Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Verdict

Last month I wrote about my frustration with the media in relation to high profile criminal cases like Casey Anthony's.  It was a long, rambling piece about how we have a system that is supposed to presume innocence, with the burden of proof being on the prosecution to convict.  I expressed concern that when so much evidence is publicized before the trial that it will taint prospective jurors, thus denying people their right to a fair trial.

And then yesterday (in case you somehow missed it) Casey Anthony was found not guilty of 1st degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child.  She was convicted of 4 counts of providing false information to law enforcement.

My Facebook newsfeed went sort of ballistic.

I counted 20 posts regarding the verdict.  Of those, 12 posts were along the lines of, "Eff you, defense attorney/Casey/jury she did it and you know it!"  6 posts stated something about reasonable doubt and how the prosecution didn't prove their case well enough so the verdict was valid, 1 post simply stated "I wasn't on the jury so I can't judge," and 1 post was completely neutral, only linking the news story with the comment "Not guilty."

Now, I want to be clear here: I have a gut feeling that Casey Anthony killed her daughter.

And now I want to tell a story that was in the news when I was in college.

A man and his wife went out for a night-time excursion on their boat.  They did the wrong thing and had a few drinks.  When it was time to turn it around and come home, something happened - the boat hit a wave wrong, the wife slipped, I don't remember exactly how it happened, but the wife ended up in the water.  The husband, being a little woozy already, panicked and briefly tried to find her in the water but then realized that he wasn't equipped to help her.  The longer he stayed there the greater probability that she would drown.  So he went for shore as fast as he could, tied up the boat, and called the police.  When the police responded, they decided to treat this as a crime.  So they interrogated him for four hours and didn't bother to notify anyone to start a search party for the wife.  By the end of the four hours it was clear to the husband that the police had a rough scenario mapped out: husband wanted out of the marriage for some reason, maybe an affair he wasn't admitting, maybe there were money problems, whatever, so he staged this to look like an accident by pushing his intoxicated wife overboard in the middle of the night.

Luckily for the man (and especially luckily for the wife), a small fishing boat happened to be nearby and happened  to hear the wife call for help.  She figured that her husband had gone to the police for help, so she headed there, too, and corroborated his story 100%.

Now what would happen if that fishing boat hadn't been there?  The police would have had a body and a flimsy story with no witnesses to back this guy up.  Under their scenario they wouldn't have had to look for any injuries since the cause of death would have been drowning, and any traces of alcohol left in her system would have backed up the idea that he'd liquored her up to impair her swimming.


I'm not saying that I buy Casey Anthony's story.  What I'm saying is that without direct evidence that Caylee Anthony was even murdered (that evidence itself is circumstantial - no injuries to the skeletal remains, and no chemical evidence found, either), and without direct evidence that Casey - and only Casey - had the means, motive, and opportunity to carry out said murder, then the accidental drowning story provides reasonable doubt.

The violent reactions against the verdict that I was reading were completely emotionally based.  It was either that same gut feeling that I have, or pointing to her behavior during the month that Caylee was "missing," but it wasn't based on science, direct witnesses, or any irrefutable evidence.

The prosecution just didn't have the kind of evidence that they needed to absolutely prove that Casey Anthony had the motive or used the means that they suggested in carrying out first degree murder.

Child neglect?  Sure.  Probably even neglect resulting in the death of a child.  Murder one?  No.

Again, I feel the need to point out that I do have the gut feeling that she did it.  BUT...

Here's the thing, you guys.  Sometimes innocent people are arrested for heinous crimes.  I repeat the question that I asked last month: is it better that more murderers sometimes go free so that we reduce the number of innocent people wrongly convicted?  Or is it better to tighten the system so that fewer actual criminals are acquitted, but more innocent people are jailed (or worse)?

She was on trial for a crime punishable by death, and the prosecution was going to ask for the death penalty in the event of a conviction.  You can't take that back if there's a mistake.  If evidence comes up down the road that exonerates someone, you can't vacate the sentence.  It's done forever.  That's why we need to be very, very certain of guilt.  And I'm not talking about a certainty based off of gut feelings or crazy behavior that doesn't match what you think you would do in that person's shoes.  I'm talking proof beyond a reasonable doubt - proof that a murder occurred, that there was a clear means, motive, and opportunity, and no one else who could reasonably have committed the crime.

I'm not happy that Casey Anthony is going to walk free after her stint in prison for her misdemeanor convictions (if she even goes to or survives prison).  But I am happy that I live in a place where it's tougher to sentence someone to die when there isn't much more evidence than my gut feeling that she did it.

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