Casey Anthony Case: Hate the Facts, Not the Jury

Here is today’s column on the Casey Anthony trial (the print copy runs next week). Anthony is to be released in a matter of days, though the original calculation of next Wednesday appears to be incorrect.

The anger over the acquittal of Casey Anthony in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee has left many angry and confused. And that’s an understatement. After all, Anthony had been convicted weeks earlier on countless cable shows, Internet sites, Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds. Not since the O.J. Simpson case nearly two decades ago has the nation diverged so greatly from a jury in the outcome of a case. The same anger was apparent as people demanded to know why the jury would allow this death to go unpunished. Of course, they were not tasked with guaranteeing punishment for a crime, but guaranteeing that only the guilty are punished. It is a distinction lost in today’s legal coverage where jurors are expected to complete the script written by commentators by supplying satisfying ends to sensational stories. Anthony had already been packaged and processed through the system as a slut, a nut, and most importantly a murderer. Everyone seemed to know except 12 people in the Orange County Courthouse in Florida.

Armchair juries

On CBS, anchor Julie Chen actually broke into tears reading the verdict while others denounced the jurors for letting a murderess walk for free. The one predictable moment came from HLN’s Nancy Grace, who was in her usual full rage and revulsion. Sputtering with anger, Grace told her audience that “Tot mom’s lies seem to have worked” and warned viewers that while “the defense sits by and has their champagne toast … somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight.”
It is not surprising that Grace is the face of unrequited vengeance. She was hired by CNN (HLN is under the CNN umbrella) after a controversial stint as a Georgia prosecutor during which she was accused of repeated unethical acts, including what one court described as her “disregard of the notions of due process and fairness.” Grace recently settled a case after a mother committed suicide in 2001 after Grace all but accused Melinda Duckett, 21, of killing her own son. Later, Grace would tell viewers, “If anything, I would suggest that guilt made her commit suicide.”

The fact is that the evidence against Anthony was highly circumstantial and questionable. There were certainly incriminating elements, such as Anthony’s lies to investigators and her bizarre claims that Caylee was kidnapped by a nanny named Zanny or possibly drowned. There was also expert testimony that Anthony’s car trunk showed high levels of chloroform, and an expert who testified that he found hair, including possible post-mortem hair that matched Caylee in the trunk.

It was certainly enough for a trial, but was it enough to convict a person and subject her potentially to the death penalty?

While many Americans learned about the case through ciphers like Grace and an army of bloggers who focused on Anthony’s love life and pictures of the adorable Caylee, the jurors were focusing on the evidence:

•There was no clear evidence of how the child died.
•There were no witnesses to the act.
•There was no clear evidence of a motive.

For every major circumstantial fact offered by the prosecution, the jurors had doubt as to whether it was true or whether it tied Anthony to the death. In the end, the only clear crime was lying to the police, the count on which Anthony was found guilty.

Old-school justice

This is precisely why we require jurors to be educated by the evidence as opposed to their neighbors. That was not always the case. In the 12th century, early jurors relied on “self-informing,” meaning they applied their own understanding of the facts as members of the community as opposed to hearing evidence: Think of a jury of 12 Nancy Graces.

Of course, the only problem with a trial based on proof is that it is often subject to doubts. Ironically, the most accepted system of justice was also the most abusive: trials by ordeal. Medieval courts relied entirely on God to pronounce the guilt of an accused. Defendants were drowned, burned, given poisoned bread, and subjected to other abuse to see a sign of divine judgment. Yet, trials by ordeal had one advantage: People accepted the results because one could not question the judgment of God.

Without God rendering the decision, we will always have those who find these decisions to be unacceptable and lash out at these jurors. Yet, studies have shown that lawyers and judges tend to overwhelmingly agree with juries in their decisions. Three leading studies looked at thousands of trials and found remarkable consistency with judges disagreeing with verdicts in only 5.5%, 5.6%, and 6.7% of cases. That is a remarkable success rate for any institution.

