Thursday, July 7, 2011

When Justice Isn't Served

By Jaden Terrell

By now, unless you've been living on a deserted island with only a soccer ball for companionship, you probably know that Casey Anthony was found "not guilty" of killing her two-year-old daughter, Caylee. There was no forensic evidence on the body because there was no "body." By the time she was found, the little girl had been reduced to nothing but bones.

Casey says the little girl accidentally drowned. Then why the chloroform in the trunk? (Casey's mom says the stain was there when they bought the car, but the rate at which chloroform dissipates makes that impossible.) And what mother, after finding her toddler drowned not only fails to report the child's death, but covers her mouth and nose with duct tape, hides her body in the trunk, dumps it in the woods, and spends the next month partying with her friends and lying about the whereabouts of her child? If Casey Anthony is not a murderer (and I believe she is), I submit that she is without a doubt a poor excuse for a mother--and for a human being.

On my way to work this morning, two radio hosts were discussing the case when a woman named Nicole called in. The conversation, in part, went something like this:

Nicole: I know she wasn't guilty because she didn't look guilty.

Host: What does that mean, she didn't look guilty?

Nicole: I mean, she didn't look sad or anything. If she'd really killed her child, she would have looked sad. She would have to live with that. I mean, she would feel terrible, and she would have looked really sad.

Seriously? Doesn't the lack of affect makes it more likely that Ms. Anthony is guilty? Any normal person whose child had been killed would be--and look--sad. And if you were an innocent person on trial for that child's murder, how much more sad and frightened would you be? But Casey shed no tears for her daughter. The only tears she shed were for herself.

Here's a further sampling of the conversation:

Host: I still believe she's guilty.

Nicole: You can't say that.

Host: I can't say that?

Nicole: No, a jury of her peers proved her innocent. The law proved she's not guilty, so no, you can't say that.

Host: I can't say that, in my opinion, she did it?

Nicole: No, you can't. The law said she's innocent.

Host: But this is still a free country. I can say I have an opinion, and my opinion is, she's guilty.

Nicole: But that's not really an opinion, is it?

Host: Well, yes. That's exactly what it is.

Nicole: I disagree.

Host: You disagree that it's an opinion? And I can't say it?

Nicole: The law said she didn't do it, so no you can't.

Setting aside Nicole's ignorance of freedom of speech and what an opinion is, she missed something every good mystery reader or writer knows: the court does not determine innocence. The court determines that there is "reasonable" doubt of guilt. Shortly after the verdict, one juror revealed that she and her fellow jurors were "sick to our stomachs" about the verdict. "I did not say she was innocent. I just said there was not enough evidence."

A number of factors contributed to the verdict, including the lack of forensic evidence, the skeletonization of the body and the testimony of Casey's mother (during which she contradicted her previous testimony and almost certainly perjured herself by claiming to have been the one to Google "chloroform," even though she was at work at the time and could not have done so). The defense diverted attention from the child's death by focusing on Casey's claim that, as a child, she had been sexually abused by her father and brother. Why that should be a mitigating factor in the murder of one's child is a mystery to me, but there you go. Casey left the courtroom with a slap on the wrist for lying to police and will doubtless soon be weighing book and movie options worth millions. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see her on the talk show circuit or maybe on her own reality TV show.

Marcia Clark, the prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, offered a plausible reason for the jury's verdict. She says many juries confuse a reasonable doubt with a reason to doubt; every defense attorney will try to give the jury a reason to doubt, but that doesn't mean the level of doubt is reasonable. The point is, while a legal decision was reached, most people would agree that, in this case, little Caylee did not receive justice.

We can all think of cases in which we believe justice was not served. Among mine are 1) Mary Winkler, who shot her sleeping husband with a shotgun, took her daughters to the beach rather than reporting his death, and then got off the hook by claiming to be a battered wife, 2) O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of murdering his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman and whose jurors all said they thought he did it but didn't think there was enough evidence, and 3) (even though he hasn't, at least as far as we know, killed an actual human being) Michael Vick.

I put him in this group because, by his own admission, he tortured and killed dogs for pleasure (no, not "just" fighting them, torturing them). He got off with less than two years in prison, not for torturing animals but for inter-state gambling. Vick gives speeches for the Humane Association, not because he's contrite--he isn't--but because it was a court-imposed condition for early release. When asked what he would like to change about his life, he said he would have spent less time in prison.

Really? I would have said, "I wouldn't have tortured those dogs."

I know what he did wasn't as bad as killing a child (though a friend from the TBI once told me, "A man who will do that to a dog would do it to a child"), but seriously? Sportsman of the Year? In all the NFL, we couldn't find anyone who better represents the quality of sportsmanship?

These are far from the only cases where, even though legal justice was served, moral justice was not. I'm sure you can name a few yourself. I still believe that, despite its flaws, our system of justice is the best in the world, but even the best system fails sometimes. Maybe that's one reason why I read and write mysteries. The victim always receives justice, and the hero, though it may be at great cost, always prevails.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Unfortunately, our justice system requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. The only reason this case became a national centerpiece is because of its emotional nature. Jurors reported being "sick to their stomachs" over their verdict, but the defense was successful in poking enough holes in the prosecution's case that reasonable doubt existed, even when they believed she was guilty. Think OJ and you're on the right track.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Especially troubling to me was the fact that Casey's stoney-faced parents immediately left the courtroom when the verdcts were read. If they believed their daughter innocent, they would have been smiling and anxious to hug her and celebrate.

Jaden Terrell said...

Mark, I thought Marcia Clark's explanation of "reasonable doubt" versus "reason to doubt" was enlightening. Yes, the pictures of that child tugged at people's hearts--especially when juxtaposed with the photos of her mother laughing and partying, all the while knowing her child was dead.

Jean, you're right. The body language and facial expressions of Casey and her parents spoke volumes. You can't convict based on that, but you can draw some obvious comclusions.