This post is one likely to inspire some controversy, but I’m okay with that. I also thought I was going to have some more time to post this, but I’m feeling a bit of a crunch because one of my professors is being published on this very issue and let’s be serious, he’s smarter than I am. Let’s hope if he ever finds this blog that I did his classes justice.

I didn’t heavily follow the Casey Anthony trial. I wasn’t at Jeremy status where I was completely out of the loop, but I knew enough. For various reasons, I couldn’t watch the trial live and was content to receive updates through Twitter. I was in a meeting with my supervisor, conveniently about to begin another lesson on how to effectively utilize Twitter and explore Tweetdeck, when that application blew up with the Casey Anthony verdict.

Needless to say, most people were shocked when the verdict was read.

I wasn’t.

I owe that to all the law classes I’ve taken. My personal belief on Casey Anthony’s guilt aside, people seem to be forgetting the idea that not guilty does not mean innocent.

Our legal/criminal justice system is an extremely interesting one. (At least, to me. But I already told you, I’m a hopeless law nerd.) Our system is labeled as an adversarial process, meaning that the two sides act in opposition to another, not to prove one right and the other wrong, but to aide the other parties in discovering the truth.

The legal standard utilized in criminal cases is that of beyond a reasonable doubt, which means that if the prosecution can’t produce a case that doesn’t cause a reasonable individual to doubt or question some part of it, the jury is obligated to find that individual not guilty. (That in and of itself is ridiculous. How do you even begin to define reasonable doubt?) The defense doesn’t have to prove the prosecution wrong, they just need to punch enough holes in the other side – in essence, creating/identifying/producing that reasonable doubt.

Not guilty doesn’t mean innocent. It just means some variation of the prosecution not doing as great a job as they could have or not having enough evidence, witnesses, etc. to eliminate the principle of reasonable doubt.

I came across an interesting article, where the prosecutor and a brave alternate juror spoke out about the case (Note: the article has been updated to include other juror input, through which they make the same clarification that not guilty doesn’t mean they found her innocent.) While surprised by the verdict, even the prosecutor agreed the greatest obstacle was the lack of a cause of death. That’s enough to punch a hole in any case, let alone one constructed on what’s been deemed circumstantial evidence.

I’m fascinated by this entire process. Part of the reason I can’t pick a research topic is because I want to know everything about this damned, crazy system.

Regardless of the outcome or my feelings about it (of which, I’m not sure I have any, really) I respect the jurors. While I’m still a little hesitant about just over ten hours of deliberation for a six-week case, they proved to abide by the responsibility they were given: to determine if Casey Anthony was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

I can empathize with them for all the time I’ve spent on Lehigh’s conduct board. I’m aware some of the decisions I’ve made have cost me some relationships, but at the end of the day, it’s a price I paid. What makes it even more difficult is to remain silent. To not be able to defend yourself, to explain your actions or to address rumors that result from the case you’re on. I’ve left cases where individuals appeared to get a slap on the wrist in comparison to what they were charged with. The rumor mill at its finest can exacerbate some of this, but there have been a handful of cases where I’ve left sick to my stomach about everything involved.

We won’t know what went on during the jury’s deliberations, but it shouldn’t matter. They made their decision, the same way the media and public made theirs.

Casey Anthony was tried in two courts: the traditional and the court of public opinion.

The traditional found her not guilty, the court of public opinion said otherwise. And in some ways, the latter may be more damaging.

She’ll always be labeled as a child murderer. She’s leaving prison, but she’ll enter social isolation. It’s hard to imagine her forming relationships, much less maintaining those with her family. I can only imagine what would become of her apparent desire to have more children, whether biological or adopted.

But the media that crucified her will be the same ones to save her. She’ll undoubtedly earn money from books, public appearances, etc. I’d encourage you all to read Jeremy’s post from yesterday. Think about the message this type of behavior sends. We identify this woman as a murderer, but we’ll continue to financially support her through this morbid curiosity we have.

