By Art Harris, The Bald Truth, (c) artharris.com, all rights reserved
It took O. J. Simpson’s Los Angeles jury four hours to reach a verdict in the 1995 double murder case against the football star-turned actorâ€”Not Guilty.
It took the Casey Anthony jury twice as long –10 hours â€“ to find her NOT guilty of murder one…and all counts related to killing her two year old daughter, another celebrity trial where a speedy verdict spelled acquital for murder.
In both cases, a jury backed who they saw as the underdog. In Simpson’s case, lawyer Johnny Cochran’s played on the strained feelings between the African American community and the LAPD, OJ as underdog…In Casey Anthony’s case, Jose Baez portrayed her as a molestation victim, proved her parents liars and pokeD holes in prosecution experts to create reasonable doubt…A defendant ganged up on in a country that embraces underdogs and redeemed sinners.
Anthony was found guilty on the lesser charge of lying to a law enforcement officer, and could be released as early as Thursday and given credit for time served, her lawyer, Cheney Mason said, for a charge that carries a likely prison term shorter than time she’s already spent in the Orange County Florida jail.
“Her lies worked,” said one TV pundit, as shockwaves spread from the courtroom to the Orlando streets. Crowds waving anti-Casey signs and demanding “Justice for Caylee” were transformed into a sort of Zombie-shuffle, a scene earily reminiscent of the quiet shock, then public outcry in white America after Simpson acquital split the nation along racial lines.
As Anthony was pronounced not guilty of murder, she wept quietly, dabbing ears of shock and joy from her eyes, her dark hair pulled back, dressed in a white blouse and skirt.
Flanked by her lawyers, she stood to hear the verdict, and seemed shocked as it was read, every count related to harming her child, “Not Guilty,” as it all began so sink in–she was going to be set free. And she wiped away tear after tear, finally smiling as she was lead out and back to her holding cell, and a level of celebrity she perhaps never fathomed, but may soon embrace as a dream destiny spelled out in her tattoo– Bella Vita.
For over a month, she’d heard a powerful team of prosecutors unload broadside after broadside of sins, calling her a cold blooded killer, and building a case for Murder One, as talk shows detailed what many believed would be a slam dunk conviction for first degree murder..
But like Simpson, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson, Casey Anthony also became a celebrity, vilified to fame ironically by the very media now blasting the verdict as unjust…If there are lessons to emerge, perhaps one is that a jury in a death penalty case thinks especially hard about how solid the evidence is against an accused whose life they hold in their hands, and that they will demand a comfort zone and higher level of proof than prosecutors provided against Anthony. And give the accused the benefit of reasonable doubt every time to avoid a mistake and blood on their hands. Especially if the accused happens to be a celebrity like Casey had become.
With a widely hated client, Jose Baez argued, that, in essence, when it comes to love and justice, wishing doesn’t make it so, or, as he put it more crudely in court, proving she’s a “slut” and a liar doesn’t prove Casey Anthony is a killer.
As a student of trials like the Simpson case I covered for CNN, Baez learned well: that a spaghetti defense can work in the kitchen and in court, if it’s not too al dente, or overcooked. Indeed, if it provides a scenario, no matter how far fetched, and can stick to the wall when thrown, it will offer jurors something to hang their hats on, and an accused client a possible way out. He never did have to prove Caylee drowned in the family swimming pool, or that father George Anthony molested Casey and that turned her into a lying sociopath and a party girl. All he had to do was confuse, challenge the prosecutors message, and raise doubts…
The verdict also raises another key point –that jurors will be looking for omay be aspect jurors may be psect has eallthat gives juror a reason to believe someone didn’t do it, they will hang their hats on reasonable doubt every time, to avoid making a mistakeâ€”and blood on their hands.
As Judge Belvin Perry was thanking, then dismissing Pinellas County jurors, Anthony embraced Jose Baez and her defense team…holding their hands, then hugging others in the courtroom. Her parents quickly left.
Prosecutor Jeff Ashton and Linda Burdick looked shell-shocked and crushed, as the judge advised jurors they had no obligation to speak to the press.
For the last “trial of the century,” which I covered for CNN, I was outside the courtroom, discussing the acquital live with then CNN’s Greta Van Susteren, now a FOX network superstar, and Vanity Fair correspondent and late author-legend Dominick Dunne who became a crime victim crusader after his daughter’s murder.
Suddenly, I looked over and he was ripping off his microphone after disputing the verdict, and walking off the set, sad eyes flashing anger after Greta called him an “anarchist” for not accepting the will of the largely African American jury that cited reasonable doubt.
Many experts called it a verdict widely seen as jury nullification by members of LA’s black community and their antipathy for the LAPD.
Indeed, Simpson lawyers had settled on the ideal juror as a mother with sons who had experienced negative run ins with the LAPD, or who knew other young men with complaints. Anyone with high school math or science under their belt was also ruled out, Simpson lawyers told me.
The Simpson jury heard forensic evidence, saw so called bloody gloves that Simpson dramatics showed didn’t fit, DNA that matched Simpson’s blood at the crime scene, jealousy as a motive, then a verdict that some felt ignored it all as jurors embraced the defense theories of reasonable doubt, arguing police corruption, evidence contamination and more.
Casey Anthony wiped tears away as she stood between her lawyers, as Jose Baez quietly smiled and made plans to ask that she be released from jail on the lesser charges.
Later, he told reporters he was “happy for Casey,” and a judicial system that worked, but had mixed feelings about a trial that had destroyed a family and left a little girl’s death a mystery of sorts, or at least emotionally unresolved and unsatisfying for so many.
He said he hoped Casey would get to rebuild her life, and that the verdict was also justice for Caylee.
Cheney Mason, his bearded co counsel, blasted the press for “media assasination,” and pundit lawyers who ‘didn’t know what the hell they were talking about” as they ganged up on the accused and should now be choking on double helpings of crow.
There was equal shock and awe after O.J. stood to hear his verdict, an acquital, too; he could barely contain his glee, fighting back a smirk, then a smile…He embraced lawyer Johnny Cochran; but the surprise verdict showed especially on the face of Simpson co counsel Robert Kardashian (Kim Kardashian’s father) who later said in an interview he had doubts about his own client’s innocence…and a verdict that split the country along racial lines as Simpson reached out to a jury made up of working class African Americans he’d left behind long ago to save him, and declared he was still “looking for the killer.”
Tuesday, the current trial of the century came to a stunning close, but it cannot compare to the original for its mountain of scientific and circumstantial evidence marshaled by prosecutors, big name celebrity lawyers and experts, and witnesses that was far weightier than what prosecutors presented against Casey Anthony…
As one juror showed up in a suit for the first time Tuesday morning, perhaps signaling the game was about to end, talk shows seemed to anticipate a guilty verdict and geared up to celebrate even bigger ratings.
Who could have dreamed it would be Casey Anthony who would be the one celebrating her fate, perhaps getting ready to party once again—and toast pending million dollar book offers, movies, interviews and new found stardom she must feel is her rightful destiny.