Lack of Evidence and Reasonable Doubts Lead to Acquittal
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
Now that Casey Anthony has been acquitted on the most serious charges resulting from the death of her young daughter, Caylee, and is scheduled for release next week, virtually every media pundit, along with their side-kick “expert” attorneys has had their say about the case. And now, after one of the jurors chose to flee the state of Florida in fear of retaliation, we also feel compelled to add a few comments—both about the verdict and the conduct of those expert attorneys leading up to and subsequent to the verdict.
It has been said that “A ‘not guilty’ verdict is the final disposition of a case from which, under normal circumstances, there is no review. Thus in this sense, it is the juries of this nation which finally define the laws. This places the power of the jury, in this respect, above that of the supreme court of the nation.” In this light, we must all remember Casey Anthony has been acquitted by a jury of her peers, who heard all the evidence in a court of law, and is not guilty, no matter what the pundits continue to scream.
On July 15, 2008 Casey Anthony told her mother, Cindy, that her two-year-old daughter Caylee had been missing for 31 days. Cindy called 911. The following day Casey Anthony was arrested for child neglect. Law enforcement and private searches were launched in an effort to find Caylee. On October 14, 2008, with Caylee still missing, Casey Anthony was indicted for capital murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, and four counts of lying to law enforcement officials. On December 11, 2008, the partial remains of Caylee were discovered a half mile from the Anthony residence. Six months after her arrest, April 13, 2009, Orange County prosecutors in Orlando announced they would seek the death penalty.
The Anthony case probably would not have become a national media sensation had HLN’s controversial talk show host Nancy Grace not leaped on the story like a starving dog on a bone. Nancy Grace is Nancy Grace, and she is probably the only talk show host who can regularly make Glenn Beck look like an intellectual giant. The former prosecutor does what most former prosecutors do when given a media outlet after they leave the adversarial trial system: she tries to convince the jury of public opinion that anyone arrested and indicted for a highly-publicized or controversial crime is guilty. It’s a new form of lynching—not with a rope but with cable news outlets.
Beyond Grace’s antics, which we deplore, what we find even more disturbing was the number of attorneys appearing on Grace’s show, as well as others, to pronounce Anthony guilty before a single juror had been selected. And this unethical clamor of guilt by these attorneys was deliberate and methodical. They knew exactly what was expected of them before appearing on Grace’s show: they had to support guilt or not show up at all.
We have no problem with attorneys such as New York attorney and CNN’s legal analyst Jeffery Toobin appearing on media outlets to discuss a legal issues about a particular case. That’s one thing. But it’s quite another for a self-promoting “legal eagle” to appear on these kinds of shows not only expressing an opinion about someone’s guilt before trial but arguing strenuously in support of guilt—all to please unscrupulous talk show hosts like Grace and to secure a re-invite to the show. It is deplorable, unprofessional, and, we believe, unethical for attorneys to engage in such conduct before the court of public opinion. It casts the legal profession in a bad light, as if we’re not dealing with enough “bad press,” with our approval ratings barely above those of the U.S. Congress. We think it’s time for state bar associations across the country to reel in these publicity-driven attorneys with guidelines on what is ethically expected of lawyers when discussing pending cases in our judicial system.
Whether or not Casey Anthony is guilty of killing her child is a moot legal, and, yes, social issue. This is so despite the fact a not guilty verdict does not necessarily mean actual innocence. Orlando prosecutors charged Anthony with three major felonies and four minor misdemeanors. Each of those felonies had specific elements which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (here and here). At the outset of the case prosecutors knew they did not have an “open and shut” case: they could not prove that a murder had been committed; when the murder was committed, if one was committed; how the murder was committed; or who committed the murder. Utilizing circumstantial evidence, prosecutors tried to wrap their case around Anthony by showing she was a liar, a bad parent, and a woman with promiscuous behavior who might have knocked her daughter out with chloroform and could have suffocated her by wrapping duct tape across her mouth.
Prosecutors said in post-verdict interviews that they presented every piece of evidence they had against Anthony. And when it was all said and done, they urged jurors to jump from point A to point D without passing through points B and C. In effect, they asked jurors to convict Anthony based on their “theory” that “tot mom,” as she was dubbed by Nancy Grace, was a “slut” and the only logical person who could have carried out Caylee’s murder. The motive prosecutors offered was that Anthony wanted Caylee out of the way so she could lead a fast-paced nightclub life.
The problem is that theories are nothing more than opinions until they are supported by facts. The Casey Anthony jurors had the remarkable courage to face an inevitable hostile public reaction by refusing to accept the prosecutors’ theory without a single piece of direct factual evidence to back it up. For example, prosecutors wanted the jurors to accept that because they offered evidence that Anthony had conducted Internet searches for chloroform, she must have used it in the commission of the murder. Yet prosecutors did not produce any chloroform, any evidence that Anthony purchased chloroform and, worse yet, that Caylee was even killed with chloroform.
The only fact that we know for sure: Caylee Anthony is dead. We don’t know how the precious child died. What we believe is that the secret to Caylee’s death lies between the arguments presented by the state and the defense. But, again, that’s our theory—one that is not supported by any factual evidence just as the prosecution’s case was not supported by factual evidence.
Despite Nancy Grace’s protestations otherwise, Casey Anthony did not walk away scot free with the not guilty verdict. Her life has been irretrievably scarred by a presumption of guilt. Even if she should receive lucrative book deals, movie contracts, and extravagant fees for tabloid interviews, she will never have a free life to enjoy whatever luxury wealth may bring. We repeatedly hear how wrongfully convicted persons face employment restrictions, community resentment, and police harassment because they had the audacity to fight for and ultimately prove their innocence. There are too many in our society who live by harsh, judgmental opinions without any factual basis.
We salute the Casey Anthony jurors. The case against Casey Anthony, at least as to the charges of intentional harm to her daughter, was weak. The case was nothing more than mere speculation based upon what prosecutors saw as unusual conduct after the child’s death. It is just as likely that Caylee Anthony died as a result of a terrible accident as it is her mother killed her in a demented plot to regain her freedom and carefree lifestyle.
The jurors had a tough job, but by following their lawful duty and requiring the government prove its case in court, their verdict did more to preserve our adversarial system of justice than a thousand guilty verdicts. They followed the letter of the law as instructed by Anthony’s trial judge which, in essence, was stated by the late and great Johnnie Cochran, O.J. Simpson’s flamboyant attorney: “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
By: Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair
John Floyd is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization