5 lessons from the Casey Anthony murder trial

A Florida jury finds the much-maligned mom not guilty of the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. What can we learn from this high-profile acquittal?

Casey Anthony reacts Tuesday to being found not guilty of murder: The high-profile trial and verdict has many Americans criticizing the justice system.
(Image credit: Pool/Getty Images)

For many of the Americans compulsively following the televised murder trial of Casey Anthony, a Florida mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, the verdict handed down on Tuesday was a stunner: Not guilty on all but four counts of lying to the police. Anthony faces up to four years in prison when she's sentenced on Wednesday, though she's already served roughly three years. Prosecutors had argued that Anthony, 25, drugged, suffocated, and discarded her daughter so she could resume a boisterous social life. The unconvinced jury reached its unanimous 12-0 decision in a short 11 hours of deliberation. What can we learn from this high-profile trial, and its verdict? Here, five lessons:

1. Our criminal justice system works

A lot of people with less information about the case than the jurors are outraged over the verdict, says the Chicago Tribune in an editorial. But it's time for everyone to "swallow hard and say the system worked." The prosecutor failed to prove his case, and "justice demands proof beyond a reasonable doubt; it doesn't demand a tidy ending to every story." The jury was certainly correct to uphold our "incredibly high standard" for proving guilt, says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. In our legal system, we'd rather see a guilty woman walk than imprison — or worse, execute — an innocent one.

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2. It's time to scrap trial by jury

When it comes to meting out justice, Americans deserve better than "any system too stupid to convict Casey Anthony," says Michael Graham in the Boston Herald. And let's be clear: Given the evidence, not to mention Anthony's pathological lying, finding her not guilty isn't just "an act of criminal stupidity," but also a strong indictment of leaving our criminal justice system at the mercy of "12 yokels too dumb to get out of jury duty." I'd much rather put my fate in the hands of "a single corrupt, drunken hack" in a judge's robe.

3. It's time to scrap trial by Nancy Grace

Anthony's courtroom trial started in May, but cable channels like HLN have been holding court for three years, says James Poniewozik at TIME. And HLN "head anchor/inquisitor Nancy Grace," especially, has been blatantly arguing that "Casey Anthony was guilty, and retribution was due." Given this "presumption of guilt," it's no wonder people are upset by the verdict. Grace "has been a one-woman, all-supreme, TV, judge-and-jury for a long time now," says David Zurawik in The Baltimore Sun. And it has paid off in ratings, so don't expect her to start caring "where the facts lie or how her judgments of guilt affect suspects' lives."

4. We're still haunted by O.J. Simpson

It's safe to say we haven't seen "this much public outrage" over a not-guilty verdict since O.J. Simpson was acquitted in 1995, says Dennis Romero at LA Weekly. Ironically, without the "the sky-high ratings for the O.J. Simpon trial," you probably wouldn't even know who Casey Anthony is, says The Baltimore Sun's Zurawik. The O.J.-Anthony comparisons are everywhere, but really, "this case is as un-O.J. as you can get," says Pat Archbold in the National Catholic Register. Both cases were "tried in the media," but while the media won in O.J.'s case, "this time the law won."

5. The media should be ashamed of itself

Look at any recent high-profile criminal case — O.J., Michael Jackson, maybe even Dominique Strauss-Kahn — and cable's "talking heads" have blown it every time, says Jeffrey Toobin, as quoted by CNN. In fact, if the saturation media coverage of the Anthony case had any effect, it was in fueling the prosecution's self-defeating decision to seek the death penalty, as if they spent "too much time listening to people on cable news being outraged," and not enough evaluating their rather weak evidence. It's "sickening," too, says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast, that Anthony's case only stands out from the thousands of other child murders in that the supposed villain is "white, middle-class, and attractive — the trifecta for producers and bookers."

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