Commentary
11:23 am
Wed July 6, 2011

Casey Anthony Verdict: Rushing to Judgement

Last night I was filling up my car in western Wayne County, when a woman next to me, a perfect stranger, said “Isn’t it horrible?”  I thought she meant the price of gas.

But no. She meant the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. “Can you believe it?"

I thought of sincerely telling her that I wasn’t surprised at all. Of telling her that what happens during a full-length trial in a courtroom is often far different than what you see on TV.

Additionally, our system - though not our media - still operate under something called the presumption of innocence. This means, in criminal trials, that your guilt has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and there seemed to be plenty of that here.

I also was tempted to suggest that she get a life, and become interested and involved in things that mattered to her family, community and state which she actually could do something about.

But of course I did none of that, mostly because I didn't want to get into a fight. So I merely mumbled that I hadn’t really followed the trial much, which also happens to be true.

I haven’t followed it, except to the extent that it was unavoidable. I usually watch CNN for a few minutes in the morning, a network which lately seems to be all Casey Anthony, all the time. If you are trying to discover proof that a large country named Russia actually still existed, you’d be out of luck here.

What I do know is this. I have sat through a number of high-profile trials in Michigan, including every one of Jack Kevorkian’s. In almost every case, the reality in the courtroom was very different from that reflected on the nightly news.  The impression given by television was that Kevorkian was sure to be convicted. 

But after the first case, I never had much doubt that he would be acquitted of assisted suicide charges. And he was, over and over.

The world looks different to a jury grappling with not only evidence and contradictory arguments, but a judge’s instructions on reasonable doubt and the meaning of intent.

Remembering the reasonable doubt standard is a good guide to life, not just to understanding what goes on in a courtroom.

From what little I saw, Casey Anthony doesn’t seem likely to win any parenting awards. But having your toddler disappear and then having her skeleton turn up months later doesn’t automatically prove you killed her.

It’s hard to fault the public too much; they come to the table mostly as spectators of the show we the media present them.

Less than two months ago, some of the most respectable publications in the nation essentially convicted Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then-head of the International Monetary Fund, of brutally raping a poor immigrant who was cleaning his hotel room.

Now, that case has collapsed in the wake of proof that she is a habitual liar. This doesn’t make him a nice man. It does make everyone in the media look like we don’t understand the rules of fairness.

And that’s not good for our system, our democracy, our Constitution, or anyone. It would be nice if we remembered that, next time we have a high-profile trial in this state.