Shock waves have rippled through American society recently with the announcement of a not guilty verdict for Casey Anthony, the young mother in Florida accused of killing her daughter, Caylee, who was just two months shy of her 3rd birthday when she died. As an attorney and a mental health professional, I have discussed this case with colleagues in both fields. It is my considered opinion that the public is letting emotions get the best of them when considering what happened to Caylee.
The murder of anyone in a brutal and gruesome fashion is always a tragedy, but we are prone to more emotion when the deceased is a child. There is something about the life of a child being cut short and in such a horrible manner that makes us thirst for a particular brand of justice. A child, especially one that is not yet out of toddlerhood, is considered a truly innocent victim. Personally, I feel the death of anyone via homicide is equally as tragic, regardless of age, but that is a post for another day. For now, I think we can all agree that emotions run especially high when the death of a child is at hand.
Anytime a child dies at the hands of his or her mother, there seems to be a special outrage that accompanies it. Perhaps, as one psychologist pointed out, it's because we often idolize the role of mother in a child's life. We do not expect that mothers will kill their children. Mothers have a unique connection to their children, having been present in their lives from the moment they were nothing but a clump of cells. It's anathema to us to consider that a mother, of all people, would brutally harm the child she grew in her body and labored to bring into the world.
Whatever the reason for the outrage over this case, I believe that we all need to take a collective breath and calm down. Did Casey Anthony get away with murder? I don't know. To be honest, I believed she had up until the verdict was announced. At that time, I took a step back and considered the evidence. I realized that it is quite possible that any number of things could have occurred that led to Caylee's death. I will never know and neither will anyone else. The truth is known only by Casey.
As a lawyer, I believe in the American justice system. I know that it is flawed in many ways and I could spend years discussing those flaws in this blog. But, at the end of the day, I also know that I would rather have the American system of justice over any other. We don't always get it right and in the Anthony case, we may have gotten it terribly wrong, but I am willing to allow for the guilty to go free sometimes rather than knowing that a person who is innocent could be convicted on lesser evidence than beyond a reasonable doubt. There are many people in our prison system who are serving time for crimes they did not commit and there are many people who are walking free with the knowledge that they got away with murder. However, in the aggregate, I believe the system generally works.
Casey Anthony was found not guilty and for better or for worse, we're all going to have to live with that. OJ Simpson, another high profile person, was also found not guilty of the brutal slayings of two people. That was 16 years ago and his life was never the same. He did not lose his freedom with his verdict, but he lost everything else. Never again was he able to freely move about in public without the knowledge that more often than not, those around him believed him to be a cold-blooded killer.
The same thing will happen to Casey Anthony and sometimes, public shunning is its own brand of justice. Whether it is deserved in this case, I do not know. It is my belief that we all need to realize that it is what it is and move forward,. Perhaps we need to change the laws to require the reporting of a missing child within a certain time frame. Perhaps we need to pray (if that is something you believe in) for direction, perhaps this is a chance for all of us to exercise redirection of our anger to something positive and ultimately more powerful: remembering Caylee Anthony and doing whatever we can do to ensure she did not die in vain.