July 6 2011
Another View: It Didn't Work
"There were no winners here today," Casey Anthony's lawyer Jose Baez solemnly intoned yesterday. No winners? Gimme a break. His client had just beat a murder rap. I'd say she was a big winner, along with her defense which slyly destroyed the reputations of everybody from Casey's father, George Anthony, to the meter reader who discovered the body, without offering evidence, beyond evidence that the Anthony family is wildly dysfunctional. (If you have any doubt that Baez was a winner yesterday, here is an interesting report on the colorful lawyer.)
Caylee Anthony, Baez added, seeming to sense that a few words about the victim were in order, had "passed on before her time." Ya think? She was all of two years old. Baez then offered a few platitudes about how capital punishment is wrong. Maybe this wasn't quite the right time to wax so pious, Mr. Baez. Here is Ben Shapiro's excellent summary of the case Baez had just won:
Casey clearly murdered her daughter. Her mom, Cindy, reported that Caylee was missing on July 15, 2008. Casey's cover story was unbelievably ridiculous. When Casey's mom, Cindy, confronted Casey at Casey's boyfriend's apartment, Casey actually claimed that a random baby sitter nobody had ever met had taken Caylee away over a month beforehand.
Cindy called the cops, informing them, "I found my daughter's car today. And it smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car." Sure enough, cadaver dogs identified the trunk of Casey's car as a dead body location, and scientists confirmed that a body had decomposed back there. A few months after a jury indicted Casey, police found Caylee's corpse in the woods near Casey's home, duct tape on her head.
The defense did a Johnny Cochrane routine -- they blamed everybody within a 10 mile radius of the murder for the murder....
My colleague Anna Rittgers, who unlike me is a lawyer, has an entirely different take from mine. I concede that now that the jury has spoken the matter is at an end. We accept the verdict. This is our system. But I do not think the system worked yesterday. I got sort of tired of the the-system-works meme that dominated commentary last night after what I regard as a tragic miscarriage of justice. How on earth did the system work? Is putting on a creative defense that results in a transparently wrong verdict proof that our system works?
Shapiro agrees that Casey got off because the system doesn't work."Because the jury system, as currently run, is stupid," he argues. Trial by jury is enshrined as a foundational principle of our system of justice. But does it still work? Shapiro cites the joke that juries are composed of 12 people too dumb to get off jury duty. They are also people, he notes, who-quite reasonably-want to go home and return to their normal lives. The Anthony trial started in May and featured an incredibly amount of material that was theatrical but not germane. Shapiro notes:
The phrase "show trial" now means something different -- it means a trial that is a show. That's precisely what O.J. and Casey Anthony were about. Every juror expects to see Sam Waterston get up and deliver opening remarks, and damned if the court system won't do its best to provide that entertainment. The provision of the Constitution that requires a public trial is now used to ensure that trials become media circuses.
But should we abolish the jury system and go for a European one with judges asking questions and making decisions? The jury system is deep in our history, a bulward against secrecy and political prosecution, and until recently a pretty good way to arrive at the truth. We need to make it work again, not abolish what is a hallmark of our system.
Shapiro suggests getting brighter people to serve by making it easier to be on a jury. We need more day trials and some mechanism to prevent trials from becoming entertainment. "We need more justice and less showmanship," Stein argues. This should not be about whether the defense or prosecution puts on the better show.
Speaking of showmanship, defense lawyer Cheney Mason lambasted the media for "media assassination" and "bias, prejudice, and incompetent talking heads" interpreting the case. I'd suggest a little more graciousness was in order from a guy who'd just won a case that, had I been one of the 12, would have given him at best a hung jury.