Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Did Media Scrutiny Acquit Casey Anthony?

At approximately 2:15 p.m. EST on Tuesday, July 5, 2011, the fate of 25-year old Casey Marie Anthony was in the hands of twelve jurors in an Orlando, Florida courtroom. Casey Anthony stood trial for the murder of her two-year old daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony. Allegedly, Casey drugged Caylee with chloroform and suffocated her to death around mid-June 2008. In addition, Casey waited a month before reporting Caylee missing, during which time Caylee's body was stashed in Casey's car trunk (allegedly). Caylee's skeletal remains were later discovered in a wooded area in December 2008, and a subsequent autopsy ruled her death a homicide.

Initially, Casey Anthony was jailed for several misdemeanors, ranging from lying to police about her employment with Universal Studios, to obstruction of a criminal investigation, to forgery of checks and illicit use of a friend's credit card. That was in July and August 2008. But by mid-October of that year, she was formally indicted by a Florida grand jury of first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter, aggravated child abuse, and four counts of providing misleading information to police. She pleaded not guilty to all charges. If she was found guilty, especially on the first degree murder charge, Casey Anthony likely would've been sentenced to death.

Her day in court wouldn't come for another two and a half years.

Meanwhile, the prosecution used this time gathering evidence to unequivocally prove Caylee died by Casey's hand. Forensic reports showed that air extracted from Casey's car trunk revealed human decomposition and chloroform, as well as hair found in the trunk belonging to Caylee having dark bands around the roots, also suggesting body tissue deterioration. Court documents revealed that "neck breaking", "how to make chloroform", and "household weapons" were researched on a home computer accessible to Casey Anthony in March 2008, months before Caylee's death. A Winnie the Pooh blanket that was missing from Caylee's bedroom and duct tape used to asphyxiate her was found at the crime scene. And finally, a diary entry supposedly written by Casey days after her daughter's death revealed the following:

I have no regrets, just a bit worried. I just want for everything to work out OK. I completely trust my own judgment and know that I made the right decision. I just hope that the end justifies the means. I just want to know what the future will hold for me. I guess I will soon see – This is the happiest that I have been in a very long time. I hope that my happiness will continue to grow– I've made new friends that I really like. I've surrounded myself with good people – I am finally happy. Let's just hope that it doesn't change.

That alone would be enough for viewers with no direct involvement in the investigation to presume Casey Anthony guilty of committing such a heinous crime. Yet the case against Casey wasn't exactly open and shut. For starters, the aforementioned forensic evidence was state of the art, but its novelty ran the risk of being unfairly manipulated by the prosecution. Additionally, the prosecution had no testifying eye witnesses and relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, which does little to prove outright that Casey premeditated her daughter's death. The search results found on her computer could've been typed by anyone, not just Casey. Considering the time that passed between Caylee's disappearance and her unfortunate discovery, the blanket could've been planted at the crime scene as a ruse. No fingerprints were ever lifted from the duct tape found at said crime scene. And lastly, the prosecution couldn't prove the above journal entry was penned on June 21, 2008, nearly a week after Caylee died.

Through it all, Casey maintained her innocence, saying a babysitter last saw Caylee alive, that Caylee had accidentally drowned in a family pool, and that Caylee's grandfather, George, covered up her death unbeknownst to Casey. It's an alibi with the stability of a house of cards, but somehow, it stood solid like the Parthenon.

In what could be an early candidate for the Trial of the Twenty-First Century, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of first degree murder on that day in July. In addition, she was found not guilty of aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse. She was, however, found guilty on all four counts of providing misleading information to police. That carries a four year prison sentence, one year per count, but considering that Anthony spent roughly three years in jail waiting for this particular trial to commence, she's all but assured the charge will be dropped for time already served and she will walk a free woman on Thursday.

