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Monday, July 18, 2011

Casey Anthony: Not Guilty -- July 5, 2011

Like many people, I have been paying attention to the Casey Anthony murder trial. I have seen and read snippets about the case since her daughter was purported to be missing 3 years ago. As the trial commenced, I began to pay more attention to the news coverage. After the Roundhouse went on lockdown on the night of June 30th, I began to watch all of the court proceedings as well as much of the commentary live. My interest in the case was due to my own experiences with the criminal justice system. I wanted to see if her trial was like mine, and if justice prevailed.

When I was arrested in connection to the Palatine Browns Chicken murders, I thought I was the focus of enormous negative media publicity, but it did not compare to that of Casey Anthony. I do not believe any murder case in the history of the U.S. received as much overwhelming and comprehensive coverage. Even serial killers that continue to live in infamy decades later, such as John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, or Jeffrey Dahmer, did not receive the pervasive mass media spotlight as the Casey Anthony trial. I tend to believe the case even surpassed the trial of O.J. Simpson, who was a professional athlete and actor accused of a double homicide. New technology such as social media, live in-court video coverage, and various new television stations that almost continually engage in hyped sensationalistic tabloid journalism have made what years ago would have been a minor locally-read story into one that riveted the attention of most of America.

Fortunately for Casey Anthony, a jury was brought in from outside Orange County Florida. This was the least that could be done in an attempt to find jurors who were not so completely bombarded with biased news media coverage. Also, a jury from outside the area would not be so personally connected to the community, and could be more objective. My trial attorneys argued strongly with the judge for a change of venue outside of the Chicago metropolitan area, but the motion was denied. Jurors from the area were chosen to be on my jury. Some of them, I cannot but believe, were negatively influenced by the heavily prejudicial media onslaught in the area linking me to the Palatine Massacre.

Three years ago when I first heard about Casey Anthony, I did not think too highly of her. As her own defense lawyer would admit, she was a slut and a liar. In high school, she had numerous sexual partners, and to this day, it is uncertain who is the father of her child. I give her credit for not giving her baby up for adoption, or far worse, having an abortion. However, this may be due to the heavy persuasion of her parents, Cindy and George Anthony. They are the ones who helped care for and raise Caley and gave her mother support while she went out regularly partying, even just after her daughter's death. Casey seemed to have no values, and live a carefree and unscrupulous life. The lies she told nearly everyone made me think she was a fake, superficial person, possibly living in a fantasy world.

Weeks ago, when the murder trial just began, someone I spoke to on the telephone told me she believed Casey Anthony was innocent. I responded that simply seeing photos of her acting like a whore, grinding on the dance floor with women and various men, made me want to send her to the gallows. However, I said this as an indictment of her values, or lack thereof, and not of her guilt or innocence. I had only just begun to get into the case and study the evidence. Despite her lies and actions after her daughter's death, I had not made up my mind. Considering I was wrongfully convicted of murder, I did not come to conclusions of another person's guilt without full knowledge of the facts, and great contemplation.

I asked my cellmate, Josh, what he thought of the Casey Anthony murder case. He began to rant loudly that she was guilty and should burn. I was surprised by not only how convinced he was that she killed her daughter, but by how passionate he was about it. I had just casually asked him his opinion, but he went on and on about the matter. After almost a half hour, he began talking to me about his twin daughters, and if the mother of his children would have done what Casey did, he would have killed her himself. When I commented about the dubious direct evidence, he almost yelled at me that I do not have any children and have no perspective. Contrarily, I thought I had a better perspective. I was objective and not swayed by emotion.

Most people seem to believe there is no way a mother could not report the death of her child without being complicit in their murder. Casey Anthony went on for a month lying about the whereabouts of her daughter. She told her mother, and then later the police, various stories including how a nanny had taken the child. These stories were all learned to be lies, and the authorities arrested her even before the body was found. After Caley's dead body was discovered in some woods not far away from the Anthony home, the case seemed like a slam dunk for prosecutors, although the coroner could not determine the cause of death.

