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Red Herrings In The News
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Why All The Media Attention On Anthony Trial?

By James Donahue

There was news going on during the months of May and June 2011, but most television viewers missed it. Most of the popular talking heads devoted all of their time covering the Casey Anthony murder trail going on in Clearwater, Florida.

Every boring detail of the televised trial, from the tedious task of selecting a jury which began on May 9, to the jury decision on July 5 that the prosecution failed to provide enough evidence for them to find Anthony guilty of anything worse than having lied, was covered in graphic detail.

The pundits spent their time during the long periods when the jury was out, or the court was in recess, speculating on the effect every witness heard up until that moment would have on the outcome of the trial. Most of the “legal mouthpieces” spewing their words of authority helped support a feeling among viewers that 24-year-old Casey Anthony was a sink, mentally-ill killer who had no problem killing her two-year-old daughter Caylee so she could be free of the burden of motherhood.

As the trail rumbled on, Casey’s parents fell under public suspicion of being involved in either the killing or the cover-up of evidence. When the verdict came down, CNN’s loudmouth legal commentator Nancy Grace voiced what a lot of bloodthirsty viewers were thinking. She cried foul . . . that a malicious tot killer was going free.

As a retired court and police reporter with more than 40 years of experience, I found the Anthony case a sadly over-spun news sensation that was undeserving of all the attention it received. Its appeal involved a witch hunt by authorities to sentence a relatively attractive 24-year-old Orlando woman of a seedy and cold-hearted killing of her daughter to gain personal pleasure. The outcome of a guilty plea could easily have led to a death sentence. Florida law allows for it. And the media would have gulped up every morsel of that gem, right up to the day Anthony would have been put to death.

In my years of court reporting, I have covered several murder and attempted murder cases, some of them much more intricate and interesting to watch than what occurred last month in Clearwater. Murder cases like this go on in courts all over the nation and can probably be found on just about any day of the year. Few, however, offer the sexy flair of the Casey Anthony case, or the efforts by trial lawyers to win either a conviction or a defense based on only circumstantial evidence.

I tried not to follow the Anthony case, but found it hard to avoid absorbing much of the key information from my computer screen or the nightly television news as I clicked the dial looking for the real news stories of each day. By the time the prosecution had finished its case, I knew that if I had been sitting on that jury, I could not have convicted this woman. There just was not enough solid evidence that the woman killed her child.

The possibility of a death sentence from a murder conviction made the decision even harder to reach. Even if she killed her child, putting her to death because of what she did was something I could not have accepted. That old adage; two wrongs don’t make a right applies here.

Thus I clearly understand the decision by that Clearwater jury. What I don’t understand is why the media had to play that story up to the extent that it did. Were not the fires and storms ravaging the land, the strange deadlock in Washington over the debt ceiling, and the civil uprisings occurring everywhere in the world against the general stripping of the world’s wealth by the power brokers enough to keep reporters busy?