In previous high-profile cases, there's a disturbing trend that has followed in the media. Going back to the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995, a few cases have received extensive media coverage due to the circumstances surrounding the crime and the defendant, but the verdict has been the same: not guilty. This was true for Simpson, as well as pop star Michael Jackson, who was cleared of all child molestation charges in 2005. Granted, Simpson and Jackson were celebrities before their respective trials, but it seems very bizarre to not find an individual guilty of a crime when their life is scrutinized and analyzed every which way via internet, print, radio, and television across America.

And for all we know, the prosecution may have had all the evidence in the world to convict Casey Anthony beyond the shadow of a doubt, but the way the case was drawn out was undoubtedly un-American.

According to the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, every American has the right to a fair, public, and speedy trial. They're also presumed innocent until proven guilty. Of the four preceding conditions, all Casey Anthony really had was a fair, public trial. It took her nearly three years from the time she was first arrested to the day the jury found her not guilty. That verdict, whether guilty or not, could've been delivered more than a year and a half ago. And sure, her trial may have been fair inside the courtroom walls, but the public perception has been largely antagonistic. It was as if they, the media and public at large, wanted to vilify her at every conceivable chance in the hope that that alone would warrant a guilty verdict.

True, it's not every day a mother would kill one of her own children. In fact, the only other such case I can think of off the top of my head was Andrea Yates, when she drowned all five of her kids in a bathtub in June 2001. Though she was convicted for all five murders a year later, she was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity in July 2006. Casey Anthony doesn't have that "out", but she was just 22 years old when Caylee disappeared and her remains subsequently discovered. Females that young (they're barely women at that point) are not meant to be parents in this day and age. With all the fun they could be having while it's culturally acceptable, having a two-year old around is a major impediment in those female's social lives. Whether that was why Casey (allegedly) killed Caylee is still up for debate, but whatever happened, Casey merely acted her own age by ultimately putting herself before her daughter. What else would you expect from someone that young?

Or maybe it is true, that mothers kill off their young every day, but it simply doesn't receive gross amounts of publicity. At any rate, what I'm trying to articulate is that had this case not received extensive, national media coverage, the prosecution would've been under far less pressure and stress to convince a jury that Casey Anthony was the real murderer from every which angle. When you think of it, the defense had an easy job. All they had to do was provide their own evidence to the contrary and watch to see how flustered the prosecution reacted. Remember, all that's necessary is one unconvinced juror to either declare a mistrial or win over everyone else with a not guilty verdict. (Y'know, because people are still presumed innocent until proven guilty in America?) Somehow, someway, the prosecution failed to live up to their own expectations with all the attention on them, and they must now live with the reality that they let a golden opportunity slip away.

But you wanna know what else is true? The U.S. justice system won out once again, and it's the exact same justice system that would protect you to the fullest extent of the law for crimes far less brutal than what Casey Anthony was accused of.

Her acquittal further proves that, sometimes, facts alone are not enough to convict anyone of anything. Proving the defendant's motive for a group of twelve strangers to determine guilt or innocence is easily a far more difficult task than to present evidence which suggests he or she may have been a possible perpetrator. There's simply too many loopholes available to suggest someone else committed the crime in question solely on circumstantial evidence. Even if one's defense is shoddy at best, the burden of proof still rests with the prosecution to conclude that the only one who could've possibly done the dirty deed is the defendant. It takes a unanimous decision to find someone guilty of a crime. Not a majority, but all twelve unbiased minds. Anything short of that, and the accused walks without further penalty or, at the very least, a lighter penalty than anticipated by the prosecution.

The sad part of it all is that Casey Anthony can confess at any point in time to killing her two-year old daughter, and she'd be protected under U.S. law. (It cuts both ways.) According to the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, it is unconstitutional for an individual to be tried more than once for a particular crime. Now, if she pulls an O.J. Simpson and commits an unrelated felony, she can serve a lengthy prison sentence if convicted, but it wouldn't be for the murder of Caylee Anthony.

In the end, only three people know what truly happened. The first is God, and the other two are Casey and Caylee Anthony, one of whom won't probably speak and one of whom who can't speak about the events that transpired.

Like it or not, Casey Anthony has been found innocent in a court of law. Now, please, leave the final judgment up to God.

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