It would have been easy for the jurors to vent their anger and ignore their doubts, as do people like Grace. After all, these are citizens like those who watched on TV — citizens with the same feelings of anger and disgust over the murder of a child like Caylee. However, they take an oath to do justice. Grace may accuse them of tapping their feet to the Devil’s dance, but they were not there for the entertainment.

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

July 8, 2011

76 thoughts on “Casey Anthony Case: Hate the Facts, Not the Jury”

  1. At the end of the day She was the last one seen with the kid alive.Only she knows what happen to Caley.

  2. there were five crucial pieces of evidence that the Casey Anthony jurors were not permitted to see/hear; how is that a fair trial when you hide crucial evidence for them to decide rightfully???!

  3. “I suppose sometime the Jurors actually do get it right……”


    Thanks for that comment. What has been forgotten too in the screaming aftermath of the trial was that the defense had actually repudiated Bradley’s
    “84 times” with their own expert and Baez had referenced that refutation in his closing statement. The chloroform was a key element in making the prosecution’s case and in the absence of cause of death was inferred to
    be the key to the process of murder. There were many discrepancies such as this in the forensics evidence that were challenged by defense witnesses, but the screaming pundits commenting on the trial actually ignored them in their rush to urge a “lynch-mob” decision. This was my point in writing this, not Casey’s guilt or innocence, but the harm the reportage does our judicial system and the aftermath of trying to formulate laws named for Cayley, for blatant political gain. I bet you would love to try cases before a jury that performed so well.

  4. As far as the statement that the jury did not deliberate long enough, the Headline News comentators were all predicting the verdict was going to come the day that it came or the day prior. Most of them were prosecutors and belived the verdict would be guilty. When they predicted “the verdict wil be today or tomorrow and it will be guilty” nobody suggested that 10 hours would be too short for a deliberation for a guilty verdict. It is hypocritical for Nancy Grace to say that it is only if the person is found not guilty that the deliberations were tootooshort. If she was prosecuting a case and got a guilty verdict I am sure she would not criticize the jury afterwards if they only deliberated for an hour.

  5. I suppose sometime the Jurors actually do get it right……

    And the Prosecutor did not share the evidence with the Defense…it will come to light…..

    Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton retiring
    July 05, 2011|By Bianca Prieto and Anthony Colarossi, Orlando Sentinel
    Just hours after the verdict was read in the biggest case of his career, veteran Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton announced he will retire at the end of the week.

    Ashton’s last day at the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office, where he has worked for 30 years, will be Friday, a spokeswoman for State Attorney Lawson Lamar said this afternoon.

    Expert: I Warned Prosecutors Casey Anthony Didn’t Do 84 ‘Chloroform’ Word Searches

    Casey Anthony didn’t do 84 searches for the word “chloroform” and prosecutors didn’t correct the error, a computer expert says.

    John Bradley, who designed the CacheBack software used to support the 84-search assertion, now says Anthony visited the suspect website only once, the New York Times reports.The website,, gave information about the use of chloroform in the 1800s.

    Bradley redesigned CacheBack after he testified for the prosecution and learned police used a different software in 2008 that found Anthony had visited the website only once.

    Bradley says he notified prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick and sheriff’s police when he learned of the error, but jurors were never told about it. One of the defense lawyers, Cheney Mason, says they were never told either. “If in fact this is true, and the prosecution concealed this new information, it is more than shame on them. It is outrageous,” he told the Times.

    The State’s Attorney’s office did not return calls by the Times. A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s office told the newspaper, “We’re not going to relive the trial again.”

    I wonder what this really means….

  6. I suppose sometime the Jurors actually do get it right……

    Software Designer Reports Error in Anthony Trial

    MIAMI — Assertions by the prosecution that Casey Anthony conducted extensive computer searches on the word “chloroform” were based on inaccurate data, a software designer who testified at the trial said Monday.

    The designer, John Bradley, said Ms. Anthony had visited what the prosecution said was a crucial Web site only once, not 84 times, as prosecutors had asserted. He came to that conclusion after redesigning his software, and immediately alerted prosecutors and the police about the mistake, he said.

    The finding of 84 visits was used repeatedly during the trial to suggest that Ms. Anthony had planned to murder her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, who was found dead in 2008. Ms. Anthony, who could have faced the death penalty, was acquitted of the killing on July 5.

