Casey Anthony’s defense attorneys punctuated their successful defense of a party girl by high-fiving each other and partying openly at a restaurant near the courthouse. Casey Anthony couldn’t come along, but one day soon will be free to join in the revelry.
This has been a good week for defense attorneys and a dismal one for prosecutors. In New York, it appears that Dominique Strauss-Kahn will not face charges after prosecutors prematurely accepted the testimony of a hotel maid whose credibility is now shot. Her record of lying is approaching that of Casey Anthony’s.
America’s initial egalitarian pride over the incident-pundits gushed for days over how wonderful it is that the country has a system of justice in which the charge of a lowly hotel maid can cause police to pull a powerful international politican off a plane minutes away from take-off-now looks quite foolish.
The prosecutors in Florida don’t belong in the same category of incompetence as New York City District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., but they too suffered a stinging defeat. Not worse than the one in the O.J. trial (Marcia Clark, one of the blundering prosecutors in that case, is self-servingly making that claim), but still a pretty devastating one.
The case, as some observers have noted, may have been lost during jury selection. The defense managed to get on the jury a woman who said “I don’t like to judge people.” A juror like that probably wouldn’t have been convinced even if a picture of Casey Anthony suffocating her daughter with duct tape had surfaced.
By their own admission, the prosecutors had a tricky, “dry-bones” case on their hands. Still, they gave the jury plenty of evidentiary dots to connect, at least for murder in the second degree. As the prosecutors pointed out, who makes an innocent accident look like a murder? The haste with which jury deliberations ended suggests jurors weren’t all that concerned about wrestling with such questions.
Respect for juries seems to have grown since the days of the Rodney King trial. After that jury acquitted the police officers in the case, pundits and pols across the board, including the president at the time, George Bush Sr., felt free to question the jury’s judgment. The jury was basically faulted for not providing the country with an emotionally satisfying verdict. The complexity and insufficiency of evidence in that case didn’t stop the chattering class from trashing the jurors.
The jury in the Casey Anthony trial has received more evenhanded treatment. Some in the media have blasted the jurors, but many have argued that they weighed the evidence carefully and felt that it didn’t meet the high standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is true that saying Casey Anthony is not guilty under an exacting legal standard and saying with certitude that she is innocent are two different things, though it is not clear if this distinction was in the minds of jurors. Alternate juror Russell Huekler says with confidence that “she did not get away with murder,” which goes beyond simply saying that the prosecution failed to prove its case. It will be interesting to see if Huekler’s attitude is representative of the views of the acting jurors. If so, they will be faulted for a level of sympathy with Casey Anthony that defies the evidence.
Huekler also said that he didn’t think Anthony had a motive to kill her daughter: “We … kept waiting to see what was the motive — just because Casey was a party girl did not show why she would possibly, you know, kill Caylee.” But is the prosecution’s theory really inconceivable in modern America? In a country where children not that much younger than Caylee Anthony are routinely aborted on grounds of convenience and freedom, Casey Anthony’s alleged motive isn’t impossible to imagine.