United States — July 8, 2011 at 4:39 PM

Reasonable doubt Vs. common sense

The setting was Orlando, Florida. Caylee Marie Anthony (August 9, 2005 – June 16, 2008) was the beautiful child with angelic face. She disappeared June 2008 and her disappearance attracted media attention throughout the United States. Her mother, Casey Anthony, failed to report her missing for 31 days and repeatedly lied about the child’s whereabout. Tired of Casey’s lies and scheming her mother, Cindy Anthony, called authorities and reported her granddaughter missing. Later, five months after the little girl was reported missing, her skeletal remains were discovered December 11, 2008. Subsequently, her mother, Casey, was indicted on seven charges including first degree murder, setting the stage for what is now dubbed the world’s first social media trial. She pled not guilty.

Enter the trial. It was an emotionally charged legal battle. The prosecution and defense gave it all they had till the very end, throwing legal punches and counter-punches like two pugilist in the final round of an evenly scored boxing bout. But unlike the final round of such a pugilistic contest, the outcome of this battle was somewhat predictable. Most legal pundits and legal luminaries predicted a guilty verdict, and rightfully so. After all, the evidence presented by the prosecution led by Jeff Ashton was overwhelming and made you wonder how the defense could overcome it. But, despite the prosecution’s mountain of evidence the defense, led by Jose Baez and co-counsel Cheney Mason, did not blink. It fought back indefatigably like a cornered snake fighting for its life. The defense threw in everything  it got at the jury, including those that made sense and the ones that didn’t.

So, when the verdict was read as “Not Guilty” observers in the tightly-packed Judge Belvin Perry courtroom were shell-shocked. As the verdict was read expressions on the faces of those present in  the courtroom seemed to be screaming loud to the effect of “what in the world just happened?” People, in and outside the courtroom, were scratching their heads trying to make sense of what they thought was nonsense. The defendant, Casey Anthony, was found not guilty of first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and aggravated child abuse. She was found guilty of only four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor in the State of Florida. “Wow!”, most people thought. It was like the American judicial system had been turned upside-down and stood on its head.

No sooner was the verdict read than the American media and its army of analysts went into overdrive trying to figure out the verdict. The analysts tried to construe what the prosecution did wrong and what the defense did right. But I submit to you that the reason for the “not guilty” verdict neither lies with what the prosecution nor the defense did or did not do. Look no further than the jury for your answer.

Based on the 11 hours which it took the jury to deliberate, it is clear that the jury did not revisit the over 350 evidence presented in the trial. Let’s face it, how could anyone reasonably come to a just conclusion without taking a thorough look at the evidence presented in this trial? The argument by some people that the jury already saw the evidence as they were being presented by both sides and, therefore, does not need to revisit it again during deliberation,  is hogwash. There is a reason why the American justice system set aside reasonable time for a jury to deliberate after the jury gets a case. American justice system recognizes that evidence need to be revisited during deliberation in order to arrive at a reasonable and just verdict, which is why it imposes no time limit for jury deliberation although a jury is expected to have a verdict (or lack of it) within reasonable time.

The question on most people’s mind is what really happened? How could a 26 years old mother who did not report her child missing for 31 days but, instead, lied about her (and the missing child’s) whereabout, and partied for those 31 days, beat the rap? In those 31 days she also got a tattoo on the back of her left shoulder which read in Italian “Bella Vita”, meaning  “beautiful life”. How could this happen in a country thought to have one of the world’s best jurisprudence?

What made this jury go rogue? Did it not consider the overwhelming circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution? I have listened and read about some opinions to the effect that the prosecution did not show cause of death. What cause of death? The little girl’s body when it was found had already decomposed leaving only bones. In the absence of tissues to work with, how could any medical examiner possibly test for cause of death? Isn’t the reason why a case is referred to as circumstantial have to do with absence of some hard-core evidence and the prosecution has to rely on circumstances surrounding the crime? Hence, the name circumstantial evidence.

Are the supporters of this rogue verdict suggesting that anyone can kill another and, as long as the perpetrator is able to hide the body to decay beyond recognition and without tissues, he/she should rejoice because the cause of death could never be ascertained therefore, there will be no charge brought forth by the state? Recall that in the 2002 Laci Peterson homicide trial in Modesto, California the exact date and cause of death was never determined. Laci was about seven and half months pregnant when she disappeared. Later authorities discovered that her body had been dumped in a river where her husband, Scott Peterson, was believed to be boating the day of her disappearance. Due to decomposition the specific cause of death could not be determined by the medical examiner. But despite the lack of cause of death her husband, Scott Peterson, was convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree of Laci, and murder in the second degree for their prenatal son. That case, as this Casey Anthony trial, was largely circumstantial. Peterson also told a lot of lies though not as much as Casey. He now sits on death row in a California prison.

Another argument by supporters of the verdict (who are in minority) is that  the prosecution did not prove the most serious charges beyond reasonable doubt. Are you kidding me? Florida state’s statute stipulates that the state of Florida (represented by the prosecution) prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, not beyond any kind of doubt regardless if the doubt makes sense or not. The key term is “reasonable doubt”, not any frivolous doubt that may creep into a juror’s mind as he/she contemplates a case.

