Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt (On Cookies, Convictions, and Casey Anthony)

"Don't touch the cookies."

These are the words you say, but apparently, much like the famous Far Side cartoon, a 4 year old only hears, "blah, blah, blah, COOKIES!"

I know this first hand because a few years ago one of our boys was caught reaching for a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie after being told they were off limits.   This is not surprising.  What was surprising was his response after being spotted mid reach by his mother.

Jennifer (31) - "Justin!  I said no cookies."

Justin (4) - "I wasn't going to take one."

Jennifer (31) - "Then why were you reaching for one?"

Justin (4) - "I wasn't reaching.  I was giving it shade."

It was that moment that came to mind when I heard the Casey Anthony verdict come down yesterday, well, more accurately when I heard the response to the verdict on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ (yeah it's a thing now, get used to it.)

Now before going any deeper, I have to admit something: I know almost nothing about this case.  I have not followed it. In fact, I have actively avoided its coverage and commentary.  The whole thing reeks of sensationalism and I have this voice that goes off in my brain about these kinds of stories that says, "none of your business, nothing to see here, move along."  This sickness also tends to purge information I might have already taken in, making for awkward conversations with people who have already tried to explain it to me before. At a family gathering this past weekend I literally asked the question, "Who is Casey Anthony again?" so any opinion I have on the merits of the case is beyond suspect and inadmissible not only in a court of law but the court of life.  Most of my information on the case comes from my mom, who actually lives in Orlando and also watches Fox News like my dog watches me when I'm eating pizza.  From what I can piece together from the parts that remain in my memory from those conversations and the bits from friends commentary these are the assumed "facts".

- We are all pretty sure Casey Anthony did some bad stuff and a child died.

- We are all strongly opposed to children dying.

Does that about sum it up?

If that assessment sounds too curt for such a heinous crime please chalk it up to my ignorance and not insensitivity. The truth is my concern in this post has very little to do with the innocence or guilt of Casey Anthony and much more to do with our reaction as a culture to this moment in time when a group of humans said of another human, "nope, we can't be sure they did it."

Within minutes (if not seconds) of the verdict being reached my Twitter feed was flooded with shock and rage. There were one or two more thoughtful tweets, but the gut reaction of the masses was clear, "As soon as I find my pitchfork I'll be coming for Casey Anthony and the jurors that let her off the hook."  Many tweets went the "Christian" route declaring that vengeance would be God's, some with an almost sickening joy.  The whole thing left me asking a singular question.

How do we know?

What is it that makes us so sure we know what 12 others, who were tasked with the job, couldn't figure out? From my minuscule understanding of the process of law, our system is designed to make sure innocent people don't get punished. Because of this, people who might be guilty sometimes go free.  It's a system that is built on the idea that if we don't know for a fact you did it, we won't make you pay the price for it.  Even the word "conviction" itself is a word of sureness.  It literally means a fixed or firm belief.  When somebody calls a prisoner a "convict" the word itself says, "Yep, you did it, and we are sure."  That certainty doesn't create a perfect system, it grants that every system is imperfect so when we mess up we are going to make sure that mistake favors the innocent.

Why, then have we become so sure?

Maybe we aren't, maybe we're just noisy.

To be sure is to be deliberate, and to be deliberate takes time.  Status updates have taught us that being sure isn't as important as sounding sure, and both are secondary to just being heard which only takes a second.  Social networking has turned us all (this author included) into the child who grabs a microphone and blurts nonsense just to hear his own voice coming through the speakers.  These cultural moments come and go with such immediacy and fervency now, it's hard not to get sucked into the din.  You fear if you don't say something of pith and wit quickly, someone will beat you to it, or worse yet, the moment will pass.  Even as I type this sentence today, I fear it's relevance may have already flat-lined.  "Casey Anthony? Aren't we past that already?".  But those jurors didn't live in the moment of their decision, they lived in the process of making it, and at the end of the day, like it or not, I have to trust that their process trumps my moment.

When my son claimed six years ago that he was giving the cookies shade and not planning on taking one, is it possible he was telling the truth?  Is it possible he heard his mother say they were too hot to eat and he thought by shading them he could hasten the cooling process?  Yes, absolutely, yes.  As much as my parental radar goes off in that moment, if I stop to really think it through, it is certainly a possibility.  Do I think that's what happened? No.

But I'm just not sure.  Are you?


  1. Hi Aaron! Thank you for putting this into the proper perspective for me. I did not follow the case closely either although I did catch a bit here & there. I even made the comment that I was pretty sure she would "get off"...not sure why it had a sarcastic tone to it..I think it was all of the media frenzy & the "Oh my, can you believe she did this" etc. I also had mixed feelings about all the comments concerning the wrath of God on her...yes, she will "face her maker" but then won't we all. So, whether she did or didn't doesn't really change life as we know it and it sure won't bring the little one won't be long before the media has moved on to the next 'big news' that will have us gasping and tweating away! I believe God is sovereign and He is much better at handling the issues of this world than mankind could ever hope to be. Thanks again Aaron! By the way...I totally could buy "shading the cookie." ~Tonna

  2. I love these thoughts, Aaron. We live in an incredibly judgmental society that will stick a pitchfork into anyone or anything tinged with even the slightest sense of wrongdoing or fault. I too did not follow the case very closely, but we cannot be certain of Casey Anthony's guilt, nor can we rest assured of her innocence. Perhaps only in eternity will we know the truth. Thanks for posting!

  3. I watched this process like you, a bit here and a bit there. I was amazed at the media bias and how the general public was influenced. We decry the bias of the media in our political process but when it comes to declaring the guilt or innocence of another human being, strictly based on what the media allowed us to see we somehow feel justified in determining the guilt of another person. For me it is this simple: I was not on the jury and I did not hear all the evidence. There were 12 fellow citizens who did and they made their decision based on the evidence they heard. They decided that Casey Anthony was not guilty of the crimes she was charged with. Its done and over with. There is supposed to be a principle in the country of innocent until proven guilty. From what I heard and read the prosecution did not prove their case against her. Why aren't these same people up in arms over the thousands of abortions that took place during the six week trial? Just a thought.

  4. Hi Aaron, thank you for shedding some light on this issue! I have followed this case for the past three years (again based on the media information that was put out there). I agree with my daughter who said "those of us without sin cast the first stone!" I also believe that there was a lot of unanswered questions in this case. For example; no cause of death, duct tape being placed after Caylee had died, mother who lied about things that she had said and done, an arrogant prosecutor who sat laughing when the defense was cross-examining witnesses, an incomplete autopsy report, a paternity test being done on the brother to determine if he was Caylee's father, to name a few. Someone knows what happened and his name is God! I am saddened by the hanging that people who call themselves Christians have done. Thank you for your example of shadow of a doubt! I think it fits this situation completely! God Bless

  5. Aaron Sorkin included a great comment in his play (and movie too) "A Few Good Men". One of the defense attorneys, when talking to the other two, says (and this may be a slight re-wording based on my memory) "A Marine is dead and he shouldn't be. The government is offering up our clients. We're giving them Jessep." We so often base our decisions on who the prosecutor's office serves up for the trial...after all, they're basing their opinions on the facts from the PD. We forget that they are just as human as anyone else. We've decided in our society that it's better for a guilty party to walk free than for an innocent party to go to jail. And I think that's for the best. Maybe we thing that if someone is truly guilty, their crimes will eventually catch up with them. In other countries, they imprison and/or execute first and then go for the facts of the case. Those are the countries that we routinely make fun of for their policies...