AS a reflection of the criminal justice system, the not guilty verdict forCasey Anthony — who in all likelihood bore responsibility for her 2-year-old daughter’s death, but will never pay for that particular crime — was reassuring. Juries are supposed to presume the innocence of even the vilest defendants. Evidence must outweigh emotion. And in the end there simply wasn’t enough lucid, specific proof that Anthony had murdered her little girl.
But as a mirror of people’s opportunism, avarice, hypocrisy and hysterics, the case was galling. In the Anthony trial a system that worked almost too well met a cast of characters almost too bad to be believed, and that’s true not merely, or even mainly, of the Anthonys. It applies just as much to the rogues’ gallery around them.
Take Cheney Mason, the avuncular defense lawyer with the Southern drawl and Santa beard. After the verdict, he decided to express his displeasure with reporters and spectators by giving them the finger.
He also berated reporters for their character assassination of Anthony, a harangue that disregarded her conclusively proved absence of character and ignored a distinction that he, as a lawyer, surely recognizes: not guilty doesn’t equal innocent. The verdict spoke to the quality of the forensics, not the culpability of the defendant, and certainly didn’t transform her into a blameless, persecuted saint. She was not randomly singled out by the news media — not even by Nancy Grace, HLN’s virago of vengeance.
To top it all off, Mason lashed out at lawyers who go on TV to prattle authoritatively about cases they are merely observing from afar. This was especially rich, because as ABC News illustrated in a delicious little montage, he had done precisely that, in regard to the Anthony trial, before he joined her defense team.
That team was led by Jose Baez, an even less savory character. Although he may have a lucrative legal future, he does not have a lucrative legal past.
After graduating from law school in 1997, he couldn’t practice law for eight years because, as The Orlando Sentinel detailed in several articles about him, the Florida bar deemed him unfit. He was a deadbeat dad who, by 2004, owed $12,000 in child support. He also defaulted on a student loan and declared bankruptcy at one point.
Justices of the Florida Supreme Court, in a ruling backing the bar’s refusal to admit him, noted that he had exhibited “a total lack of respect for the rights of others and a total lack of respect for the legal system.” Expensive dating services using elaborate algorithms haven’t produced pairings as apt as his with Anthony.
But he was enterprising. Give him that. In an effort to make ends meet while barred from the bar, he turned to swimsuit sales, starting two businesses, Bon Bon Bikinis and Brazilian Bikinis. Both failed.
He was admitted to the bar in 2005, but continued to run afoul of it, The Sentinelreported. The bar received a complaint about a claim on his Web site that, at the Miami-Dade public defender’s office, he had won 32 of 34 jury trials. This boast failed to mention that when those cases were tried, he was not yet a practicing lawyer, but a helper instead. It has since been expunged from the site.
Rather than answer any of The Sentinel’s questions about that, Baez played the race card, issuing a statement that accused the newspaper of “discrimination against a young, hard-working Hispanic lawyer.” Diversion is his métier. In his opening remarks at Anthony’s trial, he said she had been sexually abused by her father and brother. In his closing remarks, he had to leave that out, because he never did get around to substantiating it.
No wonder he so thoroughly riled Nancy Grace, who doesn’t need any riling. While other commentators, responding fairly enough to what they were seeing and hearing, put their chips on Anthony’s guilt, Grace bet the whole house on it. Crusaded for it. Brooked no alternate outcome. Ever certain, ever merciless, she’d give 25-to-life to an alleged jaywalker based on the testimony of a 99-year-old with cataracts.
After the Anthony verdict, her wrath was biblical: “The devil is dancing.”
She doesn’t serve the cause of victims with such histrionics. She serves the cause of Nancy Grace. And she succeeds only in trivializing everything — and getting ratings. A record 5.2 million viewers turned to HLN on the judgment day. Apparently many of us share her appetite for gross caricatures of good and evil, and come out of this as graceless as she.
And the jurors? How do they come out of it? On the one hand, they commendably wrestled with the distinction between a miserable person and a solid case, according to an interview one of them gave to ABC News. On the other, that juror accepted, as a thanks from the network, a trip to Disney World. Another juror hired an agent of sorts to canvass the networks for the most lucrative dish-for-dough arrangement.
Enough has been said about the sordid dynamics of the Anthonys. They’re pathetic. No verdict changes that or alters the probability that Casey Anthony will have a wretched future.
Beyond July 17 she may not be stuck in jail, but she’ll be stuck with herself, and will serve a kind of life sentence, just as O. J. Simpson has. Although he beat the one big rap, a host of other reckonings — civil litigation, social censure — were still to come. He was as deranged coming out of his trial as he was going in, and that caught up with him. He is currently in a Nevada prison, doing time for armed robbery and kidnapping.
Will it be much different for Anthony, who partied while her daughter was missing, didn’t report the disappearance for a month and then concocted a crazy fiction about an imagined nanny’s abduction of the little girl?
Anthony is already being sued by a woman who happens to share that invented nanny’s name. Already being drawn and quartered on Facebook and Twitter. Already contemplating bodyguards. And already back to vamping. For a court appearance after the verdict, her long hair was once again undone, and she petted it.
I suspect she’ll be tripped up anew by her narcissism, dishonesty and icy heart. They’ll doom her. They just don’t happen to be grounds for a murder conviction.
© 2011 The New York Times Company