The only thing I find shocking about the result of the Casey Anthony verdict is that so many people were shocked. This happens time and again in this country because our news media who turn criminal jury trials into sport often get it wrong so many times. The talking heads, many of whom are attorneys themselves and haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom for years, beat a blood lust into anyone who will tune into their show for the advertising revenues their networks seek. This is an all too dangerous trend that needs to end.
Having worked in the criminal courts for over 18 years as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, I know all too well how juries behave. I also know the law. I rarely watch anything related to the law on television because it’s usually wrong. No CSI. No Law and Order. No sensational trial coverage. I may indulge in the occasional Judge Judy episode for a laugh, and because I think everyone understands that’s all a bit tongue in cheek.
I do watch CNN and had always thought them a respected news outlet. No more. Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace in particular have done more to damage the reputation of the media in their coverage of criminal trials than I have ever seen. Even Dr. Drew Pinsky, whose credentials to comment on legal proceedings are non-existent chimed in over and over about the patently obvious guilt of Ms. Anthony. Respected attorneys like Jeffrey Toobin joined the chorus. So now we’re supposed to all be shocked by the outcome. Consider the source.
On Sunday, I found myself watching the defense closing arguments. First Jose Baez, in his first and only murder trial, and then Cheney Mason, reviewed the evidence and then succinctly explained the law. Having seen none of this trial or any part of the testimony, I turned to my wife and said, this is an acquittal. I then posted my opinion on Facebook account for posterity on Sunday and was roundly castigated for it. The rest is history. Here’s why…
Whether Ms. Anthony committed the crime or not, there was no proof of causation. Every homicide requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the crime. Then the jury decides, based on the instructions of law, what degree of homicide, if any, the defendant committed. In this case the Prosecution, caught up in their 15 minutes of fame, went for it all and sought the death penalty by charging First Degree Murder. Ooops. Oh, and by the way, laughing at the other side’s closing argument is a no-no. Juries don’t care for that at all.
First degree murder requires a plan, and then the crime. As with all homicides it also requires proof of cause of death. All they had was a google search and air testing for chloroform. The form of testing used by the prosecution had never ever been used in a court of law before. Shaky is an understatement. There was no toxicology. All they found were bones. Bones and a theory does not make a conviction. Don’t even get me started on motive.
The prosecution also sought a manslaughter conviction which is a homicide committed with gross negligence, a really bad accident, which is a more plausible theory. But again, where’s the cause? So in the end this was really an unwinnable case for the Prosecution. Had the media not shined their bright lights on this small corner of the Criminal Justice System this case could have and should have plead to something like 2nd degree murder and a 15 year sentence. But the Prosecutor went for death and now he’s “retired”. Probably the only good decision that guy made was to promptly retire. I’d have given up too if I lost the biggest trial of my career to a once suspended attorney trying his first Murder case.
As the defense said in their closing press conference, let this be lesson to you all. No less than the Constitution of the United States provide that no person can be convicted of a crime in this country unless a jury of their peers convicts you of all the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether the media or the drones that follow their words want to stomp their feet and jump up and down about the injustice of it all, the jury did their job. If you are looking for someone to blame in this case turn on the TV. The media failed here yet again, and created a mob mentality that fortunately this court and this jury did not yield too. This time, the system worked.
Did Casey Anthony kill her daughter? For what it’s worth my guess is that she did, probably by accident. But therein lies the problem. All we can do here is guess. It’s a sad and tragic case for everyone involved. A shocking result, though, it is not.
Photograph by Scott* via Flickr