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.