With all due respect to those who opine that the prosecution in this case did not prove the most serious charges beyond reasonable doubt, I think that you are mistaking reasonable doubt to mean any doubt. Though defense attorneys know the difference between reasonable doubt and doubt, they pretend not to know the difference during trials, and argue before jurors to return a “not guilty” verdict if they ever have any doubt at all, irrespective of the type (reasonable or nonsense doubt). That’s what defense attorney do; it’s their bread and butter.

Though a trial is supposed to be a search for the truth, the reality is that defense attorneys are only interested in acquitting a defendant. The prosecution on the other hand is always trying to appeal to a jury to weigh the evidence presented, and use common sense to find a defendant (or defendants)  guilty. Depending on the case, common sense may live in the prosecution’s argument or the defense’s. So, though a legal trial is supposed to be a search for the truth, in actuality it is a matchup between reasonable doubt and common sense. Most of the time common sense is victorious, this time it wasn’t.

One logical explanation for this absurd verdict is that during the trial the jury bonded with the defendant, and as a result felt pity for her. The defense in the early stages of the trial had asked the judge to allow it to reposition its table because it claimed people sitting behind it were looking down and prying into its sensitive documents or information written down, in real time, by members of the defense team, including the defendant. The judge obliged the request and that was how the defense table was repositioned to directly face members of the jury. So, for the length of the trial the defendant, Casey Anthony, sat face-to-face and, in close proximity, with the jurors. Casey Anthony is young (26 years old), white, and by a reasonable judgment pretty. As she sat eyeball-to-eyeball with the jury something happened to the psych of the jurors that made them resolve not to find her guilty in the most serious charges.

Another explanation for this bizarre verdict could be that the jury felt sorry for the defendant’s parents, George and Cindy Anthony who have two children, Lee and Casey (the defendant). They have lost a granddaughter and about to lose their only daughter, Casey. Chances are that the jurors emotionally got connected with George and Cindy, and did not want to inflict more pain on them. For example, Cindy on some occasions openly wept during her testimonies. In one of such emotional outbursts she dramatically doubled over in grief while in the witness dock and sobbed uncontrollably like a baby, her face and head buried in her arms. The judge promptly stopped the trial temporarily in order for her to get a grip of herself. George also in one of his testimonies wept uncontrollably.

The other explanation put forth by a school of thought is that the jury was not intellectually sophisticated enough to decipher the evidence and the judge’s instructions. The judge’s instructions, evidence and arguments just got too complicated and confusing to the jury, and it decided to return a not-guilty verdict for fear of convicting an innocent person, this school of thought contends.  I know some people who harbor this feeling but are not bold enough to say it in public for fear of being accused of insulting a jury. These individuals maintain that the prosecution and defense in trials are guilty of empanelling an unsophisticated jury because they both want weak-minded persons whom they can easily sway. Interesting point of view, but I respect jurors and the civic duty they perform. Though some juries return wrong and questionable verdicts, most juries in the land get it right.

Some of the Casey Anthony jurors, after the controversial verdict, are speaking and blaming everyone else but the defendant for their verdict. Am I missing something here? Was it not Casey Anthony that was on trial? Not her father, George Anthony; not her mother, Cindy Anthony; not her brother, Lee Anthony; not the medical examiner; not the police investigators who were trying to find the missing child.

One of the Prosecution’s theory was that the defendant used chloroform to kill the child. One juror had the nerve to say on television in a phone interview with a journalist that although the prosecution showed that chloroform was searched by the defendant on a computer, and evidence of large dose of chloroform was found in the trunk of the defendant’s car where the dead child was believed to have been originally hidden before it was disposed off in a swamp, the prosecution did not show how the defendant killed the child with chloroform. Therefore, he had to vote not guilty during deliberation. This is bologna. This juror’s thought is irrational. Just because the prosecution couldn’t tell if the chloroform was applied slow, fast, through the mouth or nose or in what form it was, this juror had to vote for acquittal?

Something else that I don’t understand is how the jury is quick to point out what the prosecution did or did not do, but fails to comment on the defense’s crazy and out-of-this-world theories it put forth in its opening statement. During the trial the defense did not provide any shred of evidence to support its wacky opening statement theory that the defendant’s father and brother sexually molested her. The defense also did not provide any iota of evidence to support its claim that the child drowned in the Anthony’s swimming pool.

Although this verdict favors the defense, it should not brag that the jury bought its argument. It did not. The jury did what it wanted to do, which was to set the defendant free, no matter what. Even if the defense did nothing in the trial but sit and listen to the prosecution as it presented witnesses, evidence and theories about the case, this jury would have still rendered a not guilty verdict. This jury was on a mission and would not be persuaded otherwise.

Bottom-line, this jury clearly acted out of emotion rather than intellect. It erred in judgment by thinking that the trial was only about Casey. Where is justice for Caylee Anthony? This trial was about Caylee Anthony, a murdered  two-year old, whose only voice in the courtroom was the prosecution and the numerous prosecution witnesses that testified. The trial was not about sympathy or pity for the defendant.

At the very least, the defendant also should have been found guilty of aggravated child abuse. After all, according to presented evidence, the defendant was the last person to be with her alive. The defendant was unable to show evidence that the child left her custody and into someone else’s care. This is rogue justice.

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