The devil wasn’t dancing when the Casey Anthony verdict came in
We beg to differ with Nancy Grace. Her memorable comment about the not guilty verdict in the Casey Anthony case was “Somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight.” We’re based in Texas so we love colorful turns of phrase. In this case, however, we simply don’t happen to agree.
The Casey Anthony trial received massive (and daily, sometimes hourly) media attention. When the verdict was in, the defense attorneys complained about the negative nature of the attention. And research shows us that when pretrial publicity is negative, the prosecution benefits and the defense loses.
Time.com published commentary saying the verdict may be in, but the media trial is far from over. Social media commentary (fast and immensely negative) would tend to support the idea that the trial of public opinion is far from over as well. Thus far, jurors are staying quiet and not speaking to the media. That may change, but for now, they are maintaining their anonymity and privacy.
Shortly before the verdict came in, I was contacted by CNN.com to comment on the dynamics of jury deliberation. You can see my commentary here. I was pleased at the opportunity. There is so much negative commentary about this case that I welcomed the chance to talk about what I see on a day-to-day basis as jurors grapple with facts, evidence, opinion and beliefs.
“The jury in the Casey Anthony trial deliberated for two days before acquitting Anthony of the death of her young daughter. Those who have been focused on the trial are now going to shift to what such a rapid verdict means. At bottom, it means that the jury did the job it was sworn to do, and it didn’t require lengthy deliberation. To the 12 people who matter, the correct verdict was clear.”
As you will see if you follow the link to my CNN comments, I believe we can learn a lot from a quick verdict. We can learn about how values drove the verdict, about group cooperation, about the impact of evidence versus the impact of argument, and about the courage required to vote against public opinion. And perhaps most importantly, we can learn what happens when a group of twelve are sequestered from media pressure and focus (as they are instructed to do) on facts and evidence. And perhaps we can learn something about what we,too, might have seen if we had viewed the evidence more quietly, more thoughtfully.
Unlike us, the Casey Anthony jurors were shielded from the barrage of media coverage. They took their responsibilities very seriously. The Casey Anthony jurors looked beyond the surface impressions and considered the facts. They made their decisions based on consideration of the evidence and not the hyperbole.
And we salute them. They gave much more than time– they affirmed the value of the jury system.
Ruva, CL, & LeVasseur, MA (2011). Behind closed doors: The effect of pretrial publicity on jury deliberations. Psychology, Crime & Law.