Wednesday, June 29, 2011
by Holly Hughes
As much of the country watches transfixed, the Casey Anthony trial lumbers on. For a host of reasons, this trial has caught the attention of viewers who wouldn’t normally take the time to get caught up in these very public high profile cases. As a legal commentator, I have been privileged to cover almost every day of this spectacle for one program or another. As I watch it unfold, I am struck once again by the reality that at the end of the day we will still not have the answers we seek.
I was a felony prosecutor for ten years in metropolitan Atlanta. Needless to say, we were a busy office. I handled homicides, hate crimes and high-profile cases. I have taken to trial and to task a host of serial rapists, spree killers, armed robbers and death penalty defendants. I am acutely aware of the old adage that “a trial is a search for the truth.” However, I think most of the public tends to forget the middle of that phrase, “a search.” Any good trial attorney will tell you that by the time the verdict comes in we have usually only uncovered a fraction of the truth, and it is usually the truth according to one side. Despite our best investigative efforts there are just some things we will never know.
So many court watchers have tuned in to this trial to get the answers. Answers to the questions we have all been asking for three years now. How can a loving mother not report her child missing? How can that same mother go out and party like a rock star while her little girl is missing? How can she continuously lie to the very people who are trying to help her find her missing child?
Since the blockbuster opening by defense attorney Jose Baez, we now have a whole host of other questions. If this was indeed an accident, why would you let your client rot in jail for three years? If this was indeed an accident, why would you let your client face the death penalty? If your client was so sexually abused as a child that she turned into a liar of epic proportions, why would you not welcome the opportunity to have the state’s psychiatrists examine her?
As I watch this tragedy progress through its next phase, I know that when it all comes to its sad conclusion we still will not have the answers we seek. I fear, however, that most of the general public is still watching with unrealistic expectations. They want to believe that there is a reasonable explanation for what happened to this precious little girl. They want to believe that there must be a reasonable explanation for how a family becomes this dysfunctional. Ultimately, we will see only what they want us to see. That’s a hard pill for most people to swallow. It is, however, the difference between expectation and reality when it comes to criminal trials. We want answers. It is the natural human curiosity when we encounter such inexplicable behavior as we have seen in this defendant and her family. Sadly, we will all be disappointed when the jury files out to deliberate and there is no more evidence to be entered.
I used to tell all of my victims at the beginning of the process, “I will fight like hell to get you justice but I won’t be able to get you answers to all of your questions.” Of course, the biggest question of all is, “Why?” I also told them no matter what answer was given to that question, it wouldn’t be good enough.
I have yet to come across an answer as to why human beings can murder, rape and rob each other that satisfies me. People used to ask me what I did for a living when I was a prosecutor and I would tell them “I wade around in the depths of human degradation all day long.” That was the most accurate and honest description I could come up with to explain spending my days looking at autopsy photos and asking little five year old children, “what did daddy do to you?”
The truth is that you didn’t meet me unless and until some terrible tragedy had been thrust upon you.
So, as we watch with a mixture of horrified curiosity and sad dread, we must all keep in mind that at the end of this all too real human drama we will have more questions than answers. We must not set our expectations too high or we will come away feeling cheated and deflated.
That is the sad difference between expectation and reality. That is the world of a criminal prosecutor. It is by far the best and most fulfilling job I ever held. And yet, it broke my heart every day like nothing else ever could.Tweet