A Knee-Jerk Reaction to the Casey Anthony Verdict

As Maile and I walked into the motel, I heard a police officer in the lobby.

“You guys mind if I turn it to CNN?” he asked the lady cleaning the room. “They’re about to announce the Casey Anthony verdict.”

We walked up to our room and turned on the television. The timing was impeccable. We stood in front of the television as Ms. Anthony stood in front of the jury. They read off each count. The verdicts shocked the nation:

First-degree murder: not guilty.

Aggravated child abuse: not guilty.

Aggravated manslaughter of a child: not guilty.

I shook my head in amazement, not because I am an expert in the law or because I understood what was going on or even because I had followed the case since its inception. I shook my head only because here was someone who appeared to have a first-class ticket to the death sentence, and now she was basically walking away. What a change of trajectory.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Is there a town in this country where she can hide from the guilty verdicts already rendered by ordinary citizens? The media had tried and convicted her, as had most of us. To many, she will be nothing more than a murderer for as long as she lives.

At first the outcries on Facebook and Twitter and other venues alarmed me: how can people condemn someone when they cannot know for sure what happened? Since when do we kill people based on circumstantial evidence, no matter how damning? But as I thought more about the cries for blood, I realized that it is a natural thing – there is something in all of us that cries out for justice.

Seeing the picture of the child, my heart ached. There is even something in me that would have felt relief at a guilty verdict, however little I knew about the case. But as I think through this situation, two thoughts come to mind.

First, I’d rather live in a country that does not send people to face death based on circumstantial evidence than in a country that pulls innocent people off the street and shoots them in the head. Perhaps it is how my mind works, but I tend to think that guilty people will be punished, if not by our judicial system, then by other forces.

Secondly, a woman caught performing a crime which demanded capital punishment was once brought before the wisest man I know. For reasons we cannot fully understand, he turned to the crowd and said, “”The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Like our society, they were eager for justice – they had come with stones in their hands.

But each of them put down their stone and walked away.

Why? Why did he say this?

Putting down the stone and walking away is never easy.

35 Replies to “A Knee-Jerk Reaction to the Casey Anthony Verdict”

  1. i try to stay pretty objective with things like this, but this one is particularly hard for me.

    i knew the jury wouldn’t sentence her to death based on the evidence, but it sure seemed like there was enough there to put her away for a good long time.

    a friend of mine said, “it’s interesting how no one is asking what happened to the baby if casey didn’t kill her. not even casey.”

    i’m going to struggle with making my way to the high road.

  2. This is beautiful.

    When there is a loss this profound, justice is hard to come by. Even if she had been found guilty, how can there be justice for a loss of life?

    Thank you so much for this amazing piece.

  3. You know Shawn, I wrote a similar piece for myself, to work through that hatred. You’re right. It’s too easy to judge. It’s not easy to put down that stone. Well said.

  4. Can you please do more knee jerk reactions? I think they are probably more thoughtful and measured than many people’s thoughtful and measured responses.

    1. I like the knee-jerk reaction idea for you to write on a day of each week. it can always be a way to engage current events as they pertain to other more philosophical aspects to your writings. The Knee-Jerk Reaction Series. Love it.

  5. Media sensation trials like this give us what we crave: a horrible person we can look at so that we don’t have to face our own junk. It’s sick and twisted that cable news networks exploited this trial as a human interest/true crime entertainment piece. As someone who intentionally avoided it, I’ve been able to point my finger at the people who obsess over these things instead of dealing with my own issues, so I guess no one gets off clean here!

    This trial was only relevant for the people immediately involved in it. The sooner we forget about it and look at our own sins, as your post challenges us, the better.

    1. “This trial was only relevant for the people immediately involved in it.”

      This is so true, Ed. I have good friends who have a relative who committed murder. Seeing this kind of story from their perspective has given me cause to think twice before jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation, no matter how horrendous the crime.

      (By the way, I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for stopping by).

      1. Thanks Shawn. I’ve also seen this from the perspective of inmates since I’ve been involved in prison ministry on and off over the years and it really does open your eyes to a lot!

        Alise told me I had to read EVERYTHING you write, so I’m trying to catch up. :)

    2. Ed, it’s funny and interesting that you are commenting on my friend Shawn’s blog (we went to college together). I think i sent him to your blog after I found your book Coffeehouse
      Theology last summer in a used bookstore up here in BC, Canada. I enjoyed your book. Further, I am from Hatfield, a brick house off the corner of Main and Broad, right down the street from Biblical. My father used to work at Biblical, his name is Dave McCarty and he still lives and works from that same brick house doing discipliship ministry over email. Anyway, interesting small world of connections.

  6. Balanced, reflective critique, Shawn. It’s easy to throw stones in this sort of discussion, but your reflections are quick to acknowledge with sensitivity how easily it is to feel torn by the many emotions of this verdict.

  7. Shawn, thanks for your thoughtful post. It is easy to want to assign blame without having all the facts (I doubt those in the courtroom did — I know for certain that those of us watching the media do not). Thanks for the reminder to be more like Christ.

  8. Imagine a world where those that lack moral fiber were told “commit your crimes, because in the end you will be judged.” But if they do not believe they will be judged by their maker and they do believe they can get away with their crimes in this life, what will become of those of us that believe we will be judged, both here and hereafter? We will be their victims. Turn the cheek, I suppose. Suffer to improve our resume.

    I agree with your premise on this particular case. If 12 peers do not think the state proved murder beyond a reasonable doubt, then not guilty is the only alternative. It is how our system works. But a world that relies only on the divine for judgment is one that will be a very challenging one for law abiding, god fearing people to endure.

