Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trials: Truth, Expectation and Reality


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.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Q : "How can a loving mother not report her child missing? "
A: She cant. But Casey Anthony was never a loving mother. She's immature and egocentric and basically as unfit a mother as they come. Which is bad but not a capital crime...

Q: "How can that same mother go out and party like a rock star while her little girl is missing?"
A : Once again the immaturity element comes into play. Many teenagers have the attention span of gnat - out of sight out of mind. And all that put aside, it its even harder to imagine her going partying after "murdering" her child, so in a way this argument works at least as well for the defense as for the prosecution.

Q : "How can she continuously lie to the very people who are trying to help her find her missing child?"
A : Because the natural reaction of a teenager is to avoid blame to themselves rather than owning up and facing the music. They are masters at sweeping stuff under the rug and ignoring problems that they can't face. Trust me - I'm a parent to a few of them. Luckily they grow out of it eventually... except when that growth is stumped for some reason as is obviously the case for Casey Anthony.

Q : "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?"
A : Not the choice of the defense but of the prosecution. I can pretty much guarantee that they'd hear no protests from Casey's side of the court if they dropped all charges and petitioned for her release.

Q : "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?"
A : Because it's the states psychiatrist. And the state is the very entity that's doing it's outmost to kill her. Not exactly the best basis for building a relationship of trust...


The point of the article is well taken ms Hughes and I too frequently find myself wondering about the awful things human being will do to each other. However the Anthony case is a poor example since it looks more and more like a lynching to appease the public.

FleaStiff said...

Search for the truth? Its a contest between the ADA and the Defense. At the end someone might have a better idea of what the truth is than before but a good deal will have been excluded.

I was present at one trial where each side was lying and some of the "witnesses" to the bar room incident had not even been present in the bar then or at any other time. Yet, I felt that at the end of the case justice was done despite all the perjury.

The law does not change merely because a defendant is a compulsive liar. She has been described as seeking a lifestyle involving nightclubs but it seems much of her activity was related to her boyfriends promotion business. Someone who graciously joins in as a fourth at a bridge game shouldn't be castigated for being a bridge playing mother of a toddler. Someone who graciously becomes a den-mother for the otherwise vulnerable shot girls should not be termed a bad mother.

The defendant was not saddled with inescapable poverty or child care duties that were unrelenting. She apparently did not have this "nanny" but she had a mother with whom she could park the kid every now and then. The defendant was never seen to be angry, cross or exasperated with the kid. As a roommate, she was doing cooking and laundry without being asked. Yes, she is a liar. Persistently. Liars are not immune from leaving a kid in a car and also not immune from homicidal impulses. Unfortunately they are not immune from media obsessions either.

robbie said...

The hardest part for me will be not knowing what REALLY happened to little Caylee.

Even if Casey gets the death penalty (I would sort of revel watching her digest that bit of reality) we will still never know what transpired. I want this whole case to be solved and tied up with a pretty bow. I want true justice for Caylee.

Anonymous said...

Are people aware Casey was 19? Not really a "teenager" so much. My oldest son was born when I was 20. To me, it was a perfect age to have a child.

ZaSu Says said...

I'd say the defense is the poster child for "practicing attorney" who is in desperate need of more practice.
He looks more like he's working for Prosecution.
She's sunk in MHO.

A Voice of Sanity said...

There's an excellent case to be made for Casey's innocence. It fits all of the facts perfectly, even her behavior following Caylee's death.

OTOH the state has failed to even offer a case for conviction. They've just thrown out random disconnected facts and are hoping the jury will jump to unwarranted conclusions based on them. It's all No True Scotsman with generous helpings of prejudice.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the article and I agree with it. I had also already concluded that I would be left hanging, with no REAL answers to "what" "who" or "why" Caylee is gone. This saddens me, but I beleive her selfish mother should pay for her crimes, perhaps the death penalty is what we all want for this "mother" but in reality, they were not able to get enough to covict her without a reasonable doubt. Those jurors have a hard job ahead of them I just hope that they are all of "sound mind" and can fairly weigh the facts or nonfacts brought before them. I think the prosecution has done as good a job as they could have. It will certainly be a relief to know its over and hopefully she will get LWP at least as the DP will allow her appeal after appeal after appeal which will cost the state more and more and more.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - When using the word "teenager" I was referring to the level of maturity rather than the actual age.

Anonymous said...

Even the most immature, hormone blinded teenager would not act like Casey did. She is a psychopath.