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Sunday, 17 July 2011

Palais de Justice or Hammersmith Palais?

I hope you'll forgive the somewhat contrived title, but sometimes it really does seem that courts of law have become places of entertainment, trials appearing more like soap operas than proceedings designed to divine guilt or innocence. Today, Casey Anthony is free from prison. She is the American mother who was indicted for the murder of her young daughter Caylee. The whole of America, it seems, has a strong opinion on the fact that she was acquitted. It doesn't seem to matter that there was no strong forensic evidence to suggest that her daughter was murdered, much less than that Casey murdered her. The whole trial was about defining what kind of character she is. I have no compunction in saying that she is a pathological liar and was by all accounts an appalling mother. I think, although this is my opinion and not evidence of guilt, that she either played a part in or knows what caused the death of her daughter. She is clearly guilty of concealing the child's body. She led police in circles with one lie after another. How awful a human being she is is a given.

That's where I stop though. I cannot in all conscience decide whether the child died accidentally (unlikely, since the remains had duct tape over the mouth) and the mother and/or accomplices hid the body to avoid awkward questions, whether someone else she knew killed the child and she lied about it to protect them out of obsession or fear, whether she did the dirty deed herself or whether some other scenario yet to be invented by my warped imagination is nearer the truth. I just don't know, and no matter what you think you know, unless you're one of a very small number of people, perhaps as small as one, you don't either.  What I am fairly certain of is that the jurors in the case did the best they could with the evidence presented. The failings of the prosecution case lie squarely with the prosecution. Having read as much as I can find about the case, I really can't see how they could reasonably come up with another verdict.

The media, on the other hand, think otherwise. They apparently have a monopoly on truth. This woman's trial took place as so often happens in the media long before the trial started, and not totally without help from the prosecution team.

Looking back to the OJ Simpson murder trial, I found myself in a small minority when I described his acquittal as just. No matter whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, it can never be described as justice when the accuser is allowed to break the law in order to uphold the law. In the case of Simpson, the prosecution team perpetrated a vast conspiracy of untruth and invention. They got the only verdict their presentation of their case merited. I'm reasonably confident that a conviction based on such blatant lies would have been reversed at the appeal stage, as I also am with the Anthony case.

Just in case we on this side of the Atlantic get too comfortable, thinking it couldn't happen here, it does every day. The Megrahi case, with all the lies and suppression of evidence leading to the conviction of a man who is probably innocent, is evidence of that. People often ask of me, "So, you would be happy to see a guilty person walk free?". The answer is yes, absolutely and without reservation, given that the alternative the one asking that kind of idiotic question is that an innocent person might go to prison now and then. You know the saying; You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. Another question is often posed; "If it was someone you loved who was murdered, wouldn't you want someone punished for it?" Well yes, of course, but not just anyone. I'd want to know with a great degree of certainty that the person convicted was the guilty party. Ask Dr. Jim Swire what it's like living every day knowing that, not only will you never see your beloved daughter again, but that a man you believe innocent of her murder still stands convicted, while the man or men who really did it are walking free. I don't envy him that, but I admire the way he continues to fight for that elusive Holy Grail, justice. I hope he lives to see it. I hope we all do.

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