Examing the Higher Morality of Due Process


 

The Casey Anthony trial illustrates both the strengths and the weaknesses of our judicial system. No doubt there are many who were quite stunned that she was acquitted of first degree murder. None seem more shocked then the prosecutors whom, AP reporter Kyle Hightower described as “looking stunned.”[1]

 

Is Casey Anthony guilty? Not beyond a reasonable doubt, which the stunned prosecutors failed to create for the jurors. This is the strength of our judicial system of due process. The burden of proof falls on the state. A person isn’t guilty because they look guilty or don’t display the expected emotions or, and this is perhaps the most important of all, because they are not a likeable or sympathetic person.

 

A person is also not guilty because the so-called court of public opinion deems them guilty. If Casey Anthony is truly guilty of murdering her daughter then that she got away with murder is the fault of the investigators and prosecutors who simply did not present a fact based case proving their assertions. News sources have reported that the medical examiner could never determine how little Caylee died. That’s a big problem if you want to convict someone of first degree murder.

 

We don’t have to like the outcome. But, we should be grateful that our system worked. It doesn’t always. Innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit on flimsy and circumstantial evidence. A good example can be found in the Frontline® [2]documentary, Death by Fire, detailing the controversial execution of Todd Willingham after having been convicted of murdering his children.

 

Mr. Willingham was not a likeable person. He was quite unsympathetic and there is a good possibility that he was a minor sociopath or at least scored fairly low on the empathy scale. But, this didn’t make him a murderer and the facts did not necessarily fit the case that prosecutors presented. There was a good possibility that he was actually telling the truth, but the investigators, the prosecutor and the jurors didn’t like him. So he was guilty. Their science was flawed. Arson investigators were behind the times in their methodology. But, that didn’t matter.

 

Todd Willingham’s final words were not contrite. They were a crass, vulgar “death curse” of sorts aimed at his wife that only cemented the poor public opinion around his character and his guilt. Frankly, I didn’t like his wife at all. I’d be inclined to curse her too if I was strapped to a gurney about to be given a lethal injection.

 

Regardless of Willingham’s likability the case against him was flawed enough that Innocence Project co-director, Barry Scheck issued a statement following Willingham’s execution.

 

There can no longer be any doubt that an innocent person has been executed. The question now turns to how we can stop it from happening again[3] 

 

Our system is set up to serve a higher morality. In the case of Todd Willingham it failed. In the case of Casey Anthony it’s difficult to say. The higher morality of our system of due process allows that sometimes the guilty go free to ensure that an innocent is never convicted and sent to prison or, God forbid, pay the ultimate price with their life.

What about Caylee? Well, what about her? Justice doesn’t matter to the dead. Justice serves their memory and that is a good thing. But, justice is really about punishing criminals and getting some sense of emotional closure when heinous crimes are committed. The Casey Anthony Trial isn’t going to give that to those involved. But, what if Casey is innocent? That is the crux of the matter.

 

Casey Anthony, like Todd Willingham, is not a likeable person nor is she very sympathetic in the public eye. But, that doesn’t make her a murderer. We should all be glad that our flawed legal system works the way it does. How many innocent people would be convicted if it were up to the general public getting their information from CNN, Talk Shows and People Magazine?

 

I understand that a sweet, innocent little girl is dead. This is tragic no matter how she actually died. Her mother is hardly mother of the year. She was caught in lies and subterfuge. The way the case came to light does not leave me convinced of Casey Anthony’s innocence. I certainly don’t like her anymore than I liked Todd Willingham or his wife.

 

But, that is my interpretation of “facts” gleaned from news coverage and not from being personally involved in the case. So while, I am not a totally convinced that a murderer escaped justice, I can’t be certain either. And neither could the jurors who had the benefit of sitting through the trial and examining the full weight of the evidence presented to them by the prosecution. That, my fellow jurors in the court of public opinion, is what we must all realize. We – despite our personal opinions – did not get to see the full case presented.

 

Do I think Casey Anthony is guilty? I don’t know…at the very least she is culpable in the cover-up of whatever happened to her daughter. This is one of those emotionally unsatisfying cases that fail to comfort us in the end. Justice was not served – not for Caylee Anthony.  But, in many ways a higher justice was served. The prosecution did not do their job and a person was not convicted on personal feelings or hunches, but the evidence was considered and it was found wanting. Imagine being innocent and having your life in the hands of 12 of your so-called peers.


[1] Casey Anthony acquitted of killing young daughter by Kyle Hightower, July 5, 2011.

 

[2] Frontline - Death By Fire / http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/death-by-fire/

[3] New Report Shows that Cameron Todd Willingham, Executed in Texas in...

http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/New_Report_Shows_that_Camer...

 

 

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