Earlier today, a jury declared Casey Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee. Folks outside the courtroom and many legal analysts were stunned. Frankly, I was too. I also happened to be just as stunned by the amount of righteous indignation the television analysts and citizenry showed. It was not a surprise to me, but it left me quaking in my boots.
Casey Anthony was found not guilty of every count except for four misdemeanors relating to providing false information to investigators. In other words, the jury absolved her, legally, of responsibility for the death of her daughter Caylee. A friend of mine commented that the Florida fiasco in the 2000 election gave America President George W. Bush and that “now you [Floridians] let a baby killer go.”
My friends’ quip about Florida 2000 and this trial’s outcome actually made me chuckle. Nevertheless, the comment was actually quite disturbing and I feel it represents much of what I saw on the television in post-verdict coverage.
I noted to my friend that prosecutors must prove charges “beyond a reasonable doubt” and that they brought capital murder charges against Casey Anthony while their case did not contain any slam-dunk evidence of a premeditated murder. The prosecution’s case certainly made Casey look like a terrible mother who had little patience for her daughter and little demonstrable parenting skills, but that is no evidence of purposeful neglect or abuse, a charge for which the jury also found her not guilty. Neglect or abuse is also not always technically murder, even when it leads to the death of a child.
What is puzzling to me from this case is the fact that the jury not only did not convict Casey on lesser included counts of second degree murder, third degree felony murder, and manslaughter. Instead, they found Casey not guilty. An important distinction arises here. Casey was found not guilty of the counts charged against her in an indictment. She was not found innocent. The public presumption will probably always be that this jury blew it, but that is not necessarily the case. If anything, the prosecution blew it and along with it, any chance of justice for Caylee through the legal system.
The prosecution did include lesser counts for the jury to consider, but in my armchair legal experience, which consists of legal dramas on television and limited non-fiction reading, the prosecution blew it by not trying to prove the lesser included counts. From my seat, the prosecution appeared to bet the house on the first degree murder charge. It is quite possible that jury members, who did not immediately speak to the media, felt that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey committed first degree murder and that left with little else to go on, they could not find Casey guilty of the lesser included counts. Had the prosecution presented the case in a bottom up fashion, the outcome very well may have been different, but in their quest to prove a capital murder, the prosecution’s case felt like a disjointed story highlighted by an antihero, Casey Marie Anthony. Instead, the prosecution should have presented events in a fact-and-comment manner: here is a fact (i.e. child is missing), here is the reasoning as to motive or the science behind the fact, here is a witness. Every trial includes this kind of evidence presentation, but the prosecution case felt like they tried to present innuendo (or even salacious facts or details), witness testimony, and then throwing the science on at the end and of course, this was science that was questionable at best because it had been untested in American courtrooms before.
The science, while not necessarily “junk science” or “fantasy science” must have been unconvincing to jurors even with the prosecutions portrayal of Casey as a bad mother. A forensic scientist, Lawrence Kobilinsky, who worked on the defense team said on CNN’s AC 360 that in his mind, the most questionable part of the science was that it was not “reliable.” Kobilinsky said the science was not reliable due the fact that it was so new that it had faced no peer review process across the scientific community. Jeff Toobin, CNN legal analyst, said on The Situation Room that the closing statement of Anthony's may have led the jury to consider the evidence of "murder" and not the "atmospherics" of bad parenting, which is a lot of what the the prosecution presented in its non-police and non-scientific witnesses.
I believe that a parent not loving a child is neglect. However, not loving a child is not legal neglect or abuse and I, personally, am not sure that Casey Anthony loved her child as a parent. Does that make her a bad parent? Maybe. Does that make her abusive? Not necessarily. Does it mean she killed her child? No.
Why would a parent not love his or her own child? Psychologists and psychiatrists could speculate on many reasons, and a lot that would make sense logically, even if they did not emotionally. Casey Anthony’s party girl actions after her daughter went missing certainly did not help public perception of her as a mother, or as a defendant. Again, I want to reiterate that being a bad mother, even a bad person, does not make one a murder.
I believe it is also important to reiterate that the jury finding Casey not guilty does not necessarily mean that the jurors believe she is absolved of any or all responsibility in the disappearance and death of her daughter. It is also important to note that the not guilty findings do not necessarily mean that the jury believed the theory of the defense that Caylee died in a drowning accident. These are important distinctions and the kind of distinctions that jurors should be able to make when considering that prosecutors must prove things beyond a reasonable doubt.
Casey Anthony is a deeply disturbed person, and in my mind, someone who was unfit to be a mother. She may be unfit to roam society-at-large. That does not make her a murder. It does not mean she is innocent as it relates to the death of her daughter. I am glad that in this instance, the American justice system has been able to make these distinctions. Had the prosecution presented evidence in a different way or presented different charges, Casey may well have been convicted of more than lying to investigators. Whether such hypothetical scenarios would satisfy commentators such as Nancy Grace is unknown, but it is something to consider when thinking about this case.
Something else to think about is what the state’s attorney, Lawson Lamar, said in a press conference after the announcement of the verdict. He said that every child murder is “no less horrible and needless” than the one of Caylee Anthony. He also said that the difference between this case and many others is that media does not cover them with such zeal. He said of the approximately 140 pending murder cases in his office in Orange County, Florida, eleven are of children. Eleven children we should be thinking about and fighting for in order to achieve a semblance of justice. The important thing is not that Casey Anthony may be a free person sometime soon, since the community and media have vilified her tremendously, justly or unjustly, to the point that she will most likely become nothing more than an eccentric hermit. The most important take away is that child murders in America and around the world are not “rare…today.” What can we as a society do to make them rare?