I followed closely “the trial of the 20th century”– the O.J. Simpson murder case–and more recently the “trial of the 21st century” involving Casey Anthony and the death of her daughter, Caylee.
When the jurors reached the Simpson verdict in 1995, I was traveling with a friend out of state. When the media announced the arrival at a verdict, we high-tailed it to a television set where we eagerly awaited the outcome.
Last week was similar. When I heard on the radio that the Casey Anthony verdict would be announced at 11 am, I arranged my schedule to tune in. Both Shirley and I watched in silence as the decision was read to the nation.
My reaction to both verdicts was the same—stunned disbelief with knots in my stomach. In both cases, I agree with a majority of people that a murderer was set free and an innocent victim denied justice.
It’s time to make some changes in the criminal justice system.
I have some recommendations.
First, let’s re-visit each gut-wrenching case. In the OJ Simpson trial, as in most murder trials, there were no eyewitnesses but loads of circumstantial evidence. Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were cruelly killed with a knife in cold blood—her throat slit and his body slashed. The evidence clearly pointed to Brown’s estranged husband, O.J. Simpson who had the motive, the erratic behavior, and various clues that pointed his direction.,
The case ultimately hinged on a bloody glove–that was linked to the crimes–being found on Simpson’s Belmont estate.
The jurors had this decision to make: Either O.J. Simpson killed his wife and Ron Goldman, or a sinister detective planted evidence to make it look that way.
These were the only two reasonable choices.
Bad cop or guilty O.J.
The jurors in the O.J. trial chose the bad cop theory and claimed racism was behind the “planted evidence.”
We all screamed that they were wrong and that it was a travesty of justice.
Now there is the Casey Anthony acquittal. Anthony’s three year-old daughter, Caylee, was found dead in December 2008 in a swamp near the Anthony home. Casey was the last person to be seen with Caylee on July 15, 2008. Her death was clearly a murder because duct tape was found on her mouth and nose (skeletal remains) and her lifeless body had been placed in two plastic bags and a laundry sack and tossed into a swampy woods.
There were other forensic clues. A chloroform search on a computer, the duct tape linked to Casey’s house, the smell of death in the trunk of her car, and a strand of hair consistent with Caylee’s also found there. But the forensic case wasn’t a slam dunk–and dueling experts came to different conclusions.
To me, there were two damning pieces of evidence that put this case beyond a “reasonable doubt.” First was Casey’s behavior after the little girl’s death. She had failed to report her daughter missing for thirty-one days and partied virtually the whole time. Grieving mothers don’t celebrate and have tattoos put on their shoulder that say “Bella Vita” (Beautiful Life). She then lied about a fictitious nanny who was supposed to be watching the child, about a rich boyfriend, and about where she worked.
Over time, Casey Anthony proved to be a pathological liar.
Probably the most “honest” moment of the trial was hearing Casey’s mother, Cindy, react in a 911 call to her first suspicions of what had happened to Caylee. When Cindy realized her granddaughter had been missing for over a month, Cindy called 911 in clear distress with these chilling words:
“I can’t find my granddaughter. She (Casey) just admitted to me that she’s been trying to find her herself. There’s something wrong. I found my daughter’s car today and it smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”
Casey had abandoned her car in a parking lot. The stench of death reeked from the trunk.
I know the smell of rotting flesh, having experienced it a few times when I’ve been around deceased corpses. Human decomposition is a unique and horrific smell–and you never forget it.
In this moment of tearful honesty, Cindy Anthony had discovered the truth: She suspected her own daughter was responsible for killing their granddaughter. During the trial, though the forensics were debatable, the circumstantial evidence was glaring. Casey was the the last person with Caylee; Chloroform computer search; Duct tape from the home; Abandoned car with the smell of death; Partying for thirty days while the little girl’s body rotted; Lying to everyone about everything.
However, during the trial, Casey’s defense lawyers were successful in fabricating theories and blaming others for Caylee’s death. They said that the Anthony home was dysfunctional. They blamed the murder on Casey’s father, George Anthony, who they claimed had abused Casey as a child, was an adulterer, and may have helped cover up or participate in the death.
But their biggest smokescreen, shared in opening arguments, was that Caylee’s death was an accident that went “terribly wrong.” They offered zero proof of this theory. It also made no sense. Why would a child’s accidental death place her in a bag with duct tape and send the mother out partying for a month? When a child accidently dies, you call the police, you grieve, and you have a memorial to honor the loss of the precious life.