    According to Mr. Bradley, chief software developer of CacheBack, used by the police to verify the computer searches, the term “chloroform” was searched once through Google. The Google search then led to a Web site,, that was visited only once, Mr. Bradley added. The Web site offered information on the use of chloroform in the 1800s.

    The Orange County Sheriff’s Office had used the software to validate its finding that Ms. Anthony had searched for information about chloroform 84 times, a conclusion that Mr. Bradley says turned out to be wrong. Mr. Bradley said he immediately alerted a prosecutor, Linda Drane Burdick, and Sgt. Kevin Stenger of the Sheriff’s Office in late June through e-mail and by telephone to tell them of his new findings. Mr. Bradley said he conducted a second analysis after discovering discrepancies that were never brought to his attention by prosecutors or the police.

  7. a lot of facts,smoke and mirrors but no clear motive. set her free.

  8. Not Guilty???? Mother does not report child missing for 31 days??
    Mother lies where child is for 31 days?? Child is tripled bagged and found with duct tape and thrown in woods?? Mothers car smell like death which she abandons. She tells boyfriend child is with Zanny while she lives with him during these 31 days.. Mother makes accident look like murder? Yes if you had one of these things happen I can see a reason to doubt..But when you put them all together their is NO DOUBT..Jury screwed up…Oh Yeah..Motive…Caylee was starting to talk and she was about to tell everyone that Casey had no job and their was no Nanny..This would have blew Caseys world out of the water..By the way I like many through DVR watched and seen EVERYTHING the jury seen.. Its not the talking heads its the evidence..

  9. The not guilty verdict is great news because nobody deserves the death penalty delivered by a mob of blood-crazed Americans…not even Casey Anthony.

  10. Just like the OJ trial, she got off with mountains of incriminating evidence against her.

    Just like the OJ trial, incompetent lawyers represented the prosecution.

    Just like the OJ trial, the accused claims “I did not do it”, yet now that she is free is not doing a damned thing to find the “real” killer….neither are the police. [Albeit it’s been 3 years since the murder, I didn’t think cops/investigators STOP searching for suspects of crimes unless it has been deemed a cold case].

    Just like the OJ trial, jurors are disgusted of their decision almost immediately after giving it.

    Just like the OJ trial, there was absolutely NO motive for ANYONE else to kill this child BUT the accused.

    We can only hope that Casey Anthony will receive justice one day [like OJ did] by serving time for holding up a 7-Eleven or stealing a purse from an old lady [ya know, something FAR WORSE than killing a child].

    Will there be a civil trial? Wrongful death suit filed by the father of the child?

  11. Motive is NOT required to prove murder, first degree or otherwise. Why do so many idiots keep stating otherwise? Including the JURY. Unreal.

  12. Suspects are convicted all the time without a body much less a method of death. (any body remember Scott Peterson – or maybe you all think he was innocent too) The medical examiner declared it was a homocide NOT accidental based on the EVIDENCE. You people jumping on and attacking the lawyers and news commentators who got it wrong are just out for your 5 minutes of fame using 20/20 hindsite. The prosecutor did a great job – just remember this is the state that didn’t know how to use the voting system. Casey is a disgusting person and mother. A few smiling shots of her playing with her daughter does NOT a good mother make. What a joke. Pity the poor people that come in contact with her in the future not knowing what she is capable of.

  13. Beth,

    Come on now, fess up. If they would have taken 11 hours to find her guilty you would have felt they did a great job. They were there hearing the evidence. You were home listening to HLN and its’ guest commentators. Had the jury found her guilty you would have no problem with them profiting from it.

  14. Also 11 hours of deliberation???

    Did they even read the instruction manual?

    No, they were ready to go and make their millions off their interviews!

    This is really sad and I hope you feel like a moron for writing this article after seeing the jury members being soooo greedy!

  15. The jury is demanding $$$$ to speak!

    Why should “us” citizens not be angry that not only is the media and court getting PAID off caylee’s death, now the JURY members?

    CIVIL duty is not accepting monetary value for doing the RIGHT THiNG!

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