A Tale of Two Tragedies

Any­one who doesn’t live under a rock has been bom­barded by a media assault over the last few days regard­ing the acquit­tal of Casey Anthony. For weeks, news about the trial has been per­va­sive on sites like CNN where appar­ently their mar­ket research shows that the peo­ple who go to CNN.com just can’t get enough of a lurid trial about a woman who may or may not have killed her daugh­ter. Yes­ter­day, after delib­er­at­ing less than 11 hours, the jury found Anthony not guilty on the charge of first degree mur­der though they did find her guilty of 4 counts of pro­vid­ing false infor­ma­tion to law enforce­ment offi­cials. When the ver­dict was read, the reac­tions were imme­di­ate through­out the media. By most counts, almost every­one assumed that Anthony was guilty and would be found as such. The not guilty ver­dict caused a firestorm from peo­ple won­der­ing how the jury could have come to that con­clu­sion. Com­par­isons to the OJ trial showed up sev­eral times in my Twit­ter feed and in gen­eral, peo­ple seemed to be actively dis­gusted at this so-called fail­ure of the jus­tice system.

Last Fri­day, in a court­room in Mon­ti­cello, Mis­sis­sippi 600 some miles away from the Anthony trial, judge Pren­tiss Har­rell was accept­ing a new plea bar­gain in the case of Cory Maye. In 2001, police made a wrong door raid on Mr. Maye’s home on the day after Christ­mas at just after mid­night. Mr. Maye, sleep­ing at the time in the liv­ing room, his tod­dler daugh­ter asleep in his bed­room, said that he did not know that the men break­ing into his house were police offi­cers. He fired back in self-defense killing one of the offi­cers. He was tried and con­victed of cap­i­tal mur­der and sen­tenced to death. He pro­ceeded to serve 10 years, 2 of them on death row. Unfor­tu­nately, many of the facts sur­round­ing his case land on the side of Mr. Maye’s inno­cence. In Novem­ber of 2009, the Mis­sis­sippi State Court of Appeals found that he should be granted a new trial say­ing that the trial court was wrong to turn down his request to move the trial back to Jef­fer­son Davis County where the alleged offense had occurred. Before a new trial hap­pened, pros­e­cu­tors and Maye’s defense team came to the plea bar­gain of him plead­ing guilty to a lesser charge. He was sen­tenced 10 years and released based on time served.

What do these two tri­als have in com­mon? In both, it appeared that the evi­dence regard­ing the alleged offense and the actual ver­dict were at odds. In one case, the mother of a dead tod­dler is going free. In the other, a cop, a good cop by all accounts, is dead. But he was killed by a man who thought he was being attacked and that man served 10 years of his life, 2 on death row, for a crime that never should have hap­pened if police had done their job cor­rectly. These are both tragedies. But in at least one of them, the Maye case, jus­tice was even­tu­ally served at least to the degree it could be. The evi­dence against Cory Maye was weak at best. If you read the Rea­son arti­cle linked above, you’ll see that the jury had to essen­tially sus­pend all belief in the facts at hand to find Cory Maye guilty of cap­i­tal mur­der, a charge that requires the defen­dant to have known that the man he was shoot­ing was a police offi­cer. On top of that, if the raid was ille­gal, which much of the evi­dence sup­ports, Maye had every right to defend him­self under Mis­sis­sippi law.

In the Cory Maye case, we have two def­i­nite tragedies, one that a cop is dead and two that Maye lost 10 years of his life for a crime he likely didn’t com­mit. In the Anthony case, we have one tragedy, that of the death of Caylee and a pos­si­ble tragedy if her mother actu­ally com­mit­ted the crime for which she was acquit­ted. If she did, only she will have to live with that now. But if we are to believe in our jus­tice sys­tem, it’s far bet­ter to have that tragedy go unknown and unpun­ished than it is for a man like Cory Maye to have been found guilty of cap­i­tal mur­der. In Cory’s case, one tragedy has been cor­rected. It’s because of who we are, what we believe in and a jus­tice sys­tem that sup­ports both that we have to accept the pos­si­ble unpun­ished tragedy in the Anthony case.

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