Thoughts on the Casey Anthony Trial
If you live in the U.S., you've been barraged with media coverage of the trial, acquittal (on the main charges) and—as I write this—the upcoming release of Casey Anthony. She is the 22-year-old Florida woman who was accused of murdering her daughter Caylee.
But this is not just "tabloid TV" running amok with sensationalism—as bad as that would be! There was something even bigger and worse going on in this case, and to be honest, it seems that a large majority of people have gotten sucked in by it. That is why I am writing this letter—because I think it is important to see how this case and all the really vicious media coverage fits into attacks on women's liberation, reproductive rights, critical thinking, and into the constantly ramped-up repression of the people and our legal rights.
Let me say from the outset that I do not know how Caylee Anthony died, and neither did the prosecution, the police, or the army of demented TV personalities like Nancy Grace,1 who continue to scream for Casey Anthony's blood. But I do know that the jury came to a correct verdict, which was that the prosecution had not proved its case "beyond a reasonable doubt."2
The New York Times, in a July 5 article, "Casey Anthony Not Guilty in Slaying of Daughter," summarized problems with the prosecution case:
"There was no direct evidence tying Ms. Anthony to the death of her daughter. Forensic evidence was tenuous, and no witnesses ever connected her to Caylee's death. Investigators found no traces of Ms. Anthony's DNA or irrefutable signs of chloroform or decomposition inside the trunk of Ms. Anthony's car, where prosecutors said she stashed Caylee before disposing of her body. The prosecution was also hurt by the fact that nobody knows exactly when or how Caylee died...."
Another point of note is that even with all the resources available to the State, the prosecution could present no evidence that Casey was not a loving mother while Caylee was alive—no reports of her being distant or resentful, much less screaming at, hitting or abusing her.
These are not mere "technicalities"—they are gigantic gaping holes in a case. To put it simply, there was no compelling evidence that Caylee Anthony was murdered, much less that Casey did it, much less with premeditation. Even Marcia Clarke (the O. J. Simpson3 prosecutor), who sharply disagreed with the verdict, acknowledged the weaknesses of the prosecution case, and that the trial was fairly conducted by all involved.
And yet when the jury, which had sat through this for six weeks, reached its "not guilty" verdict, what was the reaction? An outpouring of outrage, anger and literal cries for blood, not only against Casey but even against the jurors, coming from Nancy Grace and friends, and spreading feverishly across the Internet.
Talk show host Julie Chen broke into tears when the verdict was announced; Grace, seeming like her head was going to explode, declared, "Somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight." Marcia Clarke said that this verdict was even more shocking than the acquittal of O. J. On the Internet and Twitter, people said things like: "They should allow stoning just for this matter" and "I hope she dies in hell."
On the day of sentencing, a protester carried a sign reading: "Jurors 1-12: Guilty of Murder," and one of the jurors has already gone into hiding out of fear of attack; death threats have been received by the Anthony family; and special security plans are being developed for the day Casey is released from jail. TV personalities openly gloat that there will be no place in the U.S. where she could live safely and peacefully, and that her life is effectively "over."
All this is not just confined to cable news and tabloids—the New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece by Frank Bruni titled, "A Sordid Cast Around Casey Anthony," which off-handedly declares that Anthony "in all likelihood bore responsibility" for her daughter's death, and then proceeded to focus his criticism on her attorneys, for such outrages as one of them giving the finger to a bunch of journalists who were following them after the trial, and dredging up another attorney's alleged failure to make child support payments while in law school. Nancy Grace comes in for passing criticism towards the end of Bruni's piece.
Within all this, the upholding of "belief" in opposition to science and critical thinking deserves attention. In one revealing comment, Nancy Grace said, "When you're in a court of law, you're held to a different standard. We are not in a court of law. We are not shrouded from the evidence." (my emphasis) But she pointed to no prosecution evidence that was kept from the jury. What Grace is really saying is that the jury, by being sequestered during the trial, was "shrouded" from the demagogy and hysteria that infected the media coverage and therefore the popular discussion of the case. The jurors were just about the only people in the U.S. who were able to look more or less dispassionately at and scientifically evaluate the actual evidence... and that is the problem, from the standpoint of Nancy Grace, and powerful forces behind her.
Look, the reality is that the rights and protections of the U.S. legal system barely exist for the great majority of people who fall into its clutches. Police and prosecutorial misconduct, judicial prejudice, the high cost of a defense mean that up to 90 percent of cases are settled by "plea bargains," and those who do go to trial face a system stacked against them. But it is also true that if you are able to have a decent attorney, and if you get a jury or judge not thoroughly biased against defendants, then you have at least a chance. And this is viewed as a problem by the rulers of this country, who want the courts to be an even more efficient and reliable tool for locking up large numbers of the masses of people, Black and Latino people in particular, as well as being able to target and suppress "troublemakers" of all kinds.
From this standpoint, such things as the doctrine of "reasonable doubt," and trial on the basis of evidence, are increasingly seen as impediments to the ability of the system to control and regulate society and to punish those who deviate. The media coverage of the Casey Anthony trial has not only been an all-out attack on such protections, but is also a warning to lawyers who take on unpopular or controversial cases, and to jurors whose analysis of the evidence contradicts the demands of media and the state for a conviction. What has already happened on this will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on people like this going forward—this is a very bad development.
Beyond this, the ideological content of the media and prosecution portrayal of Casey Anthony was a vicious effort to reaffirm and reinforce the foundational patriarchal view that women are defined as mothers and wives, not as independent and multi-dimensional human beings. As one example of this, consider the way that Nancy Grace labeled Casey Anthony as "Tot Mom," and virtually refused to use her actual name. This was not only a way of ridiculing and dehumanizing her, it was specifically saying that her existence was defined by being Caylee Anthony's mother.
