To many media pundits and members of the public, the “not guilty” verdict handed down in the Casey Anthony trial earlier this week seemed unjust and unfair; a failure of the judicial system to mete out justice the public determined was merited. Nothing could be further from the truth. The verdict is a perfect example of our judicial system working as intended, and should serve as a reminder that the fiery passions of the public, stoked by self-serving media pundits, have no place in a court of law.
Casey Anthony, who was arrested and charged with the murder of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008, was acquitted of all charges except lying to police on Monday. The delivery of the verdict resulted in a firestorm among the media and the public who had condemned Anthony as a heartless murderer years before jury selection even began.
Shortly after the verdict was read, BurnCaseyBurn, one of many Twitter accounts following the trial, tweeted a feeling that seemed common among trial-followers, “I am absolutely disgusted right now. I hope the jurors all lose their jobs and are run out of town.”
Susan McDougal, a New Yorker following the trial, was quoted by ABC News proclaiming, “I’m sick, you know, she killed a little girl [and] she gets off and she goes home and maybe has another baby that she can abuse and hurt.” Another viewer was quoted saying this verdict “is going to make millions of people think they can get away with killing their child.”
Nancy Grace, a former prosecutor and talking head on CNN with an affinity for inflammatory rhetoric, declared that there is no way the truth was presented to the jury and that Casey Anthony was acquitted because her defense team lied to the jury. She concluded that “the devil is dancing tonight” due to the verdict.
This level of arrogance toward and ignorance of our judicial system is shameful and unacceptable. Our nation has laws based on reason, independent from emotion. Our judicial system’s bedrock principle is we are innocent until proven guilty. We have a set of rules passed by Congress and approved by judges nationwide that establishes, in detail, how trials should be managed and what evidence may go to a jury.
To declare the judicial system is “broken” as a result of this trial is both poorly thought and flat out dumb. The jury heard seven weeks of testimony and was presented with over 400 pieces of evidence; they heard testimony from family and experts; they heard arguments and appeals from lawyers and friends. They unanimously found her not guilty.
As the jurors slowly began to speak about their experience, we see that they too were torn with their decision. “We were sick to our stomach to get that verdict,” said Jennifer Ford, formerly known as Juror Number Three, but “there was not enough evidence,” she continued. “If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be.”
Armchair lawyers and self-proclaimed legal experts, who watched the trial and listened to media pundits spout their opinions ad nauseam, are conceited to claim that the jury was incorrect in any way. Even if they watched every second of trial that was televised, at-home viewers still missed an overwhelming amount of content and evidence presented in court. Moreover, listening to pundits comment on the trial skewed the evidence in ways that would easily cause a mistrial, if attempted in an actual courtroom. Anthony’s defense attorney Cheney Mason was spot on when he called the trial’s coverage a three-year-long attempted “media assassination” of his client.
The fact is that the prosecution’s evidence was never anywhere near as damning as the media pundits hoped it would be. There was no physical evidence linking Anthony to the scene of the crime, or to any actions thereafter. The prosecution could not even establish a cause of death. The only evidence they had was circumstantial and contradicted by the defense.
Did Anthony’s actions and the circumstantial evidence imply guilt? Maybe, but our legal system should not work on implications alone. Twelve members of the public who heard all of the evidence over the course of two months came to the unanimous conclusion that Anthony was not even guilty of child abuse, much less pre-meditated first-degree murder.
History is rife with examples of innocents condemned to punishment because of the mindless yelling of the public mob. We do not need to look any further than the spurious accusations made against the Duke Lacrosse team in 2006 to be reminded of the misplaced rancor public opinion can exert.
We created a system of procedural checks and protections to insulate the judicial system from the emotional reactions of a public that can be (and is) easily misled. Every individual charged is innocent until proven otherwise, and our failure to remember this fundamental principal is unbecoming. Those upset with the verdict should instead look to the pundits who are misinformed and the prosecution that over-extended for personal gain. A jury of Anthony’s peers unanimously found the evidence presented by the prosecution unconvincing. This is not a fault of our judicial system; it is an example that should instill faith that even the most demonized among us can receive a fair trial.
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