Sunday, July 10, 2011
My Sunday Feeling
"I did not say she was innocent. I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be."
Jennifer Ford, a member of the jury that acquitted Casey Anthony
By whatever criterion you would care to devise, Casey Anthony was one hell of an unsympathetic defendant. Most of us, well, all of us, cannot imagine partying, and otherwise making a spectacle of oneself, if our child had disappeared. 2 year old Caylee Anthony was missing, dead actually, and Casey's out getting tattoos and cavorting with numerous men as if she no longer had a care in the world? Casey Anthony sure looked like she was guilty of killing little poor little Caylee. Indeed, she looked for all the world like an intemperate head case, a less stable version of Lindsay Lohan, the kind of barfly that sensible young men would do well to avoid but inevitably do not. And the State of Florida proved that she came from a family that was, to use the current catch-all definition, "dysfunctional."
But that's not murder.
I am no criminal lawyer. Nor do I play one on TV. And while I didn't follow the case like some people did, it always seemed to me that the case was overcharged. Which means nothing in a certain sense in that prosecutors typically charge a defendant with anything and everything they can think of in hopes of getting at least a plea or conviction on a lesser included offense. Not to go all pedantic on you but a lesser included offense is an offense that is a constituent element of the charge with the highest penalty. To put it very simply, and making up a criminal statute to do it, if I attempted to murder you, I at least assaulted you, assault being the lesser included offense of the charge of attempted murder. And it is unknown, at least to me, if they offered Anthony a deal to plead out to a lesser offense or not. I'm guessing that the State had no choice but to go all in, given the glare of publicity surrounding the case.
Which leads me to the next question. What made this murder trial a national issue? If Nancy Grace hadn't sunk her fangs into Anthony's backside I submit to you that we might have never heard about this case. Don't get me wrong. The death of a child, any child, is a grievous and pitiable loss. What reasonably sentient parent wouldn't be wild with grief or worry over a lost child? And the thought of poor Caylee being buried by the side of the road while her Mother disported herself like unto a white trash version of Paris Hilton is hard to reconcile. No, there is a lot to dislike about Casey Anthony.
But that's not murder.
And children are killed every day. Often at the hands of a parent or-forgive me-caregiver and nobody hears about it. At least it is safe to say that the abuse and murder of children does not ordinarily throw the media into a frenzy.
As has been pointed out elsewhere, we have CNN's Nancy Grace largely to thank for turning this case into a circus and inflaming the court of public opinion against the Defendant, who granted didn't exactly help herself on that score with her reprehensible conduct. But you don't convict a person of capital felony murder because of behavior in saloons that might cause Salome to blush. You have to have evidence. And the State couldn't prove causation or time of death. That's pretty big. It is hard to sell a murder charge with only circumstantial evidence in an age where folks are used to seeing the genius cops on TV wrap things up in a hour with computers and microscopes.
When O.J. Simpson was acquitted in his trial, it was said by some that it was proof that the legal system doesn't work. Well, under the Constitution the burden of proof is on the State to prove guilt. When it doesn't sustain that burden the Defendant gets to "go home" as my criminal lawyer friends say.
And for Nancy Grace, a lawyer who professes faith in the legal system, to say after the verdict that"[s]omewhere the devil is dancing tonight" is reprehensible and unprofessional and panders to the lowest common denominator. Check that. It would be unprofessional if she were using her training and experience to do straight up legal reporting. She is not. It is strictly show business. She is to legal reporting as Rush Limbaugh is to politics. So I take that back. Sorta.
Did Casey Anthony get away with murder? Only she knows that for sure. The juror quoted described their task correctly. Because innocence is not a legal concept. It is a moral concept. The question before the jury was whether there was enough evidence to prove that Casey Anthony was guilty of the crimes for which she was charged. Period. And the jury ruled that there was not.
Like it or not, like Casey Anthony or not, that's the way the system works.
May God have mercy on her soul.