Elmer Smith: Don't like the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial? Don't blame the jury

Posted: July 06, 2011

THEY GOT it right.

The jurors in the Casey Anthony trial reached the only verdict they could have reached.

They could have wrangled indecisively until the case ended in a mistrial and left it to another jury to decide.

But they couldn't convict.

Not that Casey Anthony is innocent. No one has ever been found innocent in a criminal trial.

It wasn't that the defense was brilliant. I doubt that this jury was dazzled by defense attorney Jose Baez's misdirection moves or the fractured narrative that he cobbled together in his implausible alternate theory of Caylee Anthony's tragic death.

But the only way those seven women and five men could all agree that Casey Anthony deliberately murdered her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, would be to completely disregard the principle of reasonable doubt.

This wasn't just a botched prosecution. The real question is whether there was ever enough evidence to justify bringing a murder charge. In the absence of any substantial link between Casey Anthony and her daughter's death, the jury was left to do what many of us did - fill in the blanks.

That's what this prosecution asked of the 12 citizens who spent seven weeks hearing 90 witnesses and examining 400 pieces of "evidence." It wanted them to take a leap of faith across all of the gaping holes in its case and reach a logical conclusion.

It wanted them to judge Casey Anthony instead of judging the evidence presented against her.

It wasn't a bad strategy. Caylee Anthony would have been better off if she had been raised by a pack of wolves. Casey Anthony seemed incapable of caring for or even caring about her only child.

What kind of mother goes on a partying binge within hours of her daughter's death? Or gets tattooed with the Italian phrase for "life is beautiful" after the sudden death of her only child?

Even if you believed the defense theory that Casey Anthony and her father, George, panicked and buried Caylee's body after she accidentally drowned in her grandparents' pool, Casey Anthony would still be beneath contempt. Even a stranger would have called for help if there was any chance the child could be revived.

Seen in the most sympathetic light, Casey Anthony is a sociopath, a slut and a pathological liar.

But is she a murderer? Can a jury that must have been as disgusted by the testimony as many of us were convict her of murder even though Osceola County coroner Jan Garavaglia concluded that the child died of "undetermined means"?

Should the jurors have ignored the testimony of FBI technician Heather Seubert, who said that there was no DNA match to Casey Anthony, Caylee Anthony or either of her grandparents on the duct tape that the prosecution theorized was used to suffocate the 2-year-old?

The idea that some FBI sniffometer was able to detect the odor of human decomposition in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car months after the body had been missing frankly didn't pass the smell test for me.

In America it ought to take more than a tissue-thin web of circumstantial evidence to convince a jury that a mother murdered a child just so she would be free to party.

"We put in absolutely every piece of evidence that existed," Florida State Attorney Lawson Lamar lamented after the trial. "This is a dry-bones case. Very, very difficult to prove."

Hours earlier, Baez stood before a bank of microphones and railed against the death penalty in Florida, a state where capital punishment is real.

He told reporters what he would tell his daughters when they asked him about this trial.

"I can say that I saved a life," Baez said.

He may say that. But a lot of us will always believe that what really saved Casey Anthony's life is that her crime went undetected long enough to raise a reasonable doubt.

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