article

07.07.11

What Casey's Defense Got Right

With news today that she'll be out of jail on Wednesday, Casey Anthony can teach Amanda Knox about beating a murder charge.

As a doe-eyed, attractive young woman caught up in a sensational murder trial, Casey Anthony reminded many people of Amanda Knox—right up until her verdict was read by the jury, that is.

At that point, the two women’s fates diverged sharply. Knox received a 26-year sentence for murdering her roommate Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. Anthony, on the other hand, was acquitted of charges that she killed her daughter Caylee in Florida (though she was convicted of giving false information to law enforcement.) The two cases are different in nature, but they are eerily similar in circumstance.

Neither Anthony nor Knox seemed to act like assassins at their trials, and the fact that they’re both women made their crimes unusual. Both became tabloid darlings thanks to their own bizarre behavior after the murders they were accused of committing, and both cases continue to thrive in the crime-obsessed blogosphere, where devoted followers endlessly pontificate about law and disorder under fabricated monikers.

Both women misled investigators during their initial interrogations—Knox by falsely accusing an innocent man, and Anthony through myriad mistruths that made her look like a pathological liar. Each woman suffered bias (both in the court of law and the court of public opinion) because of behavior so outlandish that it helped net each of them a denial of bail or house arrest. Instead, both young women had to spend the two to three years between their arrests and trials sitting in jail. And though each case had the requisite corpse, no murder weapon or clear sense of the homicides’ exact circumstances ever emerged.

So why is Anthony about to go free and Knox still sweltering in a jail cell?  Maybe Anthony (and her lawyers) can teach Knox (and hers) a few lessons as she readies for the final phase and verdict of her appeal.

First, it must be noted that the Italian and American systems are vastly different. In the U.S., suspects are innocent until proven guilty, but in Italy (unofficially, of course) it is clearly the other way around. Time, too, worked against Knox but in Anthony’s favor. Once it started in January of 2009, Knox’s Italian court, in typical European fashion, sat once or twice a week for a whole year, taking a six-week summer break, and the jury was free to read about the case between trial dates. By contrast, Anthony’s Florida jury was sequestered, locked down in a hotel, and the judge wrapped the whole case up in less than six weeks, even working on the 4th of July holiday. Circumstantial evidence and character assassination played a major role in both cases, but it weighed more on Knox, where the concept of reasonable doubt is more abstract. In Italy, two professional judges guided the discussions based on their vast knowledge of jurisprudence, leading the Italian jury to a guilty verdict. The American jury deliberated alone with little legal guidance.

Knox’s lawyers—astonishingly, most American prosecutors would agree—didn’t coach her.

But while the Italian justice system may have tilted against Knox, her conviction is more pliable than Anthony’s would have been. Had Anthony been convicted of murder in Florida, she would not have enjoyed the automatic appeal (expected to wrap up this fall) that Knox is getting in Italy. The appellate judge in Knox’s case granted an independent review of key forensic evidence that could free Knox, sending her home by Christmas. Had Anthony been convicted, any appeal would have been a long shot, and most certainly not the game-changer that Knox’s appeal is. If Knox’s first appeal fails, she gets another chance within a year or two. Anthony might have been executed in the same time frame.

But judicial system particulars aside, there is one stark difference that may have made an enormous impact on both juries: the coaching of the two defendants. Anthony’s defense clearly instructed her to behave and dress like a true murder suspect. In the jury trial—the one that counted—she was makeup-free and buttoned up, her hair pulled back tight in a school marm bun, crying into wads of tissues at climactic moments and nodding her head against testimony she disagreed with.

Knox’s lawyers—astonishingly, most American prosecutors would agree—didn’t coach her. In her original trial, where she was convicted of murder, she wore her long hair down and donned Beatles t-shirts and snug jeans. She smiled at the cameras and passed chocolates to her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito. Her lawyers let her “be who she is,” as they often told The Daily Beast. It was a huge miscalculation. Knox behaved like a spectator throughout her trial, doodling in a notebook and rarely lifting an eyebrow to witnesses except to give them the occasional quizzical smirk. Anthony, for her part, sniffled in fear and stared wide-eyed at the court, looking like an innocent woman who couldn’t believe what was happening to her. Knox, meanwhile, shrugged her shoulders in defiance and disrespect.

Even last month, when her co-accomplice Rudy Guede placed her at the scene of the murder, Knox, incredibly, didn’t protest.  Anthony, we can expect, would have been coached to show a perfectly fitting emotion in response.

But in the end, the two trials did share one thing in common: their verdicts outraged the majority of their followers—Knox’s because she was convicted in a trial that relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, and Anthony’s because she was not convicted in a trial that relied on much of the same. Which just goes to show that justice may be blind, but she’s not without a strong sense of nationality.