Circumstantial evidence is apparently dead in U.S. courts, if the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial is any indication. An Orlando, Fla., jury found Anthony not guilty of either first-degree murder, manslaughter or child abuse in the death of her daughter, Caylee Anthony, three years ago.
There were no witnesses or direct evidence that Casey Anthony murdered or caused the death of little Caylee. According to news reports, a coroner ruled Caylee’s death a homicide, but her body was so decomposed that it couldn’t be determined when she died or how the homicide might have been committed.
Virtually all the evidence against Casey Anthony was circumstantial. The most damning, for my money, were the false statements she gave police and that disturbing business about not reporting Caylee’s disappearance for 31 days. If Caylee wasn’t murdered, at the hands of Casey Anthony, then why didn’t her mother report the death, and why the lies?
This is what is known as “circumstantial evidence.” It is evidence that the Orlando jury rejected. Some, such as law professor Alan Dershowitz, have praised the jurors for voting to acquit.
Appearing on Piers Morgan’s CNN show, Dershowitz said the jurors probably had reasonable doubts and that it was their duty to acquit.
Dershowitz said there are “hundreds” of inmates in America today, some on death row, convicted on far less circumstantial evidence than Orlando prosecutors had against Casey Anthony.
Marcia Clark, who was a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, said there was enough circumstantial evidence in that case to convict Simpson “10 times over.” In reference to the Casey Anthony trial, Clark said, “there was enough here.”
Alex Ferrer, a former Florida circuit court judge, agreed with Clark.
“The problem is the jury failed to realize the law on what reasonable doubt is,” Ferrer said on Morgan’s show. “I think the jury wanted a conviction beyond all doubt. I thought the case was proven quite convincingly by the prosecution.”
Clark followed up on Ferrer’s comments about reasonable doubt.
“Oftentimes, reasonable doubt turns into a reason to doubt,” Clark said.
It takes jurors who can’t tell the difference between a reasonable doubt and a “reason to doubt” to help deep-six the concept of circumstantial evidence in America.
I served on a jury many years ago in which the bulk of the prosecution’s case was circumstantial evidence.
“People are convicted on circumstantial evidence every day,” the prosecutor made sure to tell the jury.
I can’t say I wouldn’t have voted with those Orlando jurors to acquit Casey Anthony, but I pride myself on having a sound, mathematical mind. So I might have leaned toward conviction of manslaughter, if not murder.
I love math. I even majored in the stuff in college. As a juror with a sound, mathematical mind, I would have added up the facts in the Casey Anthony trial. I would have even formed an equation that goes something like this:
DEFENDANT IS A LIAR + DEFENDANT’S KID GOES MISSING + DEFENDANT REPORTS KID MISSING AFTER 31 DAYS + KID IS FOUND DEAD = DEFENDANT KILLED KID.
Morgan said he found it odd that Jose Baez, Casey Anthony’s lawyer, opened the trial by telling the jurors his client was a liar. In essence, Baez told the jurors that Casey Anthony lied about almost everything, except whether or not she killed Caylee. On that, Casey’s word is gospel.
Twelve jurors must have bought that nonsense.
Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to Sudan.