Celebrity status should not tread where Justice fails

After weeks of hearing testimony in the most highly publicized American trial of the past decade, the Orlando jury announced a verdict today in the Casey Anthony murder trial. The young woman accused of killing her own baby broke into tears at hearing the jury's decision, a decision that shocked the public and media alike: Not Guilty of first degree murder, Not Guilty of aggravated manslaughter and Not Guilty of aggravated child abuse. Although Anthony was found guilty on all lesser charges of lying to police, she has thus been cleared of killing her child, Caylee Anthony, and likewise escapes the possibility of execution.

Now that the trial is over I will admit I was shocked by the verdict. This prosecution's case, while based wholly on circumstantial evidence, seemed solid enough when cast against such an unbelievable defendant. Anthony's known traipsing over truth, her heartless behavior on the heels of her daughter's disappearance and the facts surrounding Caylee's recovered body all gave the impression that this woman had to have, at the very least, some knowledge of what happened to the baby. Adding to the culpability question was the defense team's shocking insertion that the baby had drowned and the claim that the entire matter was merely an accident that had snowballed out of control. Complicating matters further was the unsubstantiated allegation -apparently made to arouse jury sympathy- that Casey's father and brother had molested her. There was a host of other flaws to the defense's case, too many to go into here, but it is suffice to say there were enough of them to be pointed out by defense attorneys round the nation. In the end, despite all the conclusion most of the public had reached -one based, I'd dare say, on common sense and the human ability to sniff out a heinous individual when she's put in front of us- the jury found Casey Anthony not guilty in the murder and manslaughter charges.

Today on Fox News Judge Andrew P. Napolitano speculated, to the effect, that the verdict may have been quite different had the jury been allowed to convict Anthony of reckless or negligent homicide. But the prosecution didn't want to provide that option, and their drive to push jurors into believing Anthony had knowingly and with premeditation killed little Caylee could very well be the crux behind their verdict. I can see where this could be what happened. As despicable as Anthony is to me and others, it is no stretch of the imagination to say she is a narcissistic personality. We've all seen the family photos of mother and daughter. It is visually convincing that Anthony didn't harbor outright hatred for Caylee. Still, Anthony's documented activities and attitude point to an individual capable of inflicting a self-interested, thoughtless fatal injury to another person such as using chloroform to put someone considered an inconvenience to sleep, or taping their mouth in order to keep them conveniently quiet. After fatality occurs, a narcissistic person would think first and foremost of their own interests, and have no problem attempting to cover up their mess and/or making up wild, exaggerated tales to investigators. In such a situation the narcissist is certainly guilty of homicide, even if they had not premeditated their crime. This scenario may have been what the jurors concluded after hearing both sides of the case, and in their view could not in good conscience convict Anthony of first degree murder or aggravated manslaughter. And if indeed this is what happened, then the prosecution has itself to blame in part for this sorry act of justice for the victim.

The real victim in the case, 2 year old Caylee Anthony
The real victim in the case, 2 year old Caylee Anthony

I am infuriated by the fact that all too soon Casey Anthony will be walking free again. And with my outrage comes the sickening realization that now the trial is over Anthony and everyone involved in getting her freed will be making their fame and fortune over Caylee's death. I can see it now: book deals, movie deals, paid interviews with the same kind of magazines that George Anthony's alleged lover told (and sold) her story. Hollywood speculators are already waging bets on who will play Anthony in a hoped-for Lifetime movie (of note, Lifetime has previously said they have no intention of making such a movie). Still, the massive public fascination with this death and trial had already compelled some to throw decorum to the wind, e.g. the trashy fights between trial-goers hoping to get tickets and round-the-clock pundit coverage of the trial. It is not overstatement to say its a good chance we'll see some studio cashing in on the story, some publisher exploiting it with a hoped-for mega-bestseller or some publicity agent representing Anthony as their newest "star".

