COMMENTARY | The verdict in the Casey Anthony trial seems to have stunned the nation, according to AM New York. That might include the defense team, whose demeanor seemed to indicate that they fully expected their client would at least be convicted of a felony manslaughter charge. But after the verdict of “not guilty” was read in the Orange County courtroom, media and public attention immediately focused on two things: The jury and the prosecution. Why? Because the common consensus seemed to be: In a case where the defendant seemed obviously guilty, either the jury did not consider the facts of the case well enough or the prosecution did not present their case effectively. But most who were convinced Anthony would be convicted of murder seem to have missed a larger point: The jury never said Anthony was innocent.
The judicial system of the United States is based on the presumption of innocence, that those who charge another with performing an illegal act must be a able to prove it in order for the alleged lawbreaker to be punished within the parameters of the law. This places an inordinate amount of responsibility of proving guilt on prosecutors, but the system is designed so that those not guilty and with limited resources can contest allegations against the powerful and those with vast resources. To get a guilty verdict, prosecutors have to prove that the defendant is guilty of the act of which they are accused.
That does not mean that the perpetrator is innocent.
In the Casey Anthony trial, the jury was given two sets of parameters within which to decide whether or not a young mother, Anthony, had actually murdered her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, or had covered up a horrible drowning accident. State prosecutors presented their case, replete with plenty of forensic evidence, showed possible premeditation, and linked together a series of events into what appeared to be a murder. Defense attorneys discredited as much forensic evidence as possible and provided witnesses that would help bolster their position. The jury deliberated for 11 hours and found Casey Anthony “not guilty” of murder.
Again, that is not the same as finding the now 25-year-old woman innocent of murder or even of killing her own daughter. Nor does the verdict indicate that she is innocent of being complicit in an act with others that resulted in the death of her daughter, nor in covering up an accidental death by herself or with others (such as her father, George, which was a contention of the defense). The verdict simply suggests that the jury, acting upon the presumption of innocence, found that the state did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter, which was the charge being adjudicated.
What each juror actually thinks occurred in the summer of 2008 when Caylee went missing is irrelevant. Each juror was charged with deciding whether or not the evidence presented by the state, measured against the evidence offered by the defense, met the criteria for murder. Apparently each juror believed that the state did not, hence the verdict.
Casey Anthony was convicted of lying to investigators. She was cleared of all other charges. At her sentencing on Thursday, July 7, given the three years she has already served in jail awaiting her trial, she may actually be released due to time served.
An indicator that her parents, George and Cindy Anthony, fully understood the distinction between “not guilty” and “innocent” came in a statement issued through their attorney, Mark Lippman, shortly after the verdict was revealed.
“Despite the baseless defense chosen by Casey Anthony,” the statement read in part, alluding to the defense’s position that Caylee drowned in the family pool, that George helped in the cover-up (and was supervising Caylee when she supposedly drowned), and that Casey’s subsequent behavior was the result of the emotional and psychological trauma of years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, “the family believes that the jury made a fair decision based on the evidence presented, the testimony presented, the scientific information presented and the rules that they were given by the Honorable Judge Perry to guide them.”
The statement did not say that George and Cindy Anthony believed that their daughter was innocent.