Friday, September 2, 2011

Who Failed The Jury?

Although not so long ago, it seems like old news that a jury acquitted Casey Anthony of murdering her daughter. For what seemed like 15 min. of fame after the verdict was handed down, everyone in the legal community had an opinion about what happened.

Some thought that our justice system prevailed because she was in fact innocent, others thought that the justice system prevailed because regardless of guilt or innocence, the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" was not met by the prosecution. Yet others felt that regardless of technicalities, the jurors should have acted on what they felt and what the jurors felt was guilt. Guilt for acquitting Casey Anthony because of the guilt they felt emanating from Casey Anthony. The problem was that they could not hang that guilt on a nail of reason.

In an interview one of the jurors said, "I did not say she was innocent . . . I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be." The same juror also said, "It was because we were sick to our stomach to get that verdict. We were crying, and not just the women. It was emotional and we weren't ready. We wanted to do it with integrity and not contribute to the sensationalism of the trial." This reaction is unique. The jury went against their feelings and demanded that the prosecution prove the case with reason.

Perhaps the most shocking statement made by a juror was, "I'm not saying I believe the defense. Obviously, it wasn't proven so I'm not taking that and speculating at all. But it's easier for me logically to get from point A to point B via the defense argument." For a prosecutor this must be the worst kind of thing to hear. The jurors wanted to find her guilty, but because the prosecution did not present a story that was easy to follow, they couldn't. This sounds like a communication problem.

One more incredibly interesting piece of information is that apparently the defense used a Palm Beach graphics company to help them communicate visually to the jury. I have not seen these graphics, nor do I know if they were helpful to the jury. What I do know is that the end result is that apparently, despite the jurors not trusting Casey Anthony and wanting to find her guilty, the defense communicated better than the prosecution.

In the end a juror said, "If there was a dead child in that trunk, does that prove how she died? No idea, still no idea."

Conversely, the prosecution in an interview said when referencing some of the evidence, "What I've said all along is if a jury looks at that photograph and doesn't see it the way I do and doesn't know how she died, then so be it . . . I wouldn't have been involved in this case if I didn't think she did it."

Unfortunately, the juror is right. The misconception made by the prosecution as well as many attorneys is that feeling alone will get them from point A to point B. Yes, they showed a photo of a dead child in a trunk with duct tape on her mouth. This shows that the child was dead at the time the photos was taken. That's it. Yes, it's a visual piece of evidence, but it is not communicating in an effective visual way (see an earlier blog post for more detail about this).

Despite showing this photo, the prosecution did not explain how she died. The defense exploited this gap in the reasoning and widened it enough so that the jurors could not logically make the leap from point A to point B. The missing step is that an attorney can't just put up a photo and have it speak for itself. The attorney needs a story as well as a proper visual (perhaps a timeline or geographical diagram connected to the photo) to explain that photo. Moreover, the attorneys needs to use that photo as part of a larger visual communication strategy that incorporates storytelling. The story needs to link pieces together so that a juror can follow along. The one repeated comment by the jurors is that the prosecution did not do this. They paraded their visual evidence, but did not tie it together in a way that explained what happened.

I am interested to see how yet another potential emotions vs. reason trial plays out in the State v. Murray trial.

Michael Jackson's doctor has definitely made quite a few enemies in the public eye. He allegedly negligently caused the death of one of the greatest musicians of all time. Not much is known about the evidence in that trial, but if juries couldn't find an alleged child murderer guilty, then the prosecution might have a harder time nailing Dr. Murray. I, for one, will be watching closely to see if the prosecution puts together a cohesive story that the jurors can follow. If they're on their game, they hopefully have some visual communication strategy already lined up.

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