LegalWorks Apostolate - Counsel for a Culture of Life

What does it say about our justice system?

By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge

I admit it, I was one of those people who was disappointed when Court TV went off the air. Being a consummate multi-tasker and having a small TV next to my desk, I have followed a number of high profile cases while I worked.

In those cases I followed over the years, there have been only two cases where I believe justice was not served. The first was in November 1997 in Boston, Massachusetts and the second one was yesterday in Orlando, Florida.

Back in 1997, nineteen-year-old Au Pair Louise Woodward was on trial for killing eight-month-old Matthew (Mattie) Eappen who had been under her care. The testimony from experts and those directly involved led me to conclude that the prosecution had done their work and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Woodward was guilty.

So, it was no surprise when the jury found Woodward guilty of second-degree murder, which to me appeared to be based on the facts of the case. Judge Hiller Zobel, however, didn't agree with the jury's verdict and eventually reduced it to involuntary manslaughter.

Zobel wrote, ''I believe that the circumstances in which Defendant acted were characterized by confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice (in the legal sense) supporting a conviction for second-degree murder.''

He sentenced Woodward to time served (279 days) and set her free.

I was shocked. I didn't know a judge could do such a thing. What's the point of having a jury if the judge is going to overrule its decision. But he did it and his decision was upheld by a 4-3 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

I later found out that a judge does indeed have such power but that it is rarely used.

Dr. Deborah Eappen, little Matthew's mother lamented to a Boston Globe reporter, "What is Judge Zobel thinking? What does that say about justice? Does it say that you can kill a baby, and that your youth and inexperience with cranky babies counts for more than a child's life?"

There was no justice for Matthew.

Yesterday, it was the jury's verdict in the Casey Anthony case that has me questioning our justice system. I followed the courtroom testimony very closely and there were some very obvious facts that must have been overlooked by the jury. Or, perhaps, they watch too much CSI and forget that what they see in these shows is fictional.

Someone killed two-year-old Caylee Anthony on July 16, 2008. Her mother, Casey, was the last person to see her alive. Casey said nothing about Caylee for 31 days until her mother, Cindy, challenged her on just where Caylee was. Casey lied and said she had been kidnapped.

Six months later, little Caylee's remains were found discarded like garbage in a wooded area very near her home.

The defense team attempted to create reasonable doubt by claiming that Caylee had drowned in the family pool, but there was not one shred of evidence to support that claim. They claimed that the Anthony family was dysfunctional, but never provided any evidence of just how that killed Caylee.

There was no evidence that anything of an accidental nature happened to Caylee. There were no other suspects nor any evidence provided that indicated that anyone except Casey Anthony killed Caylee. And, if it were an accident, why would a cover up include making it look like murder? It's nonsensical.

The evidence clearly demonstrated that Casey was responsible for the death of her daughter and yet, after just 10+ hours of deliberation, the jury decided no crime had been committed--no murder, no manslaughter, no child abuse, and no child neglect. Nothing. Caylee was dead and discarded like garbage, but the jury decided that Casey bore no responsibility at all--not for the most serious charge and not even for one of the three lesser charges.

What were they thinking? What does it say about justice? Does it say you can kill your two-year-old daughter and go free if your defense team convinces a jury your family is dysfunctional? Is it a reflection of the moral relativism that permeates our culture? Is it just one more indication of our culture being wrongly influenced by what they see on television? Was the jury waiting for the CSI moment that rarely, if ever, happens in real life? Did they not understand what reasonable doubt is?

I don't have the answers, but common sense tells me that just like with Matthew Eappen, there was no justice for Caylee Anthony.

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