Casey Anthony, Media Frenzy, and the Death Penalty

July 6, 2011

Casey Anthony with her attorneys before the jury presented a verdict in her murder trial. (Photo by Red Huber-Pool/Getty Images)

After years of being prosecuted by Nancy Grace, and weeks of being prosecuted in a real courtroom, Casey Anthony has been acquitted by a jury of murder charges that could have left her facing execution.  Her acquittal of murder comes after a three-year media frenzy during which her guilt was more or less presumed.  Some followers of the trial, saturated by this media coverage, were shocked by the verdict.  Defense attorneys blasted the media circus (and the lawyers who participated in it).

Attorney Cheney Mason said:

“I’m disgusted by some of the lawyers that have done this. I can tell you that my colleagues from coast to coast and border to border have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases they don’t know a damn thing about.”

Jose Baez added that:

“We have the greatest Constitution in the world, and if the media and other members of the public do not respect it, it will become meaningless.”

He was referring to core constitutional concepts like “trial by jury” and “innocent until proven guilty.”

Nancy Grace was not happy.  After managing to get in her “tot mom” catch-phrase, she expressed contempt for the jury’s decision, telling CNN:  “There is no way that this is a verdict that speaks the truth.”

Death penalty cases are often high-profile, high-pressure affairs (in this case, a precious two-year old girl lost her life).  The temptation to jettison basic constitutional values (or media ethics) is great.  It is deeply disturbing, then, that we think we can rationally determine who lives and who dies in the midst of such a frenzy.  Jose Baez suggested as much when he asserted that this case was a “perfect example” of why we should not have the death penalty.