Is Casey Anthony guilty of murdering her daughter Caylee? No. Absolutely not. She is without a doubt not guilty.
Is Casey Anthony innocent of murder? From what I read in the papers I doubt it, although I don’t really know.
So how can I be so sure she is not guilty if I have doubts about her innocence? How can I reconcile these two seemingly opposite conclusions? Simple. Not guilty is a legal verdict rendered by a judge or jury. It is the opposite of a guilty verdict, but not the equivalent of innocent. Innocence is a term thrown around by legal analysts and anchormen when speculating about crimes. It is the question we ask ourselves when we fear the wrong person has been charged with a crime. None of us want to see an innocent man convicted of a crime he did not commit. But innocence is never something that must be proven in a criminal case in the United States. Only guilt must be proven. And if guilt is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant is found not guilty. No one is ever found “innocent,” although we might refer to them that way in casual conversation.
Proving a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the legal standard of proof in a criminal case, is a very high burden. Often it cannot be met by the prosecution. Juries are left with some lingering doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. Jurors are instructed by the judge that they are to find the defendant not guilty if they have such doubts. Thinking a defendant is probably guilty is not enough. We demand that juries be certain, or as close to it as is possible. They must not have any reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt.
One of the alternate jurors in the Casey Anthony case was interviewed and said he agreed with the verdict. Alternate jurors are extra jurors chosen in long trials, and are called to serve as members of the decision-making jury if one of the regular jurors gets sick or for some other reason cannot finish the job. None of the jurors usually know which of them are alternates and which are members of the jury that will decide the case. This alternate juror therefore sat through the entire trial, listening to all of the testimony and thinking he would have to decide the issue of Anthony’s guilt. He heard the judge instruct the jury on the law they were bound to follow. He has the exact same information as the jurors who actually decided the case. And he said he would also have found Casey Anthony not guilty.
When asked why, he said there were three reasons. First, the prosecution failed to provide enough evidence to support the murder charge. Second, there was no motive for the murder. Finally, he said there was no proof of the cause of death. In other words, the prosecution failed to show a sufficient motive and failed to show how Caylee died, so it failed to provide enough evidence to support the murder charge. Without proof of how the young girl died, and without a clear motive for her mother to kill her, this juror believed there was not enough evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that murder had been committed by Casey Anthony.
It was very informative to hear him answer another question. When this alternate juror was put on the spot and asked if he thought Casey Anthony was innocent or if he simply had doubts about her guilt, he said for him it was a matter of reasonable doubt. He had a reasonable doubt as to her guilt so he would have followed the law as instructed by the judge and found her not guilty, even though he apparently also had doubts about her innocence. The law requires jurors to resolve doubts in favor of accused defendants to ensure that innocent people are not convicted. These jurors appear to have followed those instructions.
So I can say without any hesitation Casey Anthony is not guilty of murder. She was charged, brought to trial in front of a judge and jury, all relevant evidence was presented, and the jury unanimously decided they had a reason to doubt her guilt. They then did exactly as they were instructed and found her not guilty, so she is not guilty of murder. The question of her innocence may never be settled, however, except perhaps in the court of public opinion.
Steve Woods is a criminal defense attorney with the Wenatchee law firm of Woods & Brangwin.