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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Misdirected Outrage Follows Dubious Obsession

July 6th, 2011
by F. Grey Parker

In the wake of yesterday's verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, I have been stunned at some of the reactions and the wild pronouncements from America's armchair-jurists. I have heard blanket condemnations of our justice system. I've seen the jurors referred to as "gullible," "naive" and even as "stupid." All this in spite of the prosecution having seated a relatively well educated, pro-capital punishment jury.

Almost none of the public displays of opinion and emotion have seemed to level their aim at what was, let's all face it, an incredibly bad set of choices by the prosecution. This is disturbing. This demands a dialog. First, however, I would like to ask publicly why this was deemed to be such major news at all.

Hundreds of small children are killed in our country every year. Most of them die at the hands of their mothers. Those are the facts. Why this case gripped the public's attention is genuinely a mystery to me. Moms kill their kids all the time. Sorry. Even suburban, white moms. It is just one of those horrible things that happens. Much the way the first logical suspect in the death of any adult woman is her current or recent romantic partner, the likely perpetrator in the death and disappearance of a small child is the mother that bore that child.

Why was it this child that so obsessed our nation's television and internet audiences? There wasn't this level of coverage and hand-wringing during the Brisenia Flores case. Don't remember that one? There wasn't anything resembling this kind of nightly media exploitation following the shooting of Aiyana Jones. Don't remember that one, either? I am not surprised. You see, those two cases actually had implications beyond an ordinary, everyday American murder. "Journalists" would have had to actually do some real reporting. And we citizens, had we been subjected to the endless minutiae of either of those cases, would have been forced to address some questions that are far more important and complicated than any that were raised in this Floridian spectacle.

There was no pressing social component in the story of poor Caylee's death. There was no evidence of any deeper meaning. There was no social, economic, racial or political element that shone a light on our nation's failings. In its totality, there was nothing to be learned. I must reluctantly conclude that it is precisely because of this absence of relevance that the media spent the last few years feeding on the rotting corpse of a toddler. She was just a dead, white child and that there was no chance that broader cultural issues might require examination. 'Awesome,' said the media. 'Exploit it,' they said. 'Make white, middle class people freak out,' they said. 'This is gonna be easy,' they said. So they fed pieces of this poor, dead little girl to the drooling masses and watched them tune in... every... night... for another serving.

There is shame enough to go around. But nobody is talking about that. Unfortunately, almost as few a number of Americans are rationally discussing the merits of the state's case. Almost no one seems willing to parse what was a nearly daily collection of stunningly incompetent decisions by the District Attorney's office. They seem to have assumed that the jury would convict by simply agreeing with the aforementioned truism regarding who kills most of our nation's small children.

Already, there are many comparisons to the OJ case. This is repulsive. There is no similarity. In that debacle, the jury was truly nullified. In this case, the prosecution blew it. Do I believe Casey Anthony intentionally snuffed out the life of her beautiful child? Damn straight, I do. What does that have to do with anything in a court of law? In the OJ case, the jury actually ignored a provable cause of death, an established perpetrator timeline, a history of abuse and a quantity of physical evidence almost unheard of in any murder investigation.

In this case, the prosecution attempted to present the subjective conclusions of a self-declared "odor expert" as scientific forensic techniques. For a "conservative" jury in America today, the possibility that they were using "junk-science" was likely one hell of an alarm bell. The state could not establish a timeline for Casey's actions. What's more, they couldn't establish the actions themselves. Next, they could not establish a certain cause of death. For each of the two most serious charges, 1st degree murder and manslaughter, this is explicitly stated as a requirement for conviction under the law.

Then there is the acquittal on the next most damning charge, Aggravated Child Abuse. There simply was no evidence of any kind that there was abusive pattern behavior. There was no stream of witnesses describing hitting, screaming, shaking incidents, etc. There were no questionable visits to the emergency room. There were no friends or family who provided accounts of frighteningly bad mothering. More importantly, there was no expert psychological testimony as to Casey Anthony's state of mind. The prosecution, defying an incredible body of work on the subject and the legal community's long established strategy of explaining pathology to jurors, made no respectable attempt to do so. Dr. Stephen Diamond, PhD, a clinical and forensic psychologist who writes for Psychology Today seemed to have a gut feeling last week that this was a big mistake:

"How could a young mother deliberately kill, with premeditation and forethought as charged, her own innocent and defenseless child? And then celebrate with total abandon her newfound freedom? What could possibly motivate and make possible such an evil deed? Could she be normal? Or does she suffer from some mental disorder? Without helping the jury get a solid psychological handle on how and why this alleged crime was committed--as opposed to just whether it was or not based on the circumstantial and scientific forensic evidence--they are left to their own limited devices to resolve such glaring, shocking and sometimes inconceivable contradictions in human nature and behavior. And this kind of deliberate omission on the part of prosecutors can amplify the jurors' reasonable doubt."

We need our monsters explained. Juries need criminal motivations explained succinctly. For years, prosecutors have regarded this as one of the basics. Why are we to believe Ms. Anthony snapped? A relatively bright, relatively attractive, middle class twenty-something woman was alleged to have, out of the blue, murdered her child and the prosecution's entire character argument was that she wanted to be a "party-slut." It simply doesn't make that much sense outside of TV soundbites. The jury was watching Ms. Anthony all day long, day in and day out for weeks. The picture of her as perpetrator painted by the prosecution wasn't matching the woman they saw before them.

The prosecution failed to file any number of charges that the jury would very likely have convicted on such as criminal negligence, depraved indifference, failure to report a body, improper disposal of a body and the list goes on. They explicitly sought the death penalty without more than a circumstantial case. They portrayed the alleged killer's motives with innuendo and not the expertise of mental health professionals. They advanced an untried and highly controversial type of forensic testimony about which the defense was able to raise serious doubts. Reasonable doubts.

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro sums it up over at FOX:
"Jurors are not supposed to base their decision on what may seem obvious to the average person watching the news. They are supposed to base their verdict on the evidence, nothing more. That’s the law."

Millions of Americans are now screaming that the "system failed." The opposite is true. The system, much to my emotional dissatisfaction, worked exactly the way it is supposed to. We are not supposed to bend the law because of what we think we know in our hearts. The state, acting in our names, is also supposed to make the case they can. And when millions of Americans condemn our system explicitly because it worked, rather than having slaked their own blood-thirsts, it is almost as terrible as the crime against Caylee Anthony itself.

But, I am sure we will move right along to the next ghoulishly and tragically meaningless act of barbarism our media tries to sell us in short order. After all, we are Americans. That's what we do.


  1. This is spot on

  2. Deborah Shaw-StaleyJuly 6, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    This is so right on. The prosecution failed terribly.

  3. Well written and completely accurate.

  4. Grey, this is not well written. It is brilliantly written. Best I have seen on this subject.