Marcia Clark of OJ fame weighs in on the Casey Anthony verdict. Not surprisingly, she thinks it’s worse than OJ’s.
My oldest son came into the world right around the time that OJ Simpson was arrested. He was a collicky baby and I spent many a late-night hour pacing wearily in front of the TV, trying to calm him while pundits droned on about the OJ-related developments of the day. We were taking him to look at colleges as the Casey Anthony trial reached its stunning conclusion and, stuck as we were in motels, we logged more time watching Nancy Grace, Geraldo, and Greta van Susteren than we had since Marcia Clark’s heyday.
I didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial very closely at all, but I did happen to catch Baez’s closing argument one night on Court TV or Fox or whoever it was that broadcast it uninterrupted. Having listened to it all the way through, I wasn’t particularly suprised by the verdict. Not that I think she isn’t guilty–or that I doubt for a moment that she’s a sociopath. But the jury was told to work with the forensic evidence they’d been presented with in the courtroom, and most of it was pretty underwhelming. If Casey Anthony had been put on trial for her character, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have found her guilty. But the prosecution asked them to convict her of first degree murder when they couldn’t even provide a definitive cause of death.
Along with the presumption of innocence comes the standard that it’s better to let a guilty person go free than an innocent go to jail or worse. Nevertheless the public at large–who are permitted to take all the circumstantial, emotional, anecdotal, and otherwise inadmissible evidence into account that they want to–are outraged when an unrepentant perpetrator goes unpunished. And why wouldn’t they be?
Pundits of the Nancy Grace persuasion go on TV and question the sanity or the intelligence of the jurors; Marcia Clark says it’s because they confuse “reasonable doubt with a reason to doubt.” There are angry protests and calls for reform; politicians propose legislation to criminalize the outrageous and damning behavior that the circumstantial case rested on (not reporting your baby missing, never mind getting La Bella Vida tattoos). What surprises and depresses me is that hardly anyone draws the complementary conclusion: that if our criminal justice system allows the guilty to go free now and then, it must also punish the innocent at least as much–probably more so, considering how much better prosecutors’ resources are than most defendants’.
During the weeks leading up to the Casey Anthony acquital, NPR ran a story about parents in Canada whose convictions for killing their babies were based on junk medical evidence. One mother was sentenced to life in prison and had her two surviving sons put up for adoption before she was exonerated after eighteen years. I’m not putting Casey Anthony in that category, but I think it’s worth remembering that when you vest your faith in an imperfect system, you’re going to get imperfect results. And then think of all the trials–the vast majority of them–that don’t get on TV.
I think it’s awful that Casey Anthony will be free to cash in on her notoriety. But I’m not sure who we’re supposed to blame for it. It’s not so much a miscarriage of justice as a peep into a sausage factory.