

"Although the idea might be good, the actual implementation of such as law would most likely not pass Constitutional muster based on privacy issues, and inherent 5th Amendment rights of the accused, a cornerstone of our justice system," he said. Melbourne defense attorney Keith Szachacz said it would be better to shy away from knee-jerk reactions.

"Immediate reactions that would create new law or change existing law should be avoided," he said. "A careful and thorough review, with opportunity for debate, is required."

That doesn't mean it can't happen.

In 2005, only months after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was abducted, raped and killed by convicted sex offender John Couey, the "Jessica Lunsford Act" became Florida law. The legislation enhanced penalties for those convicted of sex crimes against children younger than 12. Numerous other states have since passed similar legislation, but a push to make it a federal law failed.

Wayne Ivey, Florida Department of Law Enforcement's resident Agent in charge for Brevard County, knows how important it is to immediately report missing children. In 2004, he created the Child Abduction Response Team (CART) that coordinates law enforcement efforts to start tracking and investigating as soon as children are reported missing. The program is now in place throughout the country.

"Our children are the most precious things in our lives and we must take every measure to protect them. Development of this type of legislation will work to further the already existing laws in place that are designed to protect our children and keep them from harm's way," he said. "The essence of time can be one of the most critical factors in saving a missing child's life."

Ivey said national statistics show that 44 percent of abducted children who are murdered meet their demise within the first hour of their abduction. That number jumps significantly -- 76 percent -- during the first three hours.

"Not reporting a child as missing or injured is certain to hinder any rescue efforts that can be utilized to save that child's life," he said.

By mid-afternoon, the online petition for the law had nearly 100,000 signatures.

Associated Press

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