Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Casey Anthony - Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Yesterday saw the end of one of the most highly publicised US trials in years. The trial of Casey Anthony, who was accused – and then shockingly acquitted – of drugging and murdering her two year old daughter Caylee.

The reason: reasonable doubt. To find someone guilty of murder in the first degree (or any other charge for that matter), it must be proved “beyond any reasonable level of doubt” that the person is guilty.

The prosecution put forward a version of events which (while it convinced the majority of Americans of Casey's complete guilt) was full of holes and circumstantial evidence which the jury of 12 men and women simply could not overcome.

For those of you who do not know the story, Caylee Anthony went missing in June 2008. For more than a month, her mother Casey spun a web of lies when family members and others asked to see her.

She claimed that Caylee was with her Nanny, a woman called Zenaida Fernandez, who lived in her building. It later transpired that Zenaida had never had any interaction with either Casey or Caylee.

During this time Casey Anthony was seen partying, drinking and getting tattoos with her boyfriend.

Eventually, more than 31 days after she had last seen Caylee, the young girl's grandmother reported her missing to the police.

Around the same time, George Anthony (Casey's father) received a letter stating his daughters car had been towed, and when he went to pick it up, both he and the impound attendant said there was a strong smell coming from the car's boot. Both later testified in court that the smell was that of a decomposing human body, although when they checked the boot it was empty.

During the six months between Caylee being reported missing, and the eventual discovery of her skeleton on December 11th 2008 – just over a mile from the family home in Orlando Florida - Casey Anthony lied over and over to police, about a job she was supposedly keeping (which she had actually been fired from years earlier), to the fake nanny who she said must have “kidnapped” Caylee.

Searches of Anthony's computers discovered that she had googled “how to make chloroform”, as well as “death”, and traces of chloroform, as well as strands of Caylee's hair, were found in the boot of the car.

With the web of lies falling down around her, Casey Anthony was charged with Caylee's murder.

The story, of a mother killing her two year old was snapped up by the US media, and for the past several years, various talkshows and news outlets have given the story extensive coverage, turning the murder trial into a huge national event, and giving the public what they like the most: a villain

Despite most of the evidence seeming to point in her direction, by the time the trial rolled around, after 4weeks, and more than 400 pieces of evidence, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murder in the first degree, manslaughter and child abuse.

It came down to a battle of two opposing arguments. The prosecution wanted us to believe in Casey as a woman who would rather see her daughter dead than interrupt her party lifestyle with such trivialities as motherhood.

The defence though painted a different story. They said that Caylee had fallen in the pool at George Anthony's house, and drowned accidentally. The missing 31 days they say, can be explained by the entire Anthony family trying to cover up the death by acting as though it was business as usual.

They claimed the chloroform searches had actually been made by Cindy Anthony (Casey's mother), purely for research purposes, and even found an expert who would testify that it was impossible to tell whether the odour from the car was that of human decomposition, as several other things could have let off a similar smell.

Neither argument was concrete, and although the prevailing attitude was that Casey had almost certainly killed her daughter – she was too calm, too uncaring about the fact her daughter was missing – it simply could not be proven.

Casey Anthony may have killed Caylee, we will never know, but one thing is for sure: there will be plenty of people around America in the next few weeks who will believe wholeheartedly that a murderer has walked free.

It is because 12 men and women decided that they could not without any doubt convict her that she will walk out of the Orange County courthouse tomorrow. Making what was well and truly a life and death decision (Anthony faced the death penalty if the three main charges had come back guilty), this was a huge test of the concept of “beyond reasonable doubt” means, and what effect this will have on future trials.