Numerous news reports indicate that Casey Anthony will walk free next Wednesday, July 13th, 2011. Although one or two intrepid commentators and much of the American public are open in their indignation and outrage, many other commentators, 'experts;, and some of the jurors are applauding a system that “worked.”
Jurors who are speaking about their decisions are claiming that the prosecution’s case did not present enough hard evidence and that while they may think that Casey Anthony killed her two year old, they also had reasonable doubt—largely because they did not have an exact cause of death.
While I don’t want to blast the jurors, I listened not only to Florida lawyers but to the judge’s charges as well. The judge clearly made the point that circumstantial evidence was to be accepted if it explained the case logically, and he added that jurors were to use common sense and “life experiences.”
Obviously, common sense and life experiences show that Casey should have been held accountable. Condemned. Children, in my life experience, don’t have duct tape on their faces. Aren’t in trash bags. Aren’t thrown away after an accidental drowning. Mothers who believe a child is missing don’t party—nor would they if they knew that the child died in a terrible accident. If a child is dead, taped, bagged, and thrown away—my common sense tells me it was NOT an accident. I don’t have to know if chloroform, suffocation, or deliberate drowning was the cause of death—the child was murdered. Murdered is all I need to know.
But Casey’s trial is over; the problem is that now other trials may be affected by those jurors who do not want to accept circumstantial evidence when necessary. Murder cases, especially, are likely to be lacking in witnesses and, depending on the care taken by the perpetrators and the time between the act and recovery of the body, “hard” evidence.
Imagine the Drew Peterson case. Two of his four wives dead, a police department that misidentified the third wife’s death as an accident, resulting in a great loss of the available evidence. NO evidence of the 4th wife's murder, whose body has never been found, but who feared for her life. Hearsay evidence—from the conveniently missing 4th wife—showed that Peterson bragged about knowing how to commit murders that couldn’t be proven. Get rid of bodies so that they’d never be found.
That’s just one of many cases where circumstantial evidence may be the only evidence. Are jurors going to shirk from making intelligent judgments? Are more and more murderers going to throw their victims away where they won’t be found for just long enough that “reasonable doubt” can be bandied about?
Forensics and technoloy have advanced investigations and allowed convictions in many cases. Nevertheless, decades of law have relied on circumstantial evidence, and the more carefully crafted a criminal act, the less likely that forensics will be able to solve it. No one should get away with murder because their victim became skeletal remains before evidence could be gathered. And no one should throw a child out like garbage and walk free. Our system can and should evolve as invention provides assistance in discovering truth—but it should never sneer at the sheer, blunt circumstance evidence that only common sense and life experiences can validate.