Coming to Grips with the Casey Anthony Verdict

A homicide detective assigned to the case took the time to offer me some schooling. Yes, he said, he had obtained a confession and there was abundant forensic evidence implicating the accused. And if the case had gone to trial, the prosecution may well have prevailed, even in obtaining a death sentence. But this was far from a certainty, especially, as the world would learn years later in the O.J. Simpson trial, in downtown Los Angeles.

To begin with, the detective explained, the defense would challenge my search of the backyard and trash can. I of course had no search warrant, and if the girl’s body and all the forensic evidence that accompanied it had been excluded due to an illegal search, the entire case would fall apart. Even the confession might have been excluded as having arisen from an unlawful search.

“But he gave me consent,” I protested. Yes, said the detective, but he and his lawyer would have claimed I had lied about obtaining the man’s permission to search his yard. Certainly a man facing the death penalty for having killed a child would not be above lying about the circumstances of his arrest.

And there were other reservations about taking the case to trial. The defendant would likely claim the little girl had come on to him, an appalling lie of course but one that child predators often tell. Would the girl’s parents be willing to sit through a lengthy trial and listen to such filth being said about her?

I’ve always disdained the term “closure” when used in these circumstances. For a murder victim’s family there is never closure. Never. But if the parents wished to spared the ordeal of a trial and an uncertain outcome, who was I to object? All things considered, a guilty plea with the guarantee of a long prison sentence was a satisfactory outcome.

But even after all this time, it doesn’t feel that way to me.

I mention this case from so long ago only because it so clearly illustrated for me the perils of taking a case to trial, even one so flush with incriminating evidence and seemingly winnable for the prosecution. When you put a case before a jury, you just never know.

The evidence against Casey Anthony has been examined to exhaustion elsewhere and I need not further exhaust it here. Reluctant and even ashamed as I may be, I am inclined to agree with the jurors who acquitted her, and with Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who in the July 7 Wall Street Journal wrote:

Even if it is “likely” or “probable” that a defendant committed the murder, he must be acquitted, because neither likely nor probable satisfies the daunting standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, a legally proper result -- acquittal in such a case -- may not be the same as a morally just result. In such a case, justice has not been done to the victim, but the law has prevailed.

It is more than “likely” or “probable” that Casey Anthony killed her daughter, for indeed there is simply no other plausible explanation for the little girl’s death. But as Dershowitz and others have pointed out, unequivocal evidence linking Casey Anthony to Caylee’s death was lacking, most importantly any evidence of exactly how Casey died. Time and the elements conspired to deny the discovery of any forensic evidence that might once have been present where Casey’s body was found. More’s the pity, but it is -- and must be -- difficult to convict someone of murder when it can’t be shown that a murder has in fact occurred.

So we are left with a situation reminiscent of Professor Dershowitz’s infamous accomplishment, the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. But unlike in the Simpson case, in which abundant evidence was lawyered away before a blinkered jury, an attentive and open-minded jury waited for the evidence against Casey Anthony that was never presented. They were true to their oath and to the law when they voted to acquit.

But it still feels rotten.

Anyone with a scrap of sense knows Casey Anthony killed Caylee just as he knows O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. We may not like the jury’s decision, we just have to live with it. Maybe she’ll pull a robbery in Las Vegas someday.