The probabilities are supported by the past. It wasn't that long ago that football celebrity OJ Simpson was cleared for the double-murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. After his exoneration Simpson went ont o write the controversial book "If I DID IT", a book that reads like a smug confessional slap in to faces of the victims' families.

Subsequently, the family of victim, Ronald Goldman, took Simpson to court in order to get rights and royalties from this book. But Simpson was still in the limelight, and in some circles embraced as a victim. That was until sometime later he was convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery.

It is this kind of exploitation of victims that is almost as disgusting as crime itself. As a society our sense of taboo has lowered greatly. The frenzied desire to be entertained by the most intimate component of the gruesome has allowed us to throw away common sense. Also, we have succumbed to what I think are other tragic trends: making celebrities of physically attractive but very bad people and giving a pass to these new celebrities just because we feel compelled to be more sympathetic to attractive people. This flawed kind of sensibility is extended not just to accused murderers but those charged with lesser crimes such as theft, computer highjacking, assault and DUI. It is so common now that I can't help but wonder if this celebrity-making hasn't somewhere along the way made for seriously erred verdicts in courtrooms.

If I'm right and this trend continues then it won't be long until none of us -victim or accused, attractive or plain- can expect Justice to be there when we need it.


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Comments 8 comments

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

A very interesting and well presented hub.

Thanks for sharing.

Take care

Eiddwen.


Stu From VT 5 years ago

Hi Beth,

I suspect a major issue here was whether the jury could decide whether or not the killing was premeditated. I'm not sure whether the prosecution offered options, but in any case, the prosecutor must prove each and every element of the charge beyond all reasonable doubt. If the jury had any reasonable doubt as to whether the killing was premeditated (first degree murder) or was the result of passion or depraved indifference to human life (second degree murder), the jury must acquit even if they are convinced to the reasonable doubt standard that Casey committed the act.

Stu


bethperry profile image

bethperry 5 years ago from Tennesee Author

Stu, no the jury wasn't given the option of convicting her for either reckless or negligent homicide. The prosecution really screwed up on that point. And, IMHO, the jury should at the VERY LEAST have been given the option to try her for child neglect. Even if she wasn't responsible for any pre-meditated crime against that baby, no one can tell me she didn't act irresponsibly.


Stu From VT 5 years ago

Hi Beth,

I really must disagree here. I don't think prosecutors should be allowed to present "options" to the jury. It's an indication that even the prosecutor doesn't know, to the reasonable doubt standard, what crime has been committed, in which case the matter is not ready to go to trial.

Here is a great example - the Scott Peterson case. There was ample (circumstantial) evidence that Scott "committed the act." He was seen spying on the divers looking for the bodies in the lake, he cleaned his kitchen with ammonia (but no other room), he was having an affair, he lied about his whereabouts to his mistress, he rented a fishing boat just before Lacy's disappearance even though he doesn't fish and the victims were found in a lake, he told the police he wanted to go sturgeon fishing even though he bought lures (sturgeon are almost blind, so you can only fish for them with live bait), the weights used to anchor the bodies were identical to those found in his garage, etc.

But here's the problem: we don't know what was in Scott's mind when he (ostensibly) "did the deed:"

(1) Planned the murder in advance (1st degree murder).

(2) Got into an argument and killed her on purpose (2nd degree murder).

(3) Intentionally tried to hurt her but accidentally killed her (1st degree manslaughter).

(4) Got into an argument, it got physical, and he accidentally killed her (2nd degree manslaughter).

Under the law (in most if not all states), you must prove each and every element of a charge to the reasonable doubt standard to sustain a conviction. I.e., each element (legal defining characteristic) of a charge must be individually proven, each one beyond any reasonable doubt.

Therein lies the problem with the Peterson case, and why I think his defense did such a poor job. There was absolutely no evidence of state of mind at the moment Scott ostensibly performed the killings. The prosecution, in my opinion, did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Scott was the "agent" of the two deaths. But the prosecution could not establish the precise "legal intent" of the killings (planned murder, act of passion, etc.). That's why the prosecution gave the jury "options" (murder 1 and murder 2).

