It is strange that I feel compelled to express an opinion on a court case I actively tried to avoid. Alas, if one owns a television and has any interest in the news, complete ignorance of the Casey Anthony trial is beyond the capability of all but the most vigilant. The story has grabbed the headlines, been the stuff of tabloid journalism for almost three years now and now the world stands in shock at the declaration "Not Guilty".
The verdict has produced a number of strong reactions in people, including disbelief and horror. The thing I find most shocking, however, is that it has caused some to question the very system that includes trial by jury. So many people are just sure that Casey Anthony got away with the murder of her daughter Caylee and their hunger for vengeance will now never be satisfied.
But here in lies my concern. I was not in the courtroom. I did not watch the testimony. I did not discuss with fellow jurors if the state had proven it's case. I did not examine the evidence. I, like most, got my information by a few soundbites and news reports.
The death of a child is a tragedy no matter how you look at it. There is no disputing that. It is in the core of our ethics and even our DNA to want to protect children. When we fail, we want to see the guilty parties laden with the heaviest penalties we can muster.
But please remember what those penalties are. Life in prison. Maybe even death. Certainly a reputation that will follow you for the rest of your life, in jail or out of it. While these may be fair recompense for those who have done the unthinkable, they are the height of cruelty if placed upon someone who does not deserve them.
Because these penalties are so stiff, we constructed a system that sets rigid boundaries for what is and is not permitted by law. We diffuse the decision amongst a dozen of our peers so that the evidence must be so clear that only a unanimous decision will strip the accused of their freedoms. As my episodes of Law and Order like to remind me, we have constructed a system where it is harder to prove guilt than believe innocence because it is better that 1000 guilty men walk free than we unjustly incarcerate one innocent.
This system, however, was not constructed with the 24 hour news cycle in mind.
The news networks have and obligation to get and keep us interested, perhaps over and above their obligation to provide unbiased information. They succeed at the former much more often than they do the latter. As such, before the gavel came down the first time in the courtroom, before the jury was selected, countless people had made their minds up. People who have never met nor ever will meet Casey Anthony were sure of her guilt and knew, just knew, what her fate should be.
The fact that there is a system, that this system was designed to certify the guilt of an accused person or else assume their innocence, that fact was discarded. And who can blame them? This is about a child, for God's sake. How can you let the killer of a child go free?
And the horror the crime eroded at the very thing the system was designed to instill: Objectivity.
Since the desired verdict was no reached, since the conclusion of 1000's who were not there, did not review the evidence, did not interview the witnesses was not also the conclusion of the 12 people actually tasked to make the determination, some have called for the system of justice to be altered so that it better matches the opinion of the mob.
It is a sad thing, a horrible thing, that Caylee Anthony was killed. But the people that that death effects directly are few, and while my heart and condolences go out to them, I am much more saddened by the wailing of my countrymen who would have us decide cases the same way we choose the victor of American Idol.
By popular vote.