To get a broader sense of what is at work in this, check out the following commentary on the Casey Anthony case from the Wintery Knight Blog website ("How feminism led to increased child abuse and child neglect"):
"The most important thing to many women who have been influenced by feminism is that they are happy all the time. And they think that they can extend their selfish pursuit of happiness into a lasting relationship—that men and children will somehow celebrate their selfishness. For some women, if the demands of children and men don't make them happy, then they can just abort the children and divorce the men for any reason. What abortion really amounts to in practice is the refusal by women to be selective about who they have sex with, followed by the willingness to kill in order to avoid having their own happiness diminished by having to care for babies. And abortion is supported by many women today....
"Today, many women don't want men who tell her what's right and what's true—especially about religion and morality. Those men are ‘too strict' and ‘too demanding'—they tell her about the moral obligations that women have to husbands and children, and she doesn't want to hear or have to do anything about it."
Now think about how often Casey was referred to contemptuously as a "party girl" in court and in the media. Think about the fact that the prosecution closed its entire case by presenting—not evidence of Casey's involvement in murder, but pictures of her taken at a club after Caylee was dead. The narrative that the prosecution presented—which the media overwhelmingly echoed and reinforced—was that Casey murdered her daughter so she could go to parties, dance and have sex. This narrative was supposed to substitute for actual evidence.
And numerous commentators have expressed outrage that she seemed happy after being acquitted on charges carrying a death sentence, which also meant that she would be released from jail after three years spent mostly in solitary.
This case was never about "Justice for Caylee," as was incessantly proclaimed. The fact is that child abuse is epidemic in the U.S. (the real reason for which has to do with the dominant property relations in which women are viewed and treated as property of men, and children as the property of their parents). In Florida children die from abuse at a rate of almost four per week, yet there and elsewhere the system allots almost no money to social programs aimed at alleviating abuse. They really do not give a damn about the suffering and deaths of thousands of children. But this death offered an opportunity for a national morality play about evil women/bad mothers, and for whipping up hysteria against the fundamentals of due process and justice, and that was in line with the overall atmosphere the system is actively creating right now. And that is why Caylee's death gave rise to the reactionary spectacle that is still unfolding at this moment.
1. Nancy Grace is a former Georgia prosecutor, now an influential HLN [formerly CNN Headline News] legal commentator who led the network to devote practically round-the-clock attention to the Casey Anthony trial, which from the beginning treated Casey as guilty and has continued to do so after her acquittal. This is nothing new—Grace's entire career in both the legal system and on TV has been marked by a vicious and revenge-filled spirit and a complete disregard for the truth, ethics and for the legal process. Grace says she entered law school after her fiancé was murdered with the intention of fighting for "victims' rights," but she has even been caught distorting and exaggerating the facts and circumstances of her fiancé's death so they would better conform to her crusade against what she sees as an impotent, criminal-coddling legal system. (See "Did Nancy Grace, TV Crimebuster, Muddy Her Myth?" The New York Observer, March 5, 2006.)
As a prosecutor she was twice reprimanded by the Georgia Supreme Court; the second time, in overturning a murder conviction, the court declared that "the conduct of the prosecuting attorney in this case demonstrated her disregard of the notions of due process and fairness, and was inexcusable." (See Carr v. State, 267 Ga. 701 (1997).) In another case, the appeals court reviewing one of Grace's cases said that "it is difficult to conclude that Grace did not knowingly use [false] testimony." (See Stephens v. Hall, 407 F.3d 1195, 1206 (11th Cir. 2005).)
As a "journalist," Grace conducted an "interview" with Melinda Duckett, a 21-year-old woman whose son was missing. Grace badgered the mother, banged her fist on the table and demanded she give out details of her last day with her child; when she didn't and instead became confused, Grace switched to her on-air "psychologist" who pronounced, "Her reaction is not the typical reaction of a mother who has a missing child." Duckett committed suicide the next day. Grace's response to this was to say that she must have done it out of "guilt." Duckett's grandfather said, "Nancy Grace… just bashed her to the end." The family sued; Grace settled out of court for $200,000. In another case of abduction, that of Elizabeth Smart, Grace went on Larry King and declared that one suspect, Richard Ricci, "was guilty" and also implicated his girlfriend. Ricci died in police custody; it was later found that neither he nor his girlfriend had any connection to the case. Again Grace was unrepentant, saying Ricci was "a known ex-con, a known felon, and brought suspicion on himself, so who could blame anyone for claiming he was the perpetrator?" [back]
2. According to Black's Law Dictionary, 5th Edition:
"In a criminal case, all the elements of the crime must be proved by the government beyond a reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt which will justify acquittal is doubt based on reason and arising from evidence or lack of evidence, and it is doubt which a reasonable man or woman might entertain, and it is not fanciful doubt, is not imagined doubt, and is not doubt that a juror might conjure up to avoid performing an unpleasant task or duty. Reasonable doubt is such a doubt as would cause prudent people to hesitate before acting in matters of importance to themselves." This is considered one of the most fundamental principles of the U.S. legal system. [back]
3. In 1994, O.J. Simpson, a famous Black ex-athlete and media personality, was charged with the brutal murder of his ex-wife, who was white. The police investigation was led by a rabid racist who harbored a particular hatred of Black men who went with white women, and there were clear and substantial indications of evidence tampering by the police. The trial was a huge spectacle, with a strong racist subtext built into both the trial and media coverage. The jury found Simpson "not guilty," which was met with virulent outrage mainly among white people. [back]