Wouldn’t our time and attention be better focused elsewhere?



On A Serious Note

I was all set to write about the equality #win that just took place in New York, until I went to work this weekend and saw some of the paper headlines and realized that’s it’s about time to write about something hiding in my closet first.

What were the headlines? From some of the New York papers: a woman tried to commit suicide but was grabbed by police after she jumped. From some of the local beach papers in New Jersey: a young man committed suicide while in prison for drug possession. These are things that I imagine people enjoy with their morning coffee.

I studied this during my Media Ethics and Law class. No one tell Professor Olson, but I don’t exactly remember anything we talked about. For what I think is a valid reason though.

I’m a suicide survivor.

What this means is that someone in my close family (by blood or by fate) has cause of death: suicide listed on their death certificate. I’m extremely careful in my wording here because the terminology of “committing suicide” is contentious in most “survivor circles.” (I’m wading through this new little unwanted club I’m in as best as I can.)

I’d been toying with this post for awhile. It’s part of who I am now, this isn’t a piece of my identity I can change. However, I now notice myself jumping or starting when I hear people make offhand comments about how they’d rather kill themselves than go to an exam or they could slit their wrists out of boredom. I’m not off to to get up on a self-righteous podium because I know I don’t deserve to be there. I’ve made a couple of those comments, not that extreme, but they’ve been said. What I seek is understanding.

There’s a stigma associated with suicide that continues to boggle my mind. It’s a large part as to why I keep this particular identity card so close to my chest. There’s a good level of variation with that stigma as well, one I stumbled on in a political science class last semester. For some people, like war veterans, the stigma is eased – because of their public experiences and the sheer magnitude of feelings from participating in a war, these are more valid situations for suicide than someone suffering from a mental illness. Those with mental illness are viewed as quitters; they just gave up.

(As an aside, PTSD, which most war veterans come back with…is a mental illness. So where’s the difference? And more importantly, who are any of us to make judgments or evaluations on people’s lives. Everyone faces a daily struggle of some kind, only you can evaluate your own struggles and successes. No one else.)

I haven’t had this role long, but I daresay stigma is 95% of the problem. It’s because of this stigma that people are less inclined to get help. It’s probably because of that that my family, friends and I had no idea this particular individual was suffering. The other 5% is probably just a lack of understanding. Mental illness is complicated. It’s usually defined as a spectrum, making it difficult to define if you’re having a bad day or if there’s an underlying issue.

I don’t know what it will take to fix either, but I have this newfound proactive nature that fuels me to make sure no one else will find themselves in this situation. And now I speak selfishly of myself because that’s how this whole thing started. I don’t know how to get help for those suffering, but for those who we’ve already lost: respect their families and friends.

Do you know how hard it is to mourn the loss of a family member or dear friend, in general? Let alone when suicide is the cause? Fortunately, (because this particular loss isn’t discussed in that context) none of us have had to hear those comments, at least not directly.

That Media Ethics class? There was an hour we sat discussing what those headlines and pictures do for media and the conversation turned to the families. And there was a student who was particularly…I don’t know what the politically correct term is, but I wanted to hit her. I don’t usually have these emotions (I was also still fairly emotionally charged from the entire situation.)

Comments like the person was selfish or wasn’t thinking of their family and friends, that they must have been a weak human being to be able to “man up and just deal like everyone else.” Comments like the person wasn’t loved or just starved for attention. Those are just a snippet, but those are just the seeds. There have been many more, and far uglier comments.

Who is that helping? Certainly not me. And certainly not anyone else in this awful club.

All I ask is: think before you speak. You never know who’s wandering among you and what they’ve suffered or may be going through. Whether intended or not, your words and actions have an impact that reach a farther net that you may have intended to cast.

Educate yourselves. That’s part of the battle.

Those of you who may be suffering from mental illness, or think you might be, there’s help available. There’s also a network of supporters, who walk quietly next to you.