My very first job as a lawyer in Florida came by way of an interview with a prosecutor, whom I later learned was one of the greatest prosecutors in Florida history. I am honored to have known him and worked in the same building for a short time. Since retirement, he wrote an opinion piece about the Casey Anthony verdict which is excellent, I hope you will read it.
This is better and more authoritative than anything I could pen. (This was originally posted by a fellow lawyer in Miami, Thanks for sharing David)
IN DEFENSE OF THE JURY (Miami Herald, July 10, 2011)
The cacophony of TV talking heads perverted the public’s expectation of a proper outcome in the Casey Anthony case. As a result, jurors are being unjustly pilloried.
BY ABE LAESER
Abe Laeser spent 36 years in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, where he was chief assistant for major crimes, and personally tried nearly 50 capital murder trials, without an acquittal.
Why is Caylee dead? Think you know? Why — did you see her die? Did you look any witness in the eye and ask them questions? Or are you relying on a commentator’s beliefs about what is a just verdict? If so, you are not alone — but you were not a juror in the Casey Anthony trial.
So let us assume that you were a juror. First of all, as a juror you did not hear a wide range of so-called experts tell you what you should think. Who are these people? Did any of them see her die? Did they get to look any witness in the eye and ask them questions? No — they did no more than you did. Why then would you believe their opinions rather than rely on the trial jurors who heard all of the evidence, and saw every nuance of how each witness testified?
Let us talk about this cottage industry of each media hiring an expert to analyze the case. I would compare the use of these “talking heads” to choosing a doctor. If your personal physician was an experienced general practitioner, or even a skilled hand surgeon, would that doctor be your first choice in case a family member had severe brain injuries caused by a car accident? Not all doctors are the same, nor are all lawyers. Getting on television may bring in more legal business, but it does not make one any smarter — or right.
Because a lawyer may have been in a courtroom during their careers, what do they know about building a case in which the death penalty is being sought? The death penalty is rarely sought, and properly so. Very few have ever stood in the pit and asked that another person be put to death, or tried to prevent it. It is daunting in the extreme, and requires the most thorough possible level of preparation.
On both sides, all questions raised must be evaluated with a view to discovering weaknesses in the case; finding legal defenses that may prevent conviction or would not justify the imposition of death as a punishment. The prosecutor is in court only because he or she knows the sacred value of human life, and would be damnably wrong to ask for this punishment without understanding the level of proof required in law. The very first question in preparing any such case for court is the statement above: Why is Caylee dead?
The use of lawyers on television as a part of the drumbeat for conviction is immoral, unprofessional, and downright frightening. The use of “talking heads” in the media screaming about their expectation of a certain verdict is no more or less than a form of televised lynch mob. If the press and their hired experts are calling for a conviction, or even the death penalty, they are doing so in the knowledge that they are not using the same evidence that the jury has heard in the courtroom. The legal profession must take itself to the woodshed for fueling such improper speculation. Those lawyers must act professionally, and not as advocates or even shills shouting over each other for one result or another.
FLASHBACK TO ’81
Years ago, this community suffered through the May 1981 McDuffie riots. Blame for those riots rests, in large part, precisely on the media reports that were wholly inaccurate. There was a disconnect between what the broadcast audience was being told and what the jurors actually heard and saw in the courtroom. In those frenzied days many people were murdered, hundreds injured, and millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed when expectations about the “certain” result of a conviction were raised by the media, and dashed by jurors who decided which evidence they could or could not use in their decision — and found the defendants Not Guilty. Obviously, this lesson has been forgotten during the past two months in Orlando.
What standard must a jury apply to come to a lawful verdict? Jurors are collectively very bright and imbued with inherent common sense. They are told to rely on the judge’s legal instructions, which they have in writing to be certain that they have the exact correct standard. Included is the “reasonable doubt” instruction: “A reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant may arise from the evidence, conflict in the evidence, or the lack of evidence. If you have a reasonable doubt you should find the defendant not guilty.”
It is not merely a question of what the state’s theory may be about her death, or even who is probably responsible for her death, but what evidence do they have to prove this case beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt? If that standard cannot be met, no jury should ever convict. More importantly to our view of justice, without that amount of proof no prosecutor should ever ask for a conviction. Merely having great powers of persuasion or a less skilled opponent should never justify any prosecution — certainly not one where a life is at stake.
Why do we who are not jurors then believe what the media’s hired guns may be saying? Even if all of the words from a trial are reported verbatim by the media, each of us decides on the truthfulness of witnesses by watching them as we listen. Do they make eye contact? Do they seem embarrassed to admit errors? Do they hang their heads? Does their voice drop during cross examination? Those clues are how we each decide if what we are hearing is the truth — and that assumes that you are getting a verbatim report, which is not always the case.
As a juror, you would only hear the lawfully admissible evidence. Matters that are improperly prejudicial must be excluded. For example, all of the evidence of Casey Anthony going clubbing or getting a tattoo may seem morally awful, but does it help one bit in answering — Why is Caylee dead? It becomes nothing more than a part of one side’s theory of a motive to commit the acts. But it is only a theory.
Quite obviously there are contrary theories; including the most obvious one: even if Casey benefited from the death, was able to restart her life without the “burden” of a child, reach out for a second chance at Bella Vita — no matter how terrible the concept behind that theory is — it still does not give us one bit of proof as to how and why Caylee is dead.
Let us try to answer only three essential questions before agreeing to convict:
1. What caused her death? Was she drowned? Suffocated? Manually strangled? Did she die of disease, or natural causes, or even by an unfortunate accident, and then the death was covered up? If the medical evidence does not create certain proof of death, then the burden on the state is virtually overwhelming. It must now disprove all other theories to reach above the reasonable doubt standard. When noted experts come forward to dispute even the very cause or manner of death, what can the jurors really know about how she died? What was proven beyond a reasonable doubt about how Caylee died?
2. Next, if you are persuaded that the death was a homicide, what degree of crime was it? Was it an intentional killing and first-degree murder? Was it an intentional violent act, but one not intended to kill, making it second-degree murder? Was it a reckless or highly negligent act that caused the death, making it manslaughter? Yes, the prosecution’s theory was that it took place during an abuse of the child, legally consistent with first-degree. Remember, that one could try to cover up any of those types of unlawful homicide, but also might cover up an accidental or natural death, as well. The actions to cover up may give us no clue as to how death was caused. Now that you have followed all of the stories in the media, and perhaps watched the daily coverage, can you tell your friend or neighbor the exact facts of how Caylee’s life ended? Or are you left with your own best theory, no matter how sure you are — but no actual proof that you are right?
3. Finally, we must all ask ourselves, who did it? Casey? Did another family member do the act, perhaps even at her request? Was it a boyfriend or lover? Could it have been someone extremely angry at Casey? Or even a stranger or random crime? Some crazed person who kills children? We may all have our beliefs, but is there truly proof that excludes each and every reasonable doubt?
In truth, having all of these versions of the degree of the crime, the manner of the crime, and little proof as to how any one theory precludes the reasonable doubts raised by the alternate theories — the jury in the trial of Casey Anthony had no legal option but to find the existence of such doubt. If so, jurors would have been acting contrary to their sworn oaths. They chose to act lawfully.
BURDEN OF PROOF
We should all be proud of their courage, even as some may seethe with anger at the result. Sure, the evidence points to Casey and she may have done it; perhaps you think that she probably did it; or that she must have done it — but relying only on the proof presented at trial, and asking yourself all of the questions the jurors’ would be duty bound to ask themselves — do you have a doubt about how, in what manner, at whose hands, and Why is Caylee dead?