Was it the Jury's Job to Decide if Casey Anthony Was a 'Good' Mom?
Casey Anthony is a lot of things: a liar, a party girl and the kind of train wreck tabloid editors and cable news chatters slobber over. And, as of July 17, a free woman.
I'll be honest, I somehow managed to avoid all coverage of her trial until last week and really had no idea who she was or what she (allegedly) did until the media noise got so loud that it was impossible to turn on one of the 24-hour cable news channels without seeing live court footage.
What I saw then was a young woman with a sad, confused, blank-looking face who I was told (mostly by HLN's seething Nancy Grace) had come to embody everything that's wrong with this new generation of reality-show-addicted moms: she was shallow, callous, narcissistic, vain -- and worst of all -- a bad mom.
The anger over the not guilty verdict in Anthony's murder trial in the death of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, was so intense that more than 250,000 signatures were gathered within the first 36 hours of an announcement asking lawmakers to draft "Caylee's Law," which would make it a felony for a parent to fail to report a missing child to law enforcement.
Jurors in Anthony's trial said they were "sick to our stomach[s] to get that verdict." On Thursday, a judge sentenced Anthony to four years in jail for four misdemeanor counts of lying to police. With time served she'll be out in a week, only to face the fiery indignation of a pitchfork-wielding horde who believe she got away with murder.
The jury in the case had to look at the evidence they had, which, unfortunately, proved only that Anthony waited way longer than anyone might imagine to report her daughter's disappearance and that she didn't "act like" someone who was grieving for her beloved child. They had the deliberate lies, the researching of chloroform on Anthony's computer and a car trunk with traces of chloroform and the smell of a decomposing body. But they also had the defense's claims that Anthony was allegedly molested by her father and that the baby drowned in a swimming pool, neither of which were proven in court.
But with no hard physical evidence and a body too badly decomposed to tie her to the death, they couldn't go on the usual signposts of murder.
What wasn't their job was to determine how a mom should act when her baby goes missing, which is the thing that got so many of the case's watchers so upset. "Can't you see!" they seemed to be screaming at their TV sets. "She's clearly a horrible mom." They wanted justice for a mom they suspected had committed the ultimate maternal sin.
But we can't blame the jury for the verdict any more than we can blame Anthony for not knowing how to respond in the face of such a tragedy. We also can't judge Anthony for her abilities as a mother, and rightly so, neither could the jury. If show's like "Teen Mom" have taught us anything, it's that not everyone is cut out for motherhood (or fatherhood, for that matter.) This trial has reminded us that it's not for a panel of legally inexpert citizens to pass judgment on how a mom "should" do her job.
If there's anything they got right, that is it. And that's probably the only thing they got right, according to most legal experts.
The anger over the verdict has led some to call for an end to sequestered juries or a professional jury system, one in which the fate of alleged murderers is not in the hands of rank amateurs.
But this is the system we've chosen, and while it doesn't always produce the results we would like, it works -- because jurors are not expected to, or allowed to, make moral judgments on the defendants, however sick the results make us.
It feels like part of the public's anger is at the fact that the jury didn't see how clearly bad a mother the party-loving Anthony was (is) and how that fact alone should have been enough to convince them to send her away for life, or death. A guilty verdict would have made trial watchers feel justified in dubbing Anthony the worst mom ever.
Is Casey Anthony a bad mother? I think the answer is pretty obvious. But I also know it's the one thing I'm not mad at the jury for not answering.
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