I believe Casey Anthony murdered her daughter. I also believe that her jury rightly acquitted her. Let me explain.
Our system of justice in America is a marvel of fairness. It is one of the very few on Earth that stipulates that a person is innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around. It bends over backward to assure that the people with all the power cannot steamroll over the powerless.
In our system, you have a right to have an attorney represent you, to navigate all the complex maneuvering that happens in a courtroom, to assure that you have every chance in the world – even when the cards are stacked against you. Even when you did it, and you know it and everyone in the room knows it.
The other side is required to prove that you did it. Prove it. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the phrase that you know well. Not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but beyond something that would cause a reasonable person to question. (This is where the issue got tough for most people watching the Anthony trial.) Proof. Evidence. Physical, no-assumptions-necessary, here-are-the-fingerprints, this-is-Casey’s-hair-caught-in-the-duct-tape proof. This is so, so important. It guarantees that a person who looks guilty, or who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or has the wrong shade of skin color, isn’t imprisoned or put to death just because of those things.
So. With all these safeguards built into the system designed to assure that the guilty are brought to justice and the innocent are not wrongly imprisoned (or worse), how did it fail so badly in the Anthony case?
Here’s the really, really difficult part: it didn’t fail. It worked.
The prosecution failed to prove – with real, physical evidence linking Casey to her daughter’s death – that Anthony had anything at all to do with Caylee’s disappearance and death. And Casey’s legal team did their job masterfully, if distastefully: they threw enough other ideas at the jury that, in the absence of that link, they began to doubt. Don’t blame the jury. They came to the only conclusion they legally could.
How did this happen?
First and foremost, Casey Anthony knew exactly what she was doing. In failing to report her daughter missing for thirty-one days, she practically guaranteed that any evidence linking her to Caylee’s disappearance was wiped away. It gave her plenty of time to erase her trail, to dispose of the rest of the roll of duct tape, the black trash bags, the chloroform and the rag long before anyone would know to search her trash for them. And by the time the authorities found Caylee’s tiny body, ascertaining definitive cause of death was impossible.
That sad and dysfunctional family played their part as well. Casey knew without doubt that she could buffalo her parents into believing that there was nothing unusual about their not seeing the baby for a month. Her parents – her mother, especially – appear to have had a long history of swallowing whatever bull she’d present to them. How wrapped around Casey they are was revealed with sickening clarity during the trial, when Casey’s defense team got her mother to claim that it was *she*, not Casey, who searched chloroform, neck-breaking and the like on the computer. And then there was the brother blubbering on the witness stand about feeling “left out” because he wasn’t invited to Caylee’s birthday party. Jiggling bundles of neuroses, every last one of them. But if you’re Casey’s defense team looking for ways to introduce reasonable doubt, look no further than that nutball family.
Which brings us to the defense team. It’s easy to be completely disgusted by Casey’s lawyers and the tactics they used, the cockamamie stories they flung at the jury. But they did their jobs well. It is imperative to remember that the defense was successful because the police were unable to produce any physical evidence linking Casey Anthony to her daughter’s death. In the absence of that hard evidence, all the defense had to do was to introduce enough alternatives to the prosecution’s story that would lead the jury to question how it happened. It was sickening to listen to, but it worked.
It is the job of the defense attorney to assure that no innocent person pays for something he did not do. I believe fully in that mission. But in the course of carrying it out, they most certainly cause a few of the guilty to go free, which is very, very difficult for us to accept. And I could accept that it is the price we pay for the system we believe in, if not for one awful truth: the defendant who most needs competent representation rarely gets it. The system is so inundated that the people whose job it is to protect the people without means to protect themselves are simply overwhelmed. They don’t have the time or the resources to devote to each client whose file is thrown on their desks. This is where my belief in the system falters.
So. There it is. The American judicial system was affirmed. Unfortunately, it was at the cost of a little girl’s cry for justice.