Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dubious prosecution claims doomed Casey Anthony case

    I'm not one to follow "celebrity" criminal cases. I do find it interesting to note which cases grab the country's attention and which don't. Every American was forced to keep up with the Casey Anthony murder case to some extent, but beyond that I certainly haven't been typing the name into my search engine for more info.
    I spent almost all day Sunday on the road, and as such was able to listen to the closing arguments in the Anthony case. I thought Prosecutor Jeff Ashton did a great job on his closing argument, which lasted 77 minutes. According to the rules of criminal trials, he had almost three hours reserved for rebuttal of the defense response. The prosecution gets to speak last, which I find a little unfair, but it relates to the fact that they have the burden of proof in a criminal trial. (I never got to hear Ashton's rebuttal; obviously it didn't do the job).
    Then I heard defense attorney Jose Baez rip right through portions of the prosecution's case. Most commentators said Baez made some mistakes during the trial, and I agree. He somehow managed to mention things in close for which he had not laid an evidentiary foundation, which was a lucky break. But his closing argument was masterful.
    The prosecution claimed there was this huge "smell of death" from Casey Anthony's car. The only problem was that numerous people were around the car or even passengers in the car and smelled absolutely nothing. Many of those who smelled nothing were police officers. One can't argue that the "smell of death" is a really important part of one's case when a dozen credible witnesses are on hand to say they smelled nothing at all.
    The prosecutor chose to use several novel scientific techniques to prove Anthony's guilt. Yet some of these "novel" techniques had "bogus" written all over them. It's best not to present a bunch of novel claims unless they can be backed up by others. In this case, many of these novel claims were pretty well debunked.
    The prosecutor presented evidence after the trial started that Casey Anthony had done 84 web searches on chloroform. Yet the original computer forensics found no such thing, and the report that claimed this huge number of searches found no visits to MySpace, which the defendant visited constantly. Prosecutor claim: Chloroform is really important to this case. My conclusion: the defendant searched the word only once, and did not purchase, make or use chloroform. A reasonable juror could conclude that if this was really important and never happened, the defendant must be not guilty.
    The prosecutor told us that people who lie are guilty. Yet George Anthony lied about his ownership of the "extremely rare" duct tape. The obvious conclusion, based on the prosecutor's logic, is that George Anthony was guilty of something, and that guilt might mean that Casey Anthony is innocent.
    The lesson to take away from this for attorneys is that if you want to stand before a jury and declare that something is a really important element in proving your case, you had best be sure that you can convince the jury that that fact is, indeed, true.
    If there are nine pieces of evidence which are essentially undisputable and support one's case, one can present them and likely win. But choose to present two or three dubious claims to bolster that case and risk all. Jurors will not simply discard the dubious claims; on rejecting them they will be inclined to reject your entire case. That's where Prosecutor Ashton missed the boat.
    My view is that the prosecution was not being entirely honest in presenting some of the evidence against Casey Anthony. When the jury rejected these patently dubious claims, they simply rejected the prosecution's entire case.
    Based on what I heard, I think Casey Anthony is probably guilty. In a criminal trial, probably isn't good enough. A juror who believes a defendant is probably guilty is sworn to return a verdict of "not guilty."
    The prosecution chose to make claims that simply were not supported by accepted science, as well as claims that clearly were disputed by reputable agents of the state. The prosecution set itself up to lose on these issues, apparently unaware that in the process they were torpedoing their entire case. I guess they know now.

No comments: