Casey Anthony–A demonstration on the necessity for evidence

6 07 2011

In our last post, we wrote about the importance of evidence.  In that post, we were specifically addressing expert opinions, in a prior post we explained that “The first thing to ask yourself before embarking on a lawsuit is ‘what evidence do I have in my possession to prove my case?’” The reason that question is so important is because a lawsuit is about proving a case; presenting the evidence in a way that the judge and jury will come to the conclusion you want. This question is especially true in a criminal case where the burden on the prosecution is higher than in a civil case.

In a murder case, the prosecutor has to prove that the defendant committed the murder, and the prosecution has to prove this “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  But to get to the conclusion of murder, logic dictates that the prosecution also has to prove that the defendant could commit the murder.  In other words, the prosecution in the Casey Anthony case had to logically establish two points:

  1. That Casey Anthony could kill her child, Caylee – physically and emotionally, and
  2. That Casey Anthony did kill her child.

It is very important to note that sometimes evidence of the killing is so strong that it necessarily establishes capability.  In other words, if there is video of someone committing the murder, then obviously that person is capable of the murder.  In legalese, this is the “probative value” (the strength) of the evidence – how strongly does it tend to prove your point.

In the Casey Anthony case, the prosecution focused on point 2 – that Casey Anthony committed the crime.  But he did not address whether she could kill her child.  Certainly, she was physically capable, but there was a big question about whether she was emotionally capable.  This was a big hole in the prosecution’s case that the defense focused on.  After all, it is hard to believe that a mother would want to kill her own infant child.  Parents are not naturally inclined to do that; they are not emotionally capable, nor would the vast majority of people want to do something so vile.

Without any evidence that Casey Anthony was so mentally deprived, or had such a strong motive to overcome any emotional ties she had to the child, the prosecution would need very strong evidence that she committed the act.  They did not have that evidence.  In fact, their only motive was that she wanted to party. 

Given the lack of motive or evidence that Casey was completely different emotionally from most parents, the jury was left with one question: Is it possible that Caylee let herself out of the house and drowned in the pool, and her mother tried to cover it up out of guilt and panic (it was uncontested that Caylee was able to get out of the house on her own)?

The defense did not need to prove that story, just that it was a believable possibility (the question is not whose story is more believable…).  Without proving that Casey was capable, all of the prosecution’s evidence proved was that the defense story was actually possible; it was all consistent with that theory.