You don’t party, lie, and cover up.
Yet, incredibly, when two of the jurors spoke about the verdict afterwards, they both had apparently bought the “accident” theory. As to Casey partying for a month, one of them said, “Yeah, that was bizarre.”
No, it was evil–and they weren’t able to see it.
Like most of America–and the world–I’m deeply troubled by both of these verdicts that made a mockery of justice. As a biblical Christian, I’m committed to seeing God’s will “down on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). That will includes God’s passion for justice.
Yes, it’s inevitable that in a fallen world mistakes will be made. I believe the Casey Anthony jurors were sincere when they came up with their verdict. I really don’t blame them.
But eternity will reveal they were wrong. A murderer was set free. A little girl was treated unjustly. And all of America was taught that if you’re a good enough liar you can beat the system. That alone will produce terrible consequences in the coming years.
I hope we use the OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony travesties of justice to make some changes to our criminal justice system. Here are some recommendations:
1. Don’t permit the rejection of potential jurors due to their moral principles or faith. I was once rejected from a jury because I was a “Christian who was pro-life.” The defense lawyers didn’t want principled, moral-thinking people deciding their case! They wanted to bamboozle fuzzy thinking, immoral people. Free societies–which ought to be tried by citizen juries–a Constiutional right–can only stay free when people of faith and morality serve. For those quick to say that our Constitutional system worked in the Casey Anthony trial, I would remind you of the words of John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Same with juries.
2. Don’t force jurors to deal with the finer nuances of law or sentencing. Part of the problem in the Anthony case was obvious confusion over whether they should convict, beyond a reasonable doubt, of Murder One, Manslaughter, Child abuse, etc. That shouldn’t be the jury’s job. Let them keep to the basics. Was a murder committed by a certain party? Then leave the sentencing or type of murder to legal professionals (a judge or judges) who can give the proper sentence for the crime.
3. Don’t allow defense lawyers, or prosecution teams, to present “theories” to the jury that they are not required to back up. If they state a theory, they must present evidence to confirm it. If they don’t attempt to do so, they lose the case or are disqualified from finishing the proceedings. This will stop a lot of “lawyer lies.”
4. Beyond a “reasonable doubt” does not mean beyond a “shadow of a doubt.” There will always be some doubt where evidence of terrible crimes is limited. It was totally reasonable to believe, based on the circumstantial evidence, that O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony committed murder. Much greater clarity of understanding is needed here.
5. We should also re-examine whether our laws against self-incrimination promote justice. In the Bible, people suspected of various crimes were required to testify themselves as to their innocence or guilt. This testimony is extremely valuable. It certainly would have convicted O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. Does pursuing true justice require honesty, from all parties involved?
6. We need to be much swifter in dispensing justice. The Bible is very clear on this point. Long trials and years of appeals dull the heart and mind and lead to poor decisions. They also lead to more crimes being committed because of the lack of swift justice which is a restraint on evil.
7. Television crime shows have falsely given the impression that all cases can be solved by forensics–or that they are the key to convicting people. No–circumstantial evidence is extremely important. In the death of Caylee Anthony, DNA could not be found due to exposure to the elements for six months. But the circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly pointed to Casey Anthony as the killer.
Erick Erickson of redstate.com shared some of the wiser words on the Casey Antony verdict:
“Casey Anthony got off because she worked the system. In a fair and impartial court system this happens. It’s too bad. But the worst part of this is the idea that we can take the denial of justice for a toddler who was brutally murdered and use it to pat ourselves on the back about what a great society we are.”
“Are we a great society because a young, damaged single mother who claimed her own father molested her left her daughter with him to go drinking? Are we a great society because we produce people who would rather go to wet t-shirt contests than look for their missing children? Are we a great society because our citizens try to frame innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit? Or are we a great society because people like that can find a way to get off?”
“The Casey Anthony verdict doesn’t endorse our criminal justice system; it exposes our crumbling society. The courts can’t always dispense justice, it is up to society to protect our children. We need to bring back public shaming, we need to bring back the idea of moral responsibility separate from legal responsibility.”
We need a renewal of our society–including the vital areas of law and justice.
Let’s pursue it, for Caylee’s sake.
Also for the needed re-birth of the fear of the Lord in our land.