In the wake of last week’s verdicts concerning Casey Anthony, there have been some interesting conversations in the Spiegel household, as I’m sure has been the case all over the country. Amy and I both believe Casey Anthony is responsible for her daughter’s death, and therefore at least guilty of aggravated child abuse, if not manslaughter or murder. However, we disagree over whether the jury’s decision in the case was warranted. Amy believes the jury’s decision was irrational, while I think that, given the standard of proof (“beyond reasonable doubt”) AND the actual evidence available for the jury to review, the decision was justified.
We thought it might be interesting to air some of our observations about the case. Though I’m sure that, like us, you have suffered a bit of news fatigue from all of the coverage already, perhaps you’ll find some of our comments helpful. Here are my (Jim’s) observations:
1. A Point About Logic — The jurors agreed that the available evidence was insufficient to prove Anthony’s guilt of a felony “beyond reasonable doubt.” Note that this standard for proof requires either a deductive argument or an overwhelmingly strong inductive argument (from probability). Since, among other things, there were no eyewitness accounts and there was no ascertainable cause of death, the causal link between Caylee’s death and her mother’s actions could not be established either deductively or inductively. Of course, most of us are confident that Casey Anthony is indeed guilty of a horrible crime (i.e., murder, manslaughter or aggravated child abuse), but the method we use is what is commonly called abduction, where one reasons to the best explanatory hypothesis, given the available data. However, showing that manslaughter or severe neglect by Casey Anthony is the best explanation of Caylee’s death does not meet the more stringent requirement of “beyond reasonable doubt.”
2. Racism and Classism — The media frenzy over this case is yet one more example of how news networks are socially and ethnically selective when it comes to the stories they follow and pump up to the level of a national phenomenon. Would this story have been so widely reported if the people involved were not white, attractive, or upper middle class? Perhaps this point is so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be made. And yet, sadly, it does need to be made.
3. Erosion of Trust in the Legal System — As writers and public figures have been commenting on the Anthony case, we’ve repeatedly heard them lament the lack of justice for little Caylee. Indeed, this is something to grieve. But there is something else to grieve here, whether warranted or not (and I don’t think it is), and that is how this case will affect public trust in the American legal system. Add this one to the acquittals of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson as a landmark trial whose outcome undermines that trust.