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Wendy N. Powell Headshot

Is Our Jury System Broken? Are Jurors Expecting Too Much Evidence? What Can the Public Do?

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The public wants answers. Watching their reaction to the acquittal of Casey Anthony is heartrending and troublesome. Justice for Caylee Anthony was not achieved.

Our judicial system that has been in effect for centuries still works, but have we evolved to expect too much evidence from the prosecution? And have we allowed too much reliance on unsupported testimony on the part of the defense? It's one thing for a judge to announce that the jury should not consider unsupported evidence, but the jury has already heard it and processed it.

In an ABC interview, Juror #3, Jennifer Ford, claimed that they (the jury) could not punish someone without knowing how Caylee died. Ford added, "I have to know how." She claimed that they wept after the verdict was read. Why? We might infer that they believed they had just acquitted a murderer. Ford added, "'Not guilty' does not mean 'innocent.' ... Without the death penalty, we could have gotten a guilty sentence." Actually, they did have a choice to convict Casey of a lesser charge. The echo of those words will reverberate for a long, long time: "not guilty" does not mean "innocent." They just couldn't or wouldn't wrap their arms around it.

The "wild goose chase" for several months when Casey intentionally and criminally lied to her family and searchers was a critical factor for conviction. Casey herself created the problem with "lack of evidence."

Jurors now expect the TV type of evidence that is shown week after week on endless crime shows. Tragically, they observed a toddler's skull wrapped in duct tape taken from the family home, placed inside a laundry bag and garbage bags. It's pretty clear how she died. Did the jury ignore the mounds of circumstantial evidence, and did they understand its weight? It appears that Mr. Baez's unsupported testimony at his opening statement was not ignored.

We have become a society of potential jurors expecting too much evidence. We need Jethro Gibbs and Abby Sciuto from NCIS to swoop in and save the day with forensic evidence beyond belief and technology. I was recently in a jury pool where the lawyers explained, "Don't expect the type of evidence you see on TV, because it largely does not exist." Do we think that type of sophisticated forensic technology on TV really exists? Some does, but interestingly enough, and ironically, the prosecution presented cutting-edge analyses that was obviously and largely ignored.

Instead, Jose Baez, in his opening statement, made shocking statements that were not supported by evidence; the jury heard him. Casey Anthony did not testify, but she certainly got her message through by smirking, mouthing her testimony and shaking her head; the jury saw it. Should that be a part of our formal court proceedings? Perhaps there should there be more stringent control over "unofficial" testimony of the defendant and counsel.

After the verdict was read, it was heartbreaking to observe celebrating, laughing, winking and jumping in the courtroom. There was no regard for the reality that a precious toddler was murdered. And later, attorney Cheney Mason made lewd gestures, flipped the bird and grabbed himself in an obvious attempt to flaunt his victory at the public. The defense partied by popping champagne literally across the street from the courthouse. The legal team, including Dorothy Clay Sims, was jumping, laughing and taking pictures of the news media, appearing as unprofessional gloaters. Of course, they won, but rubbing salt in the raw wounds of the caring public is astonishing. Celebrate in private, for Heaven's sake.

Many ask whether there anything more that we can do for Caylee Anthony. Indeed there is. There is a new bill that has been filed, House Bill 37, from Boca Raton, Fla., called Caylee's Law. It would make it a legal requirement to report a missing child within 48 hours and a death or corpse location to police within two hours. Non-compliance would result in a felony charge. Ms. Anthony, in case there was a shred of innocence, could have made a big difference had she reported the absence/death/kidnapping. Instead her fictitious nanny had taken Caylee because Casey was an unfit mother. Remember, Casey never reported the child missing to authorities; her mother Cindy did when she realized that her granddaughter was gone.

Casey will be out of jail next Wednesday, July 13. She will likely become a millionaire literally overnight. What else can we do? When Casey is paid for interviews, tune her out, refuse to patronize the advertisers. When she writes the satirical book about life and God (that she told jail inmates about), don't buy it. If they make a movie about this tragic case, boycott it. We have the ability to control her future success, and hopefully the lack of it. Without the consuming public, Casey Anthony will go far, far away.