    That’s about as deep as I get. Nice post though Shawn.

    ~ Jeff

    1. You bring up a good point, Jeff:

      “But a world that relies only on the divine for judgment is one that will be a very challenging one for law abiding, god fearing people to endure.”

      I hope I didn’t come across as one who relies only on the divine, but more as someone who is willing to rely on the divine when temporal judgment seems to go missing.

  9. Reasonable doubt is a powerful concept. How many times have we had an American in another country and wished that our standard of justice applied there? With July 4th only having recently passed, we would do well to remember that the Bill of Rights was set up in response to that kind of poor “justice” that condemns prematurely.

  10. I have not been following the case but did watch the verdict. I was amazed at how many people lashed out on FB and Twitter after it was read. Perhaps they got it wrong, but I agree, I am so thankful that we live in country where the courts listen to the case and carefully weigh the evidence and people need to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

  11. As I’ve commented on many other posts… the things/evidence that was presented was by far enough to put her away for a long time for neglect at the very least. This verdict is a travesty considering how many people have been sentenced or put to death for far less disgusting crimes. Bribery, extortion, money, the only excuses for this verdict…

    Seriously, I am sick about it… they would have found evidence of drowning if it were that. Why would you cover up an accident? Why would you party and get a tattoo of “the beautiful life” and not even report your own daughter missing? Why would your car trunk smell of chloroform and have searches about homemade chloroform in your computer? Why would you be found guilty of lying about all of that, yet not guilty of even SOME form of neglect?? Bizarre

    1. Bizzare, yes. The jury has an obligation to uphold the law,and that they did.How can we find a guilty verdict when there is no scientific cause of death. We know you killed the baby,but we can’t for sure say how,cause we aren’t sure how she died? Maybe the accidental drowning was real,the tatoo was in honor of her Babes “beautiful life” partying cause she lost her mind? We will never know. That’s the problem. We just don’t know.that’s when we drop the stones, and let God handle it.

      1. Awesome piece of written word. And I agree with Kathie O.

        I was not surprised by verdict. And believe Beautiful life is tattoo for Caylee and Casey needs mental health therapy. The rest of the people who cry for her blood, scare me because that is not what this country does. We are better than that. A jury found her Not guilty, probably because of Reasonable Doubt, How, When, Where, Why, What means? They were never really answered. Is she guilty? I wasn’t on that jury. There is no stone in my hand.

        I hope no stone is in the hand of an American for the jury, the lawyers or for Casey by those who still cry for justice and blood. That is not the society we live in. We are better than this. Emotions are raw, I get. But we can’t live in a society that says jury by trial is not important. Vengeance, Vigilante, whatever. Casey will pay for Caylee’s death. She already is. Her daughter is forever gone. She will remember her everyday. And if she is Guilty, God is the true Judge. Like I said, who am I but human. No stone in my hand….

        This was powerful. You are an great writer, who makes in it home. I hope for everyone. I will be following your site from now on for sure. It’s the best, most reasonable, most thought out and most hit you where your heart is and make your mind follow story or comment I have heard since the verdict was read. Great post.

  12. Shawn, my comments on fb got more negative comments then I expected. The burden of proof lay with the prosecution and they did not supply what was needed for a conviction. That being said we are never going to know really what happened for sure and I really believe family knows more then they are saying – does everyone remember how the father attempted suicide in the middle of all this and how the mother changed her story. Or how about the parents showed support one minute and then changed it. There is one many who knows the truth and he is the same one who met Caylee at the door. There was not going to be earthly justice for the sweet little girl but she is with her father now.

  13. Thanks for your analogy. As onlookers its easy to stand on the sidelines and shout, ‘stone her’. I don’t have the responsibility or the burden to carry if I’m wrong. In the story you referenced, the woman was guilty and the ones holding the stones knew it. And yet, each one of them dropped their stone and left. Those watching could’ve picked up the stones. They didn’t do it then… so, why should I do it now?

  14. Shawn, I was so angry last nite when I found out she was found “not guilty”. I felt the same way several people that posted on FB etc. I even texted my best girl and said, “What did I tell you?!, they couldnt prove she did it or knows who did it and she got away with it”!
    I just had a gut feeling Sat when I saw how the ending arguments were headed that she was gonna walk.
    So today I stumbled upon your blog, thru Ira’s book interview, and read thru your heartfelt thots and the replys of all the readers. Slowly ever so slowly my mind & heart did a 180. Thank you for an insight to the other side of a “not guilty” verdict!
    It kinda reminds me of the OJ Simpson case. Poor man was not convicted by a jury of killing his lovely wife but he was convicted by his peers and the rest of the world. He never lived it down and to this day is a distraught soul.
    We, after all, are not the judge of deeds done by mankind, only one Person is.
    Blessings Mr Shawn!

  15. So well written. I DO hope this case brings attention to the fact that a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds in the US. The Casey Anthony trial was only one example of what can be happening all around us.

    As someone who works with families at risk, I know that child abusers don’t just wake up one day and decide to hurt a child. It doesn’t excuse their actions in any way, but it’s helped me to keep an eye out for friends and family who might seem overly stressed or even struggling with mental health issues which can be precursors to a terrifying spiral.

  16. I took a few steps back from the case itself and found myself troubled by the virulence of people’s righteous indignation. I wish they cared half as much about things they COULD do a damn thing about.

  17. Someday I hope to grow up and become half the writer you are, Shawn. :) This piece was so beautifully effective–measured, thoughtful, and shot through with grace. I wonder what kind of place our world would be if our leaders practiced “Shawn Smucker Diplomacy?”

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