The lies of Casey Anthony reminded me of those of my co-defendant, Robert Faraci. He and his wife told the police various different accounts about the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders, the Fawcett murder, and some other crimes. There was no Zanny the nanny in their stories, but I and others, were implicated. While Caley was found dead in the woods close to the Anthony home, Fawcett's corpse was discovered within a mile of where my co-defendant once lived with his parents in Barrington, Illinois. Furthermore, like in the Casey Anthony case, the coroner could not determine the cause of death. It was not until months later, after my co-defendant was arrested and questioned, that the police learned the victim was shot. My co-defendant was acquitted, and there was much more evidence against him.

While watching the live coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial, I paid attention to the way she carried herself and how she dressed. Gone were the short skirts and other revealing party clothes. As I suspected, she dressed conservatively and usually with a colorful, though not flashy, dress shirt. Her long dark brown hair did not flow freely, but was pulled back into a bun to expose her dumbo-like ears. She was extremely emotional throughout most of the proceedings that I watched. Casey also responded in movements, gestures, or simply silently mouthing comments about testimony or arguments of the prosecutor.

Casey Anthony's appearance and demeanor were a great contrast to myself. I sat there throughout the vast majority of my trial stoic, and expressed no emotion. I also wore a cold grey suit the entire time, with only a change of tie every now and then. My attorney bought me a colorful weird-looking tie which I was hesitant to wear, however, now I know why he did this. I should have taken notice of my co-defendant's dress and posture, despite him being warned by the judge to restrain his body language. My co-defendant wore casual, but nice, sweaters that made him look more personable, friendly, and youthful. He continually reacted to testimony, and in court proceedings. Again, I was a stark contrast with my slicked back hair, stiff suit, and emotionless demeanor. I was too exhausted to play the O.J. Simpson role, even if I could ever be an actor. Recently, some wise-guy asked me when I was going to do away with the serial killer face. I said to him what other face would I then wear?

I paid close attention to Casey Anthony's lead trial attorney, Jose Baez. In the media, he was criticized for making claims in opening statements that could never be proven. Many trial critics said he was making a colossal blunder putting forth a case instead of just poking holes in the prosecution's case. I said to my cellmate, "At least he is passionately defending his client." My cellmate responded, "He's an incompetent jackass, and just because he vigorously defended Casey Anthony did not mean he was not an idiot with no experience." He predicted steadfastly that Casey was going to be convicted.

I did not continue the conversation, but thought if I had Jose Baez instead of William Von Hoene, I would not have spent all these years in prison. Both attorneys had very limited experience, but I knew Baez would have thoroughly eviscerated the lying cop who claimed I confessed to lending my car to my co-defendant. I also knew he would have put on all the witnesses who could contradict and discredit the interrogating officer. There would have been no passive defense telling my jury that the state's main witness was telling the truth. Baez would have charged forward on the offense, and not sat back smugly at trial and been cozy with the prosecutor. My attorney had drinks with the prosecutor, and went golfing with the judge.

Casey Anthony did not take the stand in her own defense, and many people thought taking it would be the only way she could prove to the jury that she was innocent. However, this was not necessary. Not only was the state's case weak and circumstantial, but her lawyer spoke to the jury on her behalf. There was little to be gained by putting her on the stand to be attacked by the prosecutor on cross examination. Because she seemed to be a pathological liar, furthermore, whatever she would say the jury would have been skeptical of anyway.

Contrary to Casey Anthony, I was credible and had to take the stand. My attorney never advanced a proactive defense. William Von Hoene never put on any defense at all. Instead, he argued to the jury that the state's case did not make me accountable for the actions of my co-defendant. Furthermore, instead of speaking to the jury on my behalf, he actually told them I knew of my co-defendant's intention to kill the victim, and that I lent him my car anyway! This was the exact opposite of what I wanted to tell the jury, and certainly was not true. While my attorney cross examined the cop who created my supposed confession, he would return to the defense table to look at his notes briefly. I said to him, "What the @#$% are you doing?! Get back up there and cut him down!" I was told to be quiet, and then later, in a legal visiting room, he threatened to withdraw from my case if I insisted on testifying.

