Sunday, July 10, 2011

A State of Grace

"It is better (100) guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer." - Benjamin Franklin.

LET'S all take a deep breath. The Casey Anthony verdict was in all probability a miscarriage of justice. But to condemn our system of justice as some have done is absurd.

Despite a handful of high-profile cases such as Michael Jackson, O.J. and Robert Blake, the courts heed Franklin's words and get it right most of the time. And God help us if we resort to prosecution by punditry.

Which brings us to one of the most unfortunate aspects of the Anthony trial.

It will assuredly encourage more mindless and prejudicial chatter from cable TV's assorted talking heads who fancy themselves judge, jury and executioner.

Anthony will continue to be their bete noire for months, maybe years.

After that, there will be another missing child, another Tot Mom or Octomom, another tawdry murder case out there somewhere to exploit.

To be sure, I stand ready to defend their right to babble. The First Amendment guarantees free expression even from people you loathe.

But there is something fundamentally disturbing about the likes of Nancy Grace, the Headline News personality who, convinced of Anthony's guilt before her daughter's body was even discovered, used her bully pulpit to endlessly paint the defendant as an affront to motherhood and human decency.

No trial was necessary in Grace's view.

No balanced reporting here. Casey Anthony was guilty from Day One.

This was not new territory for Grace. She took a vehemently pro-prosecution stance against three Duke University lacrosse players accused of rape in a high-profile case. When they were acquitted and the district attorney disbarred, she was absent from her show and a substitute anchor announced the decision.

Grace's philosophy is shaped by the fact that she is a former prosecutor. I've never met a prosecutor in my professional career who wasn't filled with the spirit of indignant righteousness.

Take a zealous prosecutor, give her a television show and the freedom to hound a defendant without the restrictions of due process, and you have Nancy Grace, an avenging angel wrapped in the flag of truth, or at least her version of it.

That's not just my opinion. According to published accounts and court opinions, the Supreme Court of Georgia several times condemned Grace's conduct as a prosecutor. First, in a 1994 heroin trafficking case, Bell v. State, the court declared a mistrial, saying that Grace had "exceeded the wide latitude of closing argument" by drawing comparisons to unrelated murder and rape cases.

In 1997, the court was more severe, overturning the murder-arson conviction of businessman W. W. Carr in the death of his wife. While the court said its reversal was not due to her transgressions, since the case had turned primarily on circumstantial evidence, it nevertheless concluded "the conduct of the prosecuting attorney in this case demonstrated her disregard of the notions of due process and fairness, and was inexcusable."

Despite upholding the conviction she sought, a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a 2005 opinion that Grace "played fast and loose" with her ethical duties and failed to "fulfill her responsibilities" as a prosecutor in the 1990 triple murder trial of Herbert Connell Stephens. The court agreed that it was "difficult to conclude that Grace did not knowingly use ... (apparently false) testimony" from a detective that there were no other suspects, despite the existence of outstanding arrest warrants for other men.

And Grace's view of the Anthony defense? "They will do and say anything," she sniffed.

The ratings for Headline News have soared as a result of Grace's trial coverage.

According to Dylan Stableford, the media writer for Yahoo News, Grace's network has benefited greatly from its take on the trial. The network beat MSNBC in total viewers in June, Stableford reports, averaging 982,000 in prime time, an increase of 86 percent.

So she will live to rant again and is well on her way to becoming a media star, despite her failure to have Casey Anthony put to death.

I see "Dancing With the Stars" in her future. Or maybe even an appearance in the Rose Parade.

Imagine her popularity if she came down on the right side of a verdict.

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