I know you're going to hate me for this, but I would have acquitted Peterson if I was on the jury. Although I'm convinced to a moral certainty (the reasonable doubt standard) he "did the act," the prosecution could not establish state of mind, and hence could not prove any SPECIFIED crime to the reasonable doubt standard.

Stu


bethperry profile image

bethperry 5 years ago from Tennesee Author

Stu, I can't hate you; takes a lot for me to feel that kind of emotion toward anyone.

But I still disagree with you, although I feel you've almost proved my point. I'm not saying that Casey Anthony was guilty of pre-meditated murder. But I am saying she deliberately and knowingly abandoned her duty as a mother. For whatever "reason" she had, this choice led to Caylee's death and this, in my opinion, is child abuse. And yes, she should have been held accountable. The "state of mind" of an individual whose actions or willful non-actions contribute to a heinous crime should never be more important than the life that was taken. If we continue to let trials be set up solely as forums for defense attorneys to offer fantasy tale excuses we will continue to have criminals released and free to think they can just do anything they damned well please.


Stu From VT 5 years ago

Hi Beth,

I follow your point, but we are dealing with law, not justice (the two are not the same). The issue in law is that as stated you must prove each element of a crime to the reasonable doubt standard individually. In other words, you must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that no other explanation is reasonable (i.e., that the suspect committed the crime charged and not a different one). This is the justification for defense "fantasy tales" (obfuscation). The defense's job is to poke holes in the prosecutor's evidence, trying to raise reasonable doubt. If the defense can do this successfully, that means the prosecutor's case isn't tight enough, and the accused must be acquitted. It's a stacked deck, and purposely so. The idea is to prevent mistaken convictions. This necessarily entails letting some of the guilty go free.

The problem in the Casey Anthony case is that we don't know whether neglect, abuse, accident, murder by passion, or murder by premeditation occurred. So, then the question comes up, what do you charge her with, and how do you prove it to a moral certainty? I suspect this issue is part of the reason she was acquitted of killing Caylee. Without a clear scientific cause of death, and credible evidence of intent, how do you choose a specific charge?

Stu


bethperry profile image

bethperry 5 years ago from Tennesee Author

Stu, there is such a charge as Reckless Indifference.

And as to your contention there has to be a clear and purely scientific cause of death: if society was forced to rely utterly on this, then prosecutors would have to throw out the door any prospect of bringing to trial an accused killer who burned or left to decay every trace of their crime. In relying on this alone we do away with the very essence of morality in the "moral certainty" aspect. People -and here I mean jurors- have to be allowed to use common sense, too. Moral certainty and common sense come from the same source; cold scientific data comes from a lab.

As to a defense attorney's job of poking holes in a case: there is a big difference between poking holes in new scientific methods of evaluating evidence and pointing a finger at a father and brother who had stood by the accused. There should be some form of believability to a hole-pok'n than mere spur of the moment b.s.. When such fantasy tales are allowed to be suddenly thrown out in an opening statement it shows desperation, and desperation has no room for a defense beyond moral certainty.

I hope we can agree to disagree here. But I will say this, if history proves any witness to human tendency, then if Ms. Anthony is guilty we can trust she won't stay out of trouble for long.


Stu From VT 5 years ago

Hi Beth,

I agree that a medically proven cause of death is not always necessary, as long as there is other evidence to substantiate the charge chosen.

Spinning fantasies is part of a defense attorney's job. The prosecutor is held to the reasonable doubt standard. If one of these fantasies is a reasonable alternative explanation for what happened, the jury by law must acquit.

I agree that reckless indifference might be what happened, but there is not enough evidence to say. The issue is that you are not dealing with the "preponderance" standard applicable to lawsuits. In a criminal case, you have to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that each and every element defining the charge has been satisfied. The bar for the prosecutor is very high.

Stu

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