At my trial, my defense team only had one witness. They called a handwriting expert to tell the jury that all of the bad checks were written and signed by the victim, and a few by Robert Faraci and his wife, Rose. The state's attorney had argued that Fawcett was killed to prevent him from ever telling authorities about the check writing scheme. This was an absurd hypothesis. Why would the victim tell police about his own check scam? It was Fawcett who opened up the checking account and deposited phony checks into the account to make the bank believe he had plenty of money. I was outraged, however, that my counsel did not put on the witnesses who were waiting outside the courtroom to testify that my car and I were 50 miles away from the crime scene on the day and time Fawcett was killed. Also, the numerous witnesses that were available to contest the interrogating officer's credibility in general were never called to testify.

In the Casey Anthony trial, her defense team put on witness after witness to rebut the state's forensic experts, which was the strongest part of the prosecution's case. The motive presented by the prosecution was elusive, in my opinion. The prosecutor theorized that Casey killed her 2-year-old to live "the beautiful life." Casey, according to the state, felt burdened to be taking care of her baby and wanted to go out and have fun. From what I saw, she was able to do this anyway, with or without her daughter. Her parents seemed more than willing to babysit, if not even adopt the child. The state offered a secondary motive that Caley was getting older and soon would be able to talk and tell her grandparents what a poor or abusive mother Casey was. During the trial, I saw nothing that demonstrated Casey was abusive. In fact, photos and testimony that were presented showed just the opposite.

On Sunday, I watched closing arguments. Jeff Ashton began for the prosecution and after him, the defense lawyer, Jose Baez, spoke to the jury. His arguments were very meticulous and went on for about 6 hours. He used up so much time that Linda Drane Burdick was not able to re-argue for the state until the next day. I was very curious to see how the prosecutor acted. Did he lie about the law or the evidence? Did he use theatrics and emotional appeals? Did he make unlawful comments about the defendant not taking the stand? Did he use anything and everything he could to gain a conviction in this high profile case, as my prosecutor did? No, I did not notice the same misconduct as occurred in my trial. Jeff Ashton relied mostly on trying to reason with the jury. He probably did not think he had to use the unscrupulous tactics used by my prosecutor. Ashton was smug, if not arrogant, with his case. I noticed how he laughed and made gestures during the defense lawyer's passionate arguments. He thought the defense arguments were ludicrous. He was greatly mistaken.

The prosecution is able to make arguments twice--once before the defense, and then once after. This gives them a clear advantage. I thought Jose Baez may have made a mistake taking so long that Linda Drane Burdick could not address the jury immediately after him but would have the spotlight to herself the following day. Having the last word is rather important because it is usually what sticks in the minds of the jurors when they go into deliberations. Burdick ended her argument asking the jury who had to gain by Caley's death, and she posted two photos of Casey Anthony on the wall. One was of her dancing provocatively with another woman. The other was a photo of the tattoo she got not long after her daughter was dead. It read Bella Vita, which means the beautiful life in Italian.

Another great advantage of being able to argue to the jury last is that the defense cannot respond. Television commentators and former prosecutors spoke about how the final argument is tactically employed, and I was fully aware of how underhanded it can be. My prosecutor lied about, and manipulated, the evidence presented and the law of accountability. All my attorney could do was raise objections. The judge told the jury initially that the prosecutor's arguments were not evidence, and they should rely on their own recollections of testimony. Finally, the judge stopped proceedings while my attorney argued for a mistrial , or at least to give curative instructions to the jury about the law of accountability. The judge denied my attorney's request, and on appeal, the appellate court agreed that the prosecutor had lied, but they were unwilling to give me a new trial despite the egregious misconduct.

After closing arguments, the jury went into deliberations. I was watching Headline News: HLN and they had continued coverage. They also had a deliberation clock to add to the suspense. It ticked off not only hours, but minutes and every second. The commentators on HLN mentioned how the jury was dressed better today and this they speculated meant the jury would come back with a quick verdict. Twelve plastic chairs were shown empty where the media sought to grill them as soon as they were done. Almost everyone on the TV program thought a quick verdict meant guilty. The consensus was Casey Anthony would soon be facing the death penalty.

