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Who's guilty, Casey Anthony or the jurors?

July 7, 2011 |  2:02 pm

Casey anthony

News and reactions to Casey Anthony’s trial have consumed many Americans over the last few days -- according to Hot Air, the trial got more air time from news networks during the last 42 days than any of the Republican presidential candidate. The jury took a very unpopular stance when it acquitted Anthony in just 11 hours, after so many viewers who watched the drama unfold had already deemed her guilty. Since the verdict, some followers of the case have protested the decision and denounced the jury.

But, the scientific evidence fell short, Marianne English wrote in Discovery News. The body of Anthony’s daughter, Caylee, was too decomposed to take a tissue sample to determine the cause of death, and the strand of the girl’s hair that was tested showed no traces of sedatives -- though hair isn’t the best indicator of chemicals. The analysis used on air from Anthony’s trunk was done with new research methods, and thus even the shocking stench and traces of chloroform could be refuted by the defense.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, explained in the Wall Street Journal why inconclusive evidence sometimes results in acquittal. Rather than “not guilty,” it’s probably be more apt to say “not proven,” he wrote. A criminal accusation must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and though the jury had ample circumstantial evidence it was not definitive.

... [A] criminal trial is not about who is the better lawyer. It is about the evidence, and the evidence in this case left a reasonable doubt in the mind of all of the jurors. The system worked.

Douglas Keene, a clinical and forensic psychologist who lectures at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, spoke to the integrity of the jury in a piece Wednesday for CNN. The panel had a difficult job, especially in such a closely followed trial. He said it’s likely the jurors understood the tragedy of the case, but that they all agreed that the evidence was not conclusive enough to convict Anthony -- they might be wrongfully blaming the little girl’s mother. And despite the public scrutiny they went with the verdict they felt was correct and didn’t fall to sensational conclusions.

It is vastly harder for a jury to vote to acquit someone in Casey Anthony's position unless they are truly convinced that the prosecution failed to make its case. Whether the public views the jury as having gotten it right or wrong, these 12 citizens came to a common view on weeks of evidence, and found justice in their verdict. They reached their decision quickly but not easily. They voted consistent with their view of the truth and the law.

Being a juror is difficult, and even more so when the issues are as upsetting as those at issue in the Anthony case. As the representatives of the public in such an important matter, they deserve our respect and thanks, regardless of whether we agree with their verdict.

Redstate.com calls the obsession with the trial the Law and Order Effect. But the jury, at least, recognized both the tragedy of the case and gravity of what it means to be a juror in a murder trial with inconclusive evidence. The blogger put it simply: “Before you can judicially kill someone you have to prove a crime actually took place.”

A jury of twelve citizens weighed the state’s case. Unlike the prosecution they were cognizant of the truly awesome power of life and death in their hands and rightfully decided that despite what they may have felt in their gut there was no evidence that warranted convicting the defendant of a capital crime.

Matt Semino, an attorney and legal analyst, said in May in the Huffington Post that the widespread interest in the case stemmed from the questions about evidence and from the sheer horror over whether a mother could commit such a brutal crime.

The Anthony case is intriguing to millions of people because there are too many perplexing evidentiary questions and too few logical answers. It is not only unfathomable that this attractive mother could have taken her child's life in such a brutal manner, but that the only explanations she has offered are an endless trail of convoluted lies. How could a person be so manipulative? For all of its sensational shock value, the national obsession with this case is understandable.

[…]

Casey Anthony has already reached the highest level of notoriety in our celebrity driven media culture. Yet, as her trial unfolds, she, her case and most importantly, the innocent Caylee, deserve our continued attention. While seemingly protected in the white, suburban and middle-class environment offered by her grandparents, Caylee Marie Anthony still became another powerless victim of violence. At its extreme, this horrific story reflects that fact that any child can fall fatally through the cracks of families and communities that may look safe on their surface. The truth is, the ugly head of cruelty against children lurks in any corner of our society.

Maybe under a lesser charge, the verdict would have been guilty, Juror Jennifer Ford told ABC news. Anthony was sentenced for four years Thursday and is set to be released next week, having already served three years since Caylee’s disappearance in 2008.

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-- Samantha Schaefer

Photo: Protesters denounce the Casey Anthony verdict outside the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Roberto Gonzalez / Getty Images

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