MIAMI (CBS4)- He was a high school dropout, a former bikini salesman and a deadbeat dad who barely made it into the Florida bar. But now he’s one of the most talked about attorneys known for pulling off what some are calling one of the most stunning court victories in history.
Jose Angel Baez had been practicing law for only three years when Casey Anthony hired him to defend her against felony murder charges. Baez also has deep ties to South Florida, growing up here and in the Bronx.
Anthony found out about Baez, 42, from an inmate while in jail awaiting trial on charges that she killed her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee and dumped her body in the woods near her Orlando home, CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald said.
At the time, Anthony’s father was skeptical, saying in a taped jail interview that I hope he’s not making a reputation for himself. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what Baez did after Anthony was found not guilty of three of the major felony charges against her – first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter on a child.
When the verdict was complete, they came to her feet and embraced attorney Jose Baez, who had chipped away at the prosecution’s case by claiming it simply had not proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Anthony had killed Caylee.
Baez went from a rookie to top of the legal heap. He smiled after the verdict and hugged Anthony who was sobbing.
The internet was already buzzing Tuesday about Baez’s superstardom: perhaps getting his own national show, a book deal and maybe even a movie, the Herald pointed out.
Baez, who grew up in the Bronx, moved to South Florida and eventually earned his GED after dropping out of Homestead High School, according to the Herald.
Anthony’s defense team took no questions, but they blasted the media legal pundits for the way Anthony’s case was handled.
“I hope that this is a lesson to those of you who have indulged in a media assassination for three years, biased, prejudice, and incompetent talking heads saying what would be and what ought to be,” said attorney Cheney Mason.
“I am disgusted by some of the lawyers who did this and I can tell you that my colleagues from coast to coast, border to border, have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases they don’t know a damn thing about.”
Baez said Casey did not kill Caylee.
“I want to start off by saying while we’re happy for Casey, there are no winners in this case,” said Baez, who had been criticized for his relative inexperience, his approach to the case and his unsupported claims in trial that Caylee was the victim of an accidental drowning and cover up.
“Caylee has passed on far, far, too soon. What my driving force has been for the last three years has been always to make sure that there has been justice for Caylee and Casey because Casey did not murder Caylee, it is that simple,” he said.
“Today our system of justice has not dishonored her memory by a false conviction,” he added.
Baez also echoed Mason’s feelings that cases like these should not be tried in the media by ‘talking heads’.
“This case has brought on new challenges for all of us. Challenges in the criminal justice system, challenges in the media, and I think we should all take this as an opportunity to learn and to realize that you cannot convict someone until they’ve had their day in court,” he said.
Terry Lenamon, a former member of Anthony’s defense team, said Baez could be an example of what lawyers call the Columbo factor, referring to the popular 1970s crime series featuring Peter Falk as a naïve, clumsy detective who was underestimated by colleagues and others because of his irritating questions and shaggy demeanor. In the end, however, he always got the bad guy.
Lenamon said that while he questioned Baez’s strategy and motives at times, the attorney deserves credit for the acquittal.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1969, Baez was raised by a single mother who moved to South Florida. After dropping out of Homestead High, according to the Orlando Sentinel, he married at 17, became a father, earned a GED diploma and joined the Navy in 1986. The newspaper said he was assigned to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Norfolk, Va., where he trained as an intelligence analyst with what he called Cosmic top Secret security clearance.
After leaving the Navy, he attended Miami-Dade Community College, graduated from Florida State University and earned his law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law in 1997. He then joined the Miami-Dade Public Defenders Office, where he worked as a paralegal for a short time, while struggling to be accepted into the Florida bar, according to the Herald.
For year, the Florida Supreme Court continued to turn him down because of character issues, including massive financial problems that bordered on fraud, according to the Herald. The Court wrote that Baez showed a total lack of respect for the legal system, citing his inability to meet his debts, pay child support and failure to pay his student loans.
In an effort to support himself, he started four companies, two of them bikini businesses, Bon Bon Bikinis and Brazilian Bikinis.com, both of which failed, the newspaper reported. He also created a non-profit group, the Miami Domestic Violence Project, but that faltered as well.
Television anchor and former prosecutor Nancy Grace, who snidely referred to Anthony as tot mom, was obviously distraught about the verdict. She directed her anger at Baez and the defense after they went across the street from the Orange County courthouse for a celebration.
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