My cellmate and I guessed on how long the jury would be out. He said he was found guilty in 3 hours, and he thought the case against Casey was even more compelling. Unless the jury wants to make it look like they contemplated the case, they would find her guilty that day. I know the belief that the longer a jury is out, the greater the possibility of an acquittal or a hung jury. However, in my dual jury trial, my co-defendant was acquitted in a few hours, and I was convicted after 3 days. I guessed that would be her fate as well.

Yesterday was Independence Day, and in the evening I sat at the steel stool in the back of my cell looking out my window at the fireworks displays. I contemplated about how this country was once a great nation that citizens could be proud of, and when "the land of the free and home of the brave" were not just empty words in the national anthem. I thought about the Declaration of Independence that was signed on that day in 1776. It was a document that condemned the oppression and tyranny of Britain and how America was breaking away in the name of freedom, liberty, and the inalienable rights of man. How did this fit with the Big Brother police state that exists today? How did this fit with the prison industrial complex where about 3 million people languish in captivity, and millions more are on parole, probation, court supervision, work release, or have other liberties restricted? How did this fit with the country's overreaching and broken justice system where many people who should not have been prosecuted or convicted have been?

Casey Anthony was not a person I liked. She was a party whore, a superficial, shallow person, and possibly a pathological liar. However, despite this, I did not think the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor presented testimony that the word "chloroform" was searched numerous times on the family's personal computer. A smell of death apparently emanated from the trunk of her car. The body of Caley was found near the home in an area used previously by the Anthony family to discard dead animals. Duct tape and garbage bags apparently from the Anthony home were used to wrap and dump the body. Most of all, the prosecution relied on a mother who suspiciously hid the death of her child. However, the prosecution in its entire case did not answer the crucial questions of "where, when, why", or most importantly, "how." I tended to believe Caley died an accidental death, and Casey wanted to hide her negligence or the death from her mother. However, I do not know. Possibly she did kill Caley intentionally, but there was no evidence that made this case "beyond a reasonable doubt." On Independence Day, I hoped that Casey Anthony would be set free.

Today, I did not turn on my TV until the afternoon to catch the latest news on the murder case. Unlike my cellmate and some media commentators, I did not believe there would be a quick verdict. However, it was not long when it was announced that a decision had been made, and it would be revealed at 2:15. Most everyone seemed to have their belief reinforced that she should be found guilty. Even I thought this was a bad sign, and was sad for Casey. I knew all too well what it was like to wait on a verdict that had the possibility of a death sentence. It was miserable going to court every day waiting alone while my fate rested in the jury's hands. I also knew how it felt to be told there was a decision, and to be sitting behind the defense table for what seemed an eternity for the verdict to be read. I watched Casey intently while she went through that which I did many years ago, but still vividly remember.

The media commentators talked about how all defendants, even the most powerful people, had enormous anxiety and their hearts pounded in apprehension of a verdict. Casey looked depressed, but also very nervous. She bit her nails furiously. I wondered if she thought she was doomed, as I did, when waiting for my verdict to be read. Because my attorney had not put on any defense and I was the focus of an enormous prejudicial and emotionally inflammatory high profile case, I was probably not on edge as most people, but there was always a sliver of hope that I would be acquitted. As the verdicts of "not guilty" began to be read off, I noticed a burden of weight being lifted off Casey. It seemed not to register with her immediately, but finally she was jubilant, smiling as well as crying, and then hugging her defense team. I was happy for her. She would not have to go through the tortuous existence I have endured for many years. The justice system failed me, but it did not fail Casey.

I expected the judge to dramatically tell Casey Anthony that she was free to go. However, the judge set a sentencing date for the four counts of lying to police. I was not aware that lying to the police was even a crime until earlier during the trial when I heard the list of charges against her. Certainly, lying to the cops I thought must be a low category misdemeaner, punishable at most with probation. However, I learned that Florida law permitted judges to give one year in prison, and every count could run consecutively. This judge apparently was going to max her out. However, she had already been in the county jail for over 3 years, and this must be included in her sentence.

