For better or for worse, it has become second nature in this great country of ours to second guess just about everything. Whether it be the outcome of a sporting event or an election, or the verdict in a criminal trial or civil lawsuit, or even something as comparatively insignificant as the last scene of a book or movie or the final episode of some TV series, Americans seem to take delight in telling everyone who will stop long enough to let them get started why that particular resolution was, in fact, the WRONG one.
Tuesday’s verdict in the Casey Anthony trial down in Florida is just the latest case in point. Around 1:15 p.m. Oklahoma time, the seven-woman, five-man jury announced that they had found 25-year-old Anthony not guilty of first degree murder in the 2008 death of her daughter Caylee. The jury did find Anthony guilty on four misdemeanor counts of giving false information to investigators; but the maximum sentence on each of those convictions is four years, so if Anthony is sentenced to less than the maximum prison time allowed by law, and given credit for time served in the Orange County jail while awaiting trial, she could be free before the end of the week.
That verdict was barely seconds old when the Internet erupted in an explosion of outrage over the jury’s decision. While I didn’t take the time to post my feelings online the way so many others have, I’ll admit I was one of those questioning the jury’s wisdom. I hadn’t followed the case as closely as others had, but I’d heard and read enough to believe that the prosecution must have put together a pretty good case. How could anyone believe otherwise?
“If that was ‘a jury of my peers,‘ I'm looking for some new peers,” a commenter wrote on one of the news websites reporting the verdict. I couldn’t help but agree.
But even in the midst of all the criticism and denouncements... even as TV pundits and Internet bloggers were attacking the jurors and Julie Chen was having her meltdown on "The View"... even as I myself sat here at my desk scratching my head and wondering how 12 reasonably intelligent people might have come to such an apparently boneheaded decision, there was one small fact that I couldn’t quite dance around.
I wasn’t there.
I wasn’t sitting in that hot Florida courtroom almost every day for the past seven weeks, hearing for myself first-hand all the evidence that prosecutors in the case presented. What little I knew about the case I learned second- and sometimes third-hand – information filtered through a national news media seemingly less concerned these days about reporting the news than with helping to make it, and from consumers of those reports who admittedly followed it more closely than I did but who sometimes fail to grasp the difference between news and commentary.
Anybody who knows me or has read this column for any length of time at all knows I – like a great many people – tend to let my emotions overpower my intellect whenever I hear of violent crimes committed against children. That’s the parent in me, I suppose. It’s hard to hear the reports of kidnapped or murdered youngsters and not wonder what could drive someone to such an unspeakable act. Or to not imagine the sickening prospect that this could have been your family that has experienced this tragedy.
It’s even harder to face such stories when you’re a reporter – at least it is for me. Of all the stories I’ve covered as a reporter over the years, or watched colleagues of mine cover during that time, the ones that have stayed with me – in one case, the one that still haunts me – are those which have involved the violent deaths of small children. As a reporter you’re supposed to be unbiased, but it’s difficult to look at the court documentation in such cases or hear the tesimony at trials and not walk away hoping beyond hope that the hottest parts of Hell are reserved for the monsters who perpetrate such crimes.
But there’s another fact that many Americans – myself included, as much as I hate to admit it – sometimes forget: in the legal sense, at least, there is a world of difference between “not guilty” and “innocent.” Those 12 people sitting in that Florida jury box did not say that Casey Anthony did not murder her daughter. They said the prosecution had not proven its case. And as such they rendered the only verdict they felt they could.
There is a bitter irony in the fact that this verdict should have come the day after the national holiday in which we celebrate the rights and freedoms we enjoy in this country. One of those rights is that to a fair trial. Whether we agree with the verdict or not – and make no mistake, I most emphatically do not – the fact remains that Miss Anthony got the trial she was entitled to.
As much as I hate the outcome, it wasn’t the system that failed in this particular case. The failure – at the risk of sounding like a second guesser – lies at the feet of the prosecutors who sought justice for Caylee but were unable to deliver.
That’s what I believe, anyway.
In : Opinion
Tags: "current events"