The “not guilty” verdict handed down in the Casey Anthony decision shocked many. It appeared to be an open and shut case. This young woman failed to report her missing child, partied hard during the child’s disappearance, and told repeated lies when questioned about the circumstances leading up to her daughter’s horrific death. What in the world was going on in those juror’s minds?
Some years back, I was selected to be a juror on a child molestation case. It, too, appeared to be open and shut. Without going into specific details, a young boy accused a man, an old family friend, of sexually molesting him over the course of several years. When first approached with these allegations, the friend fled to his native country for a while before returning to the United States. The boy, now a young man, contacted the authorities when he learned of the man’s return to the States. The authorities felt there was enough evidence to arrest the family friend and subsequently bring him to trial.
From the outside looking in, those facts alone seemed to indicate guilt on the man’s part. Why else would he run when approached with the boy’s allegations? The prosecution began strongly with a searing opening statement. While the defense gave off an eccentric air coupled with a condescending tone. The prosecution presented its witnesses, including the plaintiff. The defense presented its witnesses, including the defendant. Both sides cross-examined the witnesses. The closing statements were again more of the same – a strong showing by the prosecution and a strange showing by the defense. We deliberated several hours before returning a not guilty verdict.
What happened? Three things: One, while the young man (who was now living as a transgendered woman) gave a powerful and graphic testimony, the other witnesses for the prosecution were weak to say the least. As horrible as the defense attorney was, he was able to poke holes in their recollections of events. The witnesses for the prosecution even contradicted themselves several times while being questioned by the prosecutor. Two, the defendant gave a valid reason why he retuned to his native country. According to him he didn’t run; the allegations were so ridiculous, he thought the matter was resolved when he denied them and felt free to visit his home country to take care of family business. He had made the same trip several times before, so there was nothing unusual about him leaving. Three, the judge felt her instructions to the jury were so clear that when we asked for clarification, her response was to “follow the instructions you were given.”
Left on our own to decide this man’s fate, we had two questions: do we ruin a person’s life based on gut feelings? Or do we base our decision strictly on the evidence presented during the trial? While we were moved by the accuser’s testimony, there were too many doubts presented not just by the defense, but also by the prosecution. I’m not sure if the prosecutor thought it was such an open and shut case that the corroborating witnesses would not be a major factor but, if she did, she was sadly mistaken. Because of the doubt, we were unable to render a guilty verdict.
After the decision was read, we went back to the jurors’ room, where the defense attorney thanked us and the prosecutor looked at us like we were the dumbest people she had ever seen. Even the judge scolded us, saying she couldn’t believe we didn’t hand down a guilty verdict.
The entire experience left me with such a bitter feeling towards the American judicial system that I rarely follow trials. I didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial, except for the news coverage. I don’t know the evidence presented, the instructions handed down to the jury or the strength or weakness of the witnesses. I can tell you, however, that being charged with the responsibility of deciding someone’s fate is not as easy or simple as it appears. It is a decision you, as the juror, also have to live with. You not only have your opinion to consider but also instructions from the judge. I’m sure the jurors in the Anthony trial were faced with these challenges and then some. Although it may not make sense and we may not agree, “not guilty” may have been the only verdict they could give.