Supreme Court Of The Media
Can there be such a thing as a fair trial in America anymore? The media, print and television rushes to judgment in every prominent criminal case to the obsessive extent that it is hard to imagine that a fair jury could possibly be found by the time these high-profile cases reach trial. As one who worked in the justice system of the nation and two states, I find today’s coverage of criminal cases a threat to our entire jury system.
I don’t pretend to know one way or the other what really happened to poor little Caylee Anthony, but the Orange County, Florida, DA’s office has effectively used the media to advance its beliefs in the case and turn them from suspicions into facts. I have always found something particularly peculiar about this case. Of course, Casey Anthony acted in a most puzzling fashion for a mother whose three-year-old child was missing. But so did the child’s grandparents. Isn’t it equally peculiar that Caylee’s grandparents sat back for a whole month before reporting a child missing from their own household? In my mind, it begs the whole question of the level of involvement of those grandparents in either perpetrating or covering up this mysterious disappearance/murder.
I, like most curious people, tried to play Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote fame, and figure out whodunit. I always wondered why the investigators didn’t dig under that mysterious piece of concrete that appeared in the grandparents’ backyard. I speculated that perhaps the DA and Sheriff’s office were putting extreme pressure on Casey Anthony to get her parents to come to her rescue by explaining what they really knew. But they didn’t. Instead they stood silently by with their ridiculous story of trusting their daughter’s explanation for the absence of their granddaughter. Now, I ask you, if your daughter kept giving you the runaround about the whereabouts of your granddaughter, would you let it go on for a month? I can’t imagine such a thing. Questions. Mysterious questions.
Then last week there was a possible break in the story when a meter reader discovered a child-sized corpse close to the Anthony home. As could only be expected, the media launched into a feeding frenzy mode that continues to this day. The other thing that could be expected was that the DA would use the media to give out his “beliefs” about to whom the remains belonged and how they pointed back to Casey Anthony. There was much made of duct tape found at the scene and how it would be an excellent source of DNA evidence. But, of course, we didn’t have to wait for that DNA evidence to be processed before the media speculation as to what it means kicked into high gear.
24-hour cable news networks reported that this discovery would immediately result in the death sentence being sought against Casey Anthony due to the fact that it “proved” she killed her daughter with premeditation. Without one shred of DNA evidence available to back up such a premature assumption, so-called experts reached into the homes of prospective jurors and “testified” to them about facts not yet in evidence. It was difficult to watch such a rush to judgment without even a brief pause to consider all the possible alternative theories as to what the tape over the poor corpse’s skull might mean. To the manipulative media that is so obsessed with its own importance and competitive desire to achieve ratings, the only thing that mattered was to get their sensationalized version of the story out first.
As one who has sat through quite a number of criminal trials over quite a number of years, my mind went to a different place when confronted with the “duct tape” evidence. I couldn’t help but wonder why a mother would have to duct tape her own child’s mouth shut in order to kill her on the spot or take her elsewhere to do so. I also couldn’t see why such a thing would be necessary for either of the child’s grandparents. Couldn’t any one of these three who were the most trusted people in the world to this child simply have said, “Come on, Caylee,” and taken their precious little child by the hand and led her anywhere? Why duct tape her mouth shut? IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! Of course, so much about this case has made no sense at all. So I do not say that the duct tape proves that Casey or her parents didn’t have something to do with either the disappearance or death of Caylee. I’m just saying that everybody needs to slow down and take a considered look at the evidence and not let the DA run away with the case with a lot of help from the media.
BUT that’s not the way we do things in our nation, is it? Ever since a number of unfortunate women were railroaded off to their deaths by the false testimony of a bunch of hysterical children in Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony, we have honored the long tradition of “prosecute now, ask questions later” in our land. It takes very little for the DA of any county in the US to convince a jury that the person on trial is guilty as charged. If it’s a big case, you can bet they’ve had a lot of help from either their local media or national media or both. The media is more than happy to join the circus that surrounds high-profile trials. And they are also happy to bring on “experts” like Nancy Grace who don’t think twice before poisoning the water for the defendant long before the jurors even get their notices in the mail. The coverage by America’s media of high-profile trials is almost as fair and balanced as political coverage on FOX NEWS. It is overwhelmingly slanted toward the prosecution’s assertions in a case.
Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? I am sad to report to you, as one who sat in the unbiased chair of the court reporter in fourteen years of cases, that I never saw any evidence that such a theory actually works in our judicial system. Oh, of course, there are the high-profile exceptions: O.J. Simpson (the first time), Michael Jackson (several times) and Kobe Bryant. But in regular everyday cases involving mostly poor minority defendants, I never saw a jury hold a district attorney to the requirements of our Constitution: guilty beyond a REASONABLE doubt. Instead, I have watched over and over as zealous district attorneys argued repeatedly before juries that the defendant had no proof of his/her innocence. This is shameful, and sometimes – fortunately only sometimes – results in a wrongful conviction.
If you don’t believe me, go down to your local courthouse and check it out. Flimsy circumstantial evidence repeatedly wins the day. And, of course, we are conditioned by the media to accept this standard of guilt every day in their coverage of everything from juicy, high-profile criminal trials, to their coverage of politics. There is a continuing outrage being expressed by our “journalists” about Governor Rod Blagojevich. There is a big push to run him out of office whether he has actually broken any laws or not. All an Assistant U. S. Attorney had to do was take to his magic microphone to start the cries to bring the Governor down.
And it hasn’t stopped there. Despite Patrick Fitzgerald’s specific request of the Obama transition team to hold up the release of their explanation of any and all contacts they have had with the embattled governor, the media hounds continue to howl for President-Elect Obama to jeopardize the ongoing investigation of the US Department of Justice in order to indulge their news-cycle driven obsession. Justice? What justice?
I’m not sure that justice has ever been alive in America or anywhere in the world since the times of King Solomon, but of one thing I am sure. Justice is definitely dead in America today. Just as we citizens have allowed those who govern us to steal our money and increase their power over us through corrupt practices, we have also allowed our justice system to be stolen from our control by politician prosecutors and judges. If we don’t want to find ourselves standing innocently before the bench of some court with no way to “prove our innocence,” we better seize the legacy granted us by our Founding Fathers and start demanding justice. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Just remember THAT the next time you are called to jury duty.
KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!
PS. In a sad personal aside, heavily Republican Montgomery County, Texas, where I live, has called me to jury duty on inauguration day. I guess my elected officials don’t want me to see the historic swearing in of a black Democrat to lead their nation. I have thought about protesting my jury summons, but after writing this blog, I realize that my sense of fairness might be needed by some poor person about to be railroaded down at my local courthouse. But SHAME ON Montgomery County, Texas, for not allowing the citizens of our county to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama and suspending business for one day.