LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The not guilty verdict for Casey Anthony on Tuesday also can be seen as a victory for the U.S. justice system, despite strong public opinion that she killed her 2 year-old daughter, legal experts said.
A Florida jury cleared Anthony of the murder charge she faced in the 2008 death of her daughter, Caylee, but found her guilty of lying to police about the incident.
A number of media commentators had expected Anthony to be found guilty of murder in the case, even though prosecutors were forced to rely largely on circumstantial evidence.
Doug Berman, a criminal law professor at Ohio State University, said popular opinion came to the conclusion the 25 year-old Anthony was guilty, but that jurors must hold to a higher standard than the average citizen watching on TV.
That standard is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
“In some sense, it’s a sign that the system worked well,” Berman said. “The job of the system is not to turn this into a Hollywood ending, but to have all the actors in the system do the job to the best of their ability.”
Josh Niewoehner, a Chicago attorney who worked on the successful defense of R&B singer R. Kelly against charges of child pornography, said he welcomed the Anthony verdict.
“I commend the jurors for listening to the evidence and not listening to the media,” Niewoehner said.
“It’s a good day for justice in the sense that you have to prove every element of every crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” he added.
The case against Anthony, who had faced the possibility of the death penalty if found guilty of murdering her daughter, was short on forensic evidence, such as Caylee’s time or manner of death, Berman said.
Berman said popular television show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” has influenced jurors in recent years, by giving them the false impression every case has the same clear-cut forensic evidence featured in that fictional series.
“There’s been a lot of speculation that lay jurors have now gotten even less likely to convict, because they’re under the false impression that every case is going to have some sort of forensic smoking gun,” he said.
Because of the tragic nature of 2 year-old Caylee Anthony’s death, many in the public felt someone must be held responsible and they saw Casey Anthony as that person, experts said.
“Popular opinion did find her guilty, which is why we have so many people right now in shock,” said psychologist Gregory Jantz, author of “Overcoming Anxiety, Worry and Fear” and founder of counseling and treatment center A Place of Hope.
“The next phase is going to be anger, and particularly from people who have suffered from trauma in their own lives,” Jantz said.
Prosecutors alleged that Casey strangled her daughter with duct tape and dumped her body in nearby woods. The defense said Caylee Anthony accidentally drowned in the family pool and the family failed to report it.
Allan Ackerman, a Chicago criminal defense attorney, said he was “taken aback by the giggling” of prosecutor Jeff Ashton during a defense attorney’s closing arguments, and he wondered whether that played any role in Anthony’s acquittal.
“I suppose there’s a lesson in it,” Ackerman said. “Respect the court, respect your opponent and certainly respect the jury.”
Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago: Editing by Greg McCune