Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reasonable Doubt


The news stations have been glued to the Casey Anthony murder trial today.  I watched some of the closing arguments.  This trial is fascinating.  Casey Anthony is apparently a reprehensible character.  She has made a career of lying.  Sadly, her daughter, Caylee, vanished in 2008 and was later found dead.  Since the infant's decomposed corpse was nothing but bones, there was scant forensic evidence to harvest.

Of interest is the fact that, when the child first disappeared, the mother, Casey, pretended that the child had not disappeared.  She lied to everyone who inquired after her.  For 31 days she successfully concealed the disappearance.  This made most people assume that she had murdered he child.  Even the defense team, in its opening statement, tried to argue that Casey was aware of her daughter's demise, but that it was simply an accidental drowning in the backyard pool.

The trial focused on Google searches, duct tape, chloroform, and insects, and the smell of decomposition allegedly present in Casey's car.  Problem is - so many months passed between the child's disappearance and the discovery of her remains that the prosecution had to go through immense contortions to coax evidence out of the discoveries.  The State of Florida spent millions making its case and enlisted dozens of expert witnesses and scientists in an effort to prove that the lying, partying mother (now 25) is the culprit.

I am reminded of Utah's Mark Hacking and California's Scott Peterson.  Both of these convicted murderers share Casey's flair for fabrication.  Each told family members of careers or college attendance that were actually pure fantasy.  Each seemed to prefer to live in a world of lies and exaggerations - perhaps to impress, but at least to bamboozle others.  There seems to be a pattern of mental pathology that seems to segue smoothly into impulsive and shameless homicide.  I have personally known two people with this psycho/sociopathic personality profile and I try to stay at least a half a planet away from both of them.

I am inclined to believe that Casey killed her child and should be put to death.  Yet, here is the interesting question - would I vote to convict if I were on the jury?

In its closing arguments, the defense team argued convincingly that the prosecution had failed to come up with any tangible evidence of the cause and manner of Caylee's death.  All of the evidence and testimony was "circumstantial".  Casey did not confess.  There were no fingerprints, no decent DNA, no witnesses, no obvious murder weapon - just some inferences and conclusions.

The prosecution was masterful in its preparation and delivery.  Attorney Jeff Ashton's arguments were compelling.  The defense clarified some of the weaknesses in the State's case, while contradicting itself somewhat, in an effort to deflect attention away from the defendant.  Doubtless some jury members will believe Casey is unquestionably guilty, despite anything the attorneys presented.

The standard of guilt required for a conviction is that the jurors must (all) find the defendant guilty of all of the charged elements of the crime (beyond all reasonable doubt), or must acquit her.  There is the rub.  If I were on that jury, I would insist that, despite the brilliance of the prosecution, there really isn't any tangible proof into which I can sink my teeth which convinces me that the exacting "beyond reasonable doubt" threshold was met.

So, now I am fascinated to watch the outcome of the trial after the jury begins deliberations tomorrow.  If the jurors are not fully convinced that Casey committed first degree (capital) murder, they have the option of lesser verdicts like second degree murder or felony manslaughter (or aggravated child abuse).  What bugs me is that she has either been demonstrated to be the culprit or she has not, and it would not seem right for the jury to say, "Well, we haven't been persuaded that the evidence proves she did it  - - enough to justify lethal injection, so let's just meet half way and give her a less severe verdict so that she will at least get some punishment and some years in prison."

I think this is an interesting dilemma of American jurisprudence.  Sometimes the very semantics throw a wrench in the process.  Thankfully, of the four branches of government (under the Constitution) we have the Executive, Legislative, Judicial, and juries - with the jury being the highest and most potent.

In saner times, juries understood the principle of jury nullification - one by which, if the jury found the defendant factually culpable of the alleged crime, it could still rule that the law in question was a stupid law and vote to set him free.

I think it is right for the jury to rule in cases like this one.  I'm not sure I agree with all aspects of the jury "instructions" process.  Unfortunately, I think the Constitution is to most modern Americans as the Bible was to Europeans before the era of the printing press. 

It will be very interesting to see how this jury rules. 
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UPDATE - NEWSFLASH - JULY 5. 

The Casey Anthony jury came back today with a verdict acquitting her of all charges except the four counts of lying to police (the four 1-year sentences for which she will likely be credited with "time-served").

The TV pundits were all mortified and shocked, but it seems the jury was resolute, intelligent and cohesive.  The jurors must have ALL agreed that the proved culpability did not rise to the "beyond reasonable doubt" threshold.  I agree with them, but I think she got away with murder.  Polygamists have served longer sentences - and for trying to PRESERVE their families.

IRONIES !!!!!!

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