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Quick Take on Casey Anthony Verdict

Other than the occasional "highlight" stories, where it's easier to just sit and wait for it to be over than to pick up the remote, I haven't followed this trial very closely. Since CNN is my preferred news outlet, it has not been entirely possible to avoid the snarling visage of Nancy Grace. And so I knew what the case was about, but until Sunday, I hadn't actually watched any of the live court proceedings.

On the 3rd, I took a day trip to celebrate my sister-in-law's birthday. Back in the 1990s, she had followed the O.J. trial for the whole eight months, and exhibited great astonishment anytime someone said they weren't paying much attention to it. While visiting her this past weekend, I heard her ask over half a dozen people what they thought of the Anthony trial. So when it came time to relax in front of the TV, the defense team's closing argument was what passed for entertainment.
I came away from my viewing time with a favorable impression of Jose Baez. He seemed to cover most of the bases; he was steadfast in his apparent belief that Casey Anthony's father George was the source of all her troubles (and Caylee's as well). Other than his initial lunge at an "incest" theory to account for Casey's mental quirks, Baez's reasoning with regard to other salient points in the case seemed sound. The duct tape on the skull certainly had sinister implications, but unless forensic evidence such as fingerprints or DNA could be linked directly to Casey Anthony, the list of possible culprits is nearly limitless. Had the remains been less degraded, there's no telling what forensic relationship might have been pieced together to make a more solid case for the prosecution. But bottom line: there was no clear, unbroken connection between Caylee's remains and her killer.

I thought about the case as I drove home. Do I like Casey Anthony? No. Do I trust her character? Hell, no. She's about as appealing as an earwig. She's clearly messed up, but apparently comes by it via a very troubled family.


But, here she is on trial for her life. Do I think someone ought to be convicted based on circumstantial evidence and character traits? No. And that seems to be where I found myself diverging from many of the Nancy Grace fans who have offered TV sound bites or internet comments. 

A common expression, referring to individuals who are easily led or convinced by emotional arguments, is "sheeple." Instead of sheep, the animal analogy that comes to my mind is Sea Monkeys. They are the brine shrimp marketed as novelty items in the 1960s and 1970s -- they hatched from a kit, and you could "train" them to do tricks, such as following a flashlight beam through the water in a fish tank. 

The recipe for a media circus is simple:  
  1. Take one adorable toddler.
  2. Report her missing.
  3. Stir in a young single mother who doesn't fit the "devoted mom" stereotype.  
  4. Mix well with a succession of boyfriends, wet t-shirt contests, nightlife, and strained relationships with her parents.
  5. Find the child's body, several months later, badly decomposed. Set aside.
  6. Stir ingredients constantly, using prime-time TV. Season generously with sound bites from passionate viewers. 
  7. Top with an ambitious and wildly overconfident district attorney.
  8. Overcook the story for several more months.
It was the perfect combination for a guilty verdict, followed by a death sentence. 

Except, something happened:  The jury paid attention.

More precisely, they paid attention to the testimony and the evidence, rather than the hysteria. 

"Justice for Caylee."  We all want that. But not at the expense of someone who may actually be innocent of the crime she's accused of.


Jose Baez expressed it perfectly:  

"This case must not be decided for or against anyone because you feel sorry for anyone, or angry at anyone. That's because we want you to base your verdict on the evidence, not emotion."

Geraldo Rivera sees the verdict much as I did:

Given everything we've heard about her, who would have thought that outcome remotely possible?
In retrospect, this jury managed the nearly impossible. It put aside the three years of character evidence that proved the defendant was randy, restless and hungry to party. And it focused on what the state proved Casey did or did not do to her child.
Remember, there was no DNA, no fingerprints, and no logical motive to explain why a loving, doting mother could suddenly decide to kill her child using a savage method that was bizarre and brutal: suffocation with duct tape.
The jurors didn't buy it and now Casey Anthony is about to walk free.
And how about defense attorney José Baez.  As reviled and hated as his client is, much of that anger was also focused on him. Incompetent, he was called. Disorganized. A rookie who shouldn't have been in that courtroom in the first place.
Well guess what? Outspent 20 to one, he kicked Florida's butt.

I see the not guilty verdict as a team effort.  The defense and the jury endeavored to look at the factual evidence. While so many TV viewers and observers followed Nancy Grace's flashlight beam as it looped and swirled around the tank, this smaller group remembered what it was there for: To decide, based on evidence, and beyond a reasonable doubt.

Reasonable doubt, as Jose Baez put it, lived and breathed in that courtroom. The only place it could not be found was in the flashlight beam, which plenty of Sea Monkeys are still following.

Could Casey Anthony have killed Caylee?  Absolutely.

Did she?  So, far, the evidence says not necessarily. And so she walks. I predict she'll never again have a moment of privacy, and should she become a mother again, the world will be watching closely. And this is not a bad thing. I'd prefer to have the world see something that is factually happening, rather than something described to them in colorful language by someone else -- who didn't see anything, either.

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