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Andrea Lyon

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Mob Mentality

Posted: 07/19/11 12:02 PM ET

By now, everyone has heard of the acquittal of Casey Anthony, the young mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. After the prosecution reversed its decision not to seek the death penalty in December 2008 to requesting the death penalty in April 2009, I was asked to join the Casey Anthony team, as my area of expertise is death penalty defense. For a year, I and my clinical students, as well as my investigator and mitigation specialist here at the Center for Justice in Capital Cases at DePaul College of Law, worked on this case. We filed many motions attacking the request for the death penalty, and I argued, among other things, that the State of Florida should not be allowed to request the death penalty when they cannot even identify cause of death of Casey's little girl. I was forced to leave the trial team when the trial court refused to cover the clinic costs for travel, despite having found Miss Anthony to be indigent. Nonetheless, I believed in my client then, and I believe in her now.

It is amazing that Miss Anthony got a fair trial, considering the fact that the trial judge granted nearly every request that the prosecution made, allowed untested "science" at their request, allowed them to go forward with a request for the death penalty, and got a biased, pro-death-penalty jury. Despite this, the jury got it right. They voted on the evidence -- on the fact that there was no cause of death, no showing of a homicidal means of death, let alone who actually did it.

What is troubling is the public's fascination with this case, the need to make Casey a villain, and how the media have helped feed the mob mentality. In particular, nearly all the TV pundits castigated my former partner and friend Jose Baez, literally raking his personal and professional life through the coals. They landed, heavily, on any witness who spoke up in Casey's favor, making witnesses extraordinarily difficult to find and interview because everyone was afraid of the backlash from the public and the prosecution. There were exculpatory witnesses who were intimidated to the point that they feared coming forward. (Word on the street? Helping Casey Anthony is dangerous.) I was assaulted myself while investigating this case. I continue to receive hate mail of a type that is hard to imagine.

If only this level of public passion could be garnered for education reform, eliminating poverty and racial injustice, wars, our economy -- you name it. Instead, the nation remains fixated on this case. I am sorry to say that there are hundreds of little girls who go missing every year. They are killed, kidnapped or otherwise treated abominably, but we don't talk about them because they do not come from a white, middle-class, physically attractive family. And while violent crime is at its lowest in nearly 40 years, study after study has found that the media overreport on crime. It is cheap entertainment, you see, and entertainment is what we crave.

The mob rages on, with a few of us trying to stop it, but the jury voted on the evidence, and they should be lauded for doing so.