After the developments in the courtroom and the media commentators expressed shock with the verdict, defense attorney Cheney Mason spoke to the television news. He told the reporters that he hoped they learned their lesson. For three years the media had been assassinating his client on TV, and now she had been vindicted. He criticized the "massive media bias, prejudice, and incompetent talking heads." He made a subtle inference of suing the media for slander and defamation of character. I thought it would be nice if the media would learn a lesson and be more fairly balanced and substantiate the information more carefully before reporting it. In some other countries, the media is not allowed to give their opinions and commentary on criminal cases. In the arrest of Strauss-Kahn for rape, the French were surprised by the U.S. practice of perp-walks and how the media showed him in handcuffs. None of this is allowed in their country. Despite the scolding by the defense lawyer and how many media pundits were wrong and intentionally biased, I doubt this will ever stop the sensationalistic prejudicial tabloid journalism in America.

There was a large tent outside the courthouse that was prepared for the prosecutor and police to give their victory speeches. It was empty for a long time until Lawson Lamar from the state's attorney's office spoke. He said the case was never about Casey, but about seeking justice, and he respects the verdict of the jury. He also went on to say pretrial publicity had caused them to get a jury from another county, and that a lot of taxpayers expense was the medias' fault. I thought what he said was very proper and exactly what the attitude of the state's attorney's office should be. However, I also knew it was all spin and lies.

I know very well that prosecutor Jeff Ashton took his job personally, despite what he may say later. I believe he hated Casey Anthony, just like my prosecutor James McKay hated me. That tent was not there for the state's attorney's office to give a speech on ethics or justice, but for Ashton to gloat after he achieved victory. I also knew the prosecutor probably vehemently argued against a change of venue, and worked hand in glove with the media. Before my trial, the police and prosecutor's office leaked prejudicial information to the press. They continued to tell the media, off the record, that I committed the Palatine Brown's Chicken murders and much, much more. The prosecutor in the Casey Anthony murder trial was an ass, and although he was not nearly as bad as James McKay, I was glad to see that cocky and smug look on his face disappear when the verdict was read. I was not fooled by the speech of the state's attorney's spokesman.

The jury chairs set up by the media were never filled. Not one of the 12 who decided Casey Anthony's fate wanted to talk about their deliberations, the evidence, or their opinions. However, Russel Huckler, an alternative juror who sat through all the trial, did later speak to the media. He said the state did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and he would have also acquitted Casey Anthony of murder. He tended to believe Caley died in a horrible accident, and he saw no motive for her mother to kill her. The person interviewing him grilled him with questions. However, Russel Huckler seemed to be an intelligent man who deeply contemplated the evidence. He was able to articulate his thoughts well, and I agreed with the vast preponderance of them. Despite how many in the media and public could not fathom a not guilty verdict, this was the appropriate decision. If Huckler is representative of the rest of the jurors, I am impressed. They strictly followed the law, and were not swayed by emotions or the media.

As I write this journal entry, I am listening to Nancy Grace on HLN talk about "Tot Mom." How I would like to punch her in her plastic, makeup-caked face. She is one of the most annoying talking heads Cheney Mason spoke about. This woman is never objective or fair in reporting the facts. Contrarily, she is always opinionated, slanted against the defendants. There is not one time I have seen her side with a person accused of a crime. She was once a prosecutor, and she still continues to be one. However, now she is not restrained by the law, and can spew forth whatever innuendo, rumor, slander, or unsupported sensationalism she wants. She is criminal tabloid journalism at its worst.

Since the not guilty verdict, many people have been voicing their opinions. It seems most believe Casey Anthony got away with murder. I wonder if they based their opinions on the actual evidence presented at trial, or on people such as Nancy Grace. I also wonder if their opinion was great enough to pass the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt". Many times, I may have suspicions, or even think someone is guilty, but that does not mean I would find them guilty in a court of law. There is a much higher standard of proof when a person's life or liberty is to be taken away. Many people may not understand what it is truly like to live in prison and to have their freedoms stripped from them. I know what torments awaited Casey Anthony if she was convicted, and I was not so quick to judge her. There is a reason why they say it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent person to be convicted. Unfortunately, the mood of the country seems to be contrary. Possibly, when they or a loved one is innocent and behind bars, they may have a different perspective.