“We're gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a first class hanging,” said the tough-talking character of Sheriff Cobb in the 1985 western Silverado. And that’s exactly what Nancy Grace and the other over-the-top media pundits — in league with Florida prosecutors —— attempted to do in the highly publicized Casey Anthony murder trial.
Cheney Mason, a member of Anthony’s defense team was swift (and accurate) in castigating TV lawyers for betraying the canons of their profession simply to have their 15 seconds of fame in front of the camera. Instead of arguing to allow the justice system to play itself out in the fair and unbiased manner in which it’s designed to work, instead of arguing to maintain the “presumption of innocence” our legal system is based on, they joined the baying national chorus (with Nancy Grace conducting) crying out for a verdict that would satisfy their manufactured blood lust.
And manufactured it was. Nancy Grace isn’t about justice as she fools her audiences into believing night after night — she’s all about ratings. And to increase those ratings she whipped much of the nation into a case of mass schadenfreude in her effort to use the media to control the outcome of the trial. But, as prosecutors should have learned from the O.J. case, some juries don’t like to be used to railroad someone … even someone who is in all likelihood guilty. In a just society everyone deserves a fair trial ... even in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt. If we abandon the presumption of innocence in this country all is lost … we’re doomed.
The cries of “travesty” that are as loud now as they were after the O.J. verdict was announced are, in fact, being shouted in the wrong direction: They should be hurled at the prosecution team for attempting to use the media to poison the minds of the jury and unfairly win a victory … the rule of law be damned.
In the O.J. case rules of evidence were broken (remember the planting of the glove?) to assure a victory … one that was within their grasp had they not allowed investigators to take the stand and lie through their teeth. The law should not (indeed, can not) be allowed to be broken in pursuit of victory, even when the defendant is obviously as guilty as O.J. was, and perhaps Anthony is too.
One axiom of law is: “Better 10 guilty men go free than to convict a single innocent man.” We need to add to that: “Better 10 people — when tried by the media in the court of public opinion — go free than one person is convicted by a poisoned jury pool.”
In the Anthony case evidence which pointed to her guilt was consistently (and inappropriately) leaked to the media with sole intent: To gain a conviction. But the Florida jury, even while sequestered, must have been aware of the circus atmosphere that was being created to keep viewers glued to their TV screens so they could be sold more laundry detergent … and they rebelled in the only way they could: By allowing a woman who is probably guilty of a heinous crime in the death of her daughter to go free. And now that same media is about to make Casey Anthony a millionaire ... again, simply to sell more soap. And guess what … millions will be tuning in.
Prosecutors around the country should take note of what this brave Florida jury did: It rebuked the underhanded tactics engaged in by the government (aided and abetted by a hungry media) to convict a woman who most likely deserved to be punished. They did so to protect our system of justice from overzealous prosecutors and outside influences that have no legitimate place in a courtroom anywhere in a nation that prides itself on upholding democratic principles and the rule of law. Hooray for them.
ED NOTE: Read TCR blogger Robin L. Barton's take on the media coverage of the trial here.
Mansfield Frazier, a regular blogger for The Crime Report, is a native Clevelander whose work can be seen weekly on CoolCleveland.com, The Cleveland Leader and The Cleveland Free Press. He also contributes to The Daily Beast. Frazier is the co-publisher of Reentry Advocate, a magazine that goes into prisons nationwide. He welcomes reader comments.