I think I’ll leave the subject after this unless and until something new comes up, but this issue has bothered me in more ways than one.
Let us give the Casey Anthony prosecutors the benefit of the doubt and summarize the evidence and the inferences from the evidence favorable to them and ignoring, for now, the George Anthony problem:
1. The child was last seen alive with her mother.
2. The next time the child was seen was when her body was found, and the body had duct tape attached to the skull. The child had been dead since roughly the time that she was last seen with her mother.
Now, this evidence would permit an inference that the mother killed the child, on purpose or accidentally. It would not compel this inference, but it would permit it.
I find it very difficult to understand why the prosecution would go further and say that it wanted the jury to find that the mother killed the child by using the duct tape to smother her. She may have smothered her without duct tape, and applied the duct tape post-mortem. It was unnecessary, then, even in the intentional murder scenario, to categorically claim that the duct tape was used to smother the child.
Yet I saw an interview with prosecutor Jeff Ashton (that I can’t find now) in which he claimed that the duct tape as weapon scenario was obvious; indeed, it is what convinced him that this was an intentional murder case. There is no valid line of reasoning that supports this. He might be convinced that this was an intentional murder case for any number of reasons, but duct tape found on the body could not rationally be one of them. It is a non-sequitur.
I think he also said in that interview that he had prosecuted dozens of death penalty murder cases. I’m sure most of them were successful. If not all of them.
This is quite frightening. How many individuals did he send to death row, and yet he cannot put two and two together?
I’ll admit that it makes for a more shocking and lurid tale when you can dramatically identify the very specific mechanism by which a murder occurred. And that is probably a part of nearly every murder case: you want to show the jury the murder weapon. It gets the evidence tag. It is paraded about the courtroom before the jury so that they can feel the menacing quality of it and imagine it being employed by the defendant. I can understand that.
Of course, when you have a gun shot wound and you have recovered a bullet you want to place the gun that fired the bullet into the hands of the defendant. But things are different when you have no cause of death and no demonstrable wounds. You can infer that the usual way a mother would kill her child is by smothering or drowning, maybe produce an expert witness who runs through a series of mother-murderers and shows the prevalence in such cases of smothering as the preferred method of killing.
I’m sure Judge Perry would have permitted that testimony.
Why lock yourself in to a non-sequitur?
I don’t think he worried about it. He’s so used to having his way, as indeed all prosecutors are, that he became mentally lazy enough to hinge the highest profile case of his career on an invalid line of reasoning.
And if he did that in the Casey Anthony case, how many other cases did he do that in where the outcome was not an acquittal but a conviction, even followed perhaps by an execution?
The sloppy reasoning, bred by the experience of being so favored, is further demonstrated by the failure to recognize the problem that would be posed by the defense casting suspicion upon George Anthony. Without George’s testimony, they could not even place the toddler alone with her mother at the time she was last seen alive. You have to prepare for the possibility that the jury might reject George’s testimony – any defense lawyer would do that for a critical witness – and have some evidence to bolster either the witness’ credibility or his account of events.
And here’s a curious thing about the George problem. Not only did the prosecution not have any evidence with which to do that, some very reliable evidence – phone pings on cell towers – placed Casey Anthony at home for hours after George said she had left on the fateful day, undermining rather strongly the testimony – the crucial, sole testimony that begins the whole narrative of “Casey killed Caylee” – that Caylee Anthony was last seen alive with her mother.
This gaping hole, this chasm – and really, you couldn’t have a much more serious proof problem than that the very basis of your story, the very first event in it, is highly questionable – went entirely unnoticed by the prosecution, but not by the defense. And not by the jury.
There was a comment by the alternate juror along the lines that he didn’t believe anything George Anthony said. That would explain the jury verdict on entirely legitimate and rational grounds all by itself.