A terrific character actor named Daniel Benzali once scored a role on NYPD Blue (it led to an OJ-inspired 90’s TV series) where he played a marquis defense attorney with a shady reputation. When dispatched to help a cop charged with murder, the client initially rejects him, stating that she wants no part of an attorney with his reputation defending her. Benzali’s character smiles and delivers one of the most brilliant lines I’ve heard describing bare-knuckle trial law: “That’s entry level perception, detective. Reputations swiftly give way to the skill of the practitioner once the doors of the courtroom are closed.” Amen.
I wasn’t there to witness Jose Baez’s advocacy on the Casey Anthony case. But I know from the coverage that he and his team brilliantly exploited an alternative explanation for her child’s death, and in so doing painstakingly and methodically generated the necessary amount of precious doubt necessary for 12 Florida citizens to utter “not guilty” on charges of murder. Perhaps, as some have claimed, the jury was cowardly or malfeasant in ignoring the legal weight of circumstantial evidence. Perhaps they were collectively cynical or stupid, as some have speculated. The declaration by one of them to the gossip site TMZ that he’d talk about the case but only if he was paid to do so certainly lends some credibility to that theory. But all of this is beside the point. Baez did his job.
As offensive as it is to many, Baez is technically correct when he claims he could tell his daughter after the trial that he “saved a life today.” He did. The state of Florida, under its death penalty statute, sought to end the life of Casey Anthony for the murder of her daughter. Baez and his team stopped that from happening. In pretty much every sense of the word, he is correct.
I happen to wish Baez had failed. I believe Casey Anthony is a psychopathic killer, and I know how to use the term “psychopath” professionally, not just colloquially. It’s not easy to find a doctor who will do a permanent tubal ligation on a 25 year-old woman, but despite what my religion commands I hope she gets one. I’d very much prefer that she bring no further children into the world, as I am convinced that she will snuff out their lives as quickly as she snuffed out Caylee’s once they become inconvenient. That’s what psychopaths do with things, living or dead, that inconvenience them. They remove them. The creativity, skill and labor they must engage in to eliminate the obstacle differs depending on its nature. But the underlying drive is the same.
But none of this was Jose Baez’s concern, nor should it have ever been. He was rightfully focused on his client alone, protecting her as best he could from the efforts of the state to imprison and execute her. That’s how the system works. Baez stated publicly after the trial that his client did not murder her child, and perhaps he believes that. But frankly, he doesn’t have to. Far more offensive were the crass remarks of co-counsel Cheney Mason who insinuated that the media had engaged in “character assassination,” presumably with regard to Casey. Note to Mr. Mason: Your client was not found “innocent.” She was found “not guilty,” meaning that the government failed, in the jury’s determination, to meet an extremely heavy burden regarding her legal guilt. They adjudicated that question in the negative, and thus it is legally correct that Casey go free for those charges. Whether it is morally correct, logically correct or factually correct is beside the point. The verdict addresses none of these questions.
In terms of what disgusts me, (other than what I believe were the actions of Casey herself), I can’t help but mention the fixation this country had for this particular case when children suffer fates like Caylee’s every day across 3.8 million square miles of America and generate no media frenzy. It’s perhaps awkward but no less accurate to note that Caylee herself was a white, physically beautiful child, and her mother a telegenic, thin, and yes -sexy- woman. The media hyped photographs of Casey (other than the ones with evidentiary value) showing her taunting the camera with pursed lips in Halloween costumes or football jerseys were no accident. There are certainly aspects of this case- the search efforts, the slowly leaked details regarding evidence and litigation- that made it particularly compelling. But ultimately, when it comes to what sells copy and gets people to tune in, the murderer is more interesting, and so is her act, when both she and her victim are photogenic and culturally appealing.
Baez acknowledged correctly that there were no winners in the the State of Florida v. Casey Anthony. His mini-rant regarding the death penalty was misplaced as the issue wasn’t reached in this case, but his other remarks, including the tender message in Spanish to his mother and family, were appropriate. His statement about the American Constitution was particularly spot-on, regardless of his point of view. Casey Anthony was tried, competently and at great cost, in a public trial by the representatives of an elected attorney empowered to bring the force of the law and its iron accouterments against one citizen. Efforts to prove her guilt to an appropriately lofty standard failed. Out she goes, then, into the stream of life with the rest of us.
Casey Anthony, it can be compellingly argued, will not face justice in this life. But as a prosecutor I learned a long time ago that earthly justice is a “long ball” concept that must be viewed separately from any particular case.
If you are among the many, many people convinced that justice was not done in this case, I beg you: take that long view. Let Caylee’s fate not be in vain by raising your own awareness and that of others to children everywhere who suffer neglect, abuse and death in cases less titillating but no less horrific. Support groups that fight for the lives of children. I’ve listed a few below, but it is by no means exhaustive.
The greatest gift of faith, to me anyway, is the impish games it plays with the blunt force of words in our language; the ones I’ve been battered with as an attorney for 15 years.
“Caylee is dead.”
“Casey is free.”
Examine those two statements through the prism of a God-gifted, God-ordained and God-ordered world, and they are not so horrific, offensive, or final.