Although I am a Bulgarian, this post has nothing to do with my country - it is US-centric. "Caylee's law" is a draft that would make it a felony not to report to authorities the death or disappearence of a pre-teenage child within a short time. It is named after Caylee Marie Anthony (2005 - 2008) from Florida who disappeared shortly before her third birthday. Her skeleton, with duct tape on the facial skull, was found six months later in a swamp. Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, did not report her daughter's disappearance, enjoyed endless parties, then lied to investigators that the child had been kidnapped by a nonexistent nanny. At her trial, the defense claimed that Caylee had drowned accidentally. The jurors acquitted Casey of murder, manslaughter and child abuse - of everything they could, so she will be released within days. The purpose of Caylee's law is to prevent similar cases to be solved this way in the future.
Opponents to the proposed bill argue that laws voted emotionally in the aftermath of high-profile cases are known to have undesired consequences and that such a law, if enforced, will harm innocent people. Of course it will; most laws do it all the time. The real question to me is whether the pros outweigh the cons or, to put it more emotionally, whether America can afford not having such a law after Casey’s “not guilty” verdict. I admit I am biased, because I am myself closely related to a murder victim.
Last year, my brother – a naturalized US citizen – was shot dead as he was sitting in his backyard. This is the first and most likely the only time I am writing about this publicly. His obituary notices and my blog posts devoted to him do not specify the cause of his death. Some family members prefer it that way, wishing to avoid the morbid interest and the stigma associated with murder; because, when the victim is adult, people tend to think that he must have been involved in suspicious affairs. There was nothing suspicious in my brother’s life, but it is difficult to convince people that the victim was not guilty – more difficult, it seems, than to convince jurors that the perpetrator was not guilty. The police finally came to an idea who killed him but could not collect solid evidence, so nobody was charged. I do not blame them. It is easy to be wise in hindsight, but in the decisive first hours when the trace was hot, they could not know what they knew later. And it is useless to bring a suspect to court just to see him acquitted and leaving triumphantly on a white horse. Of course I am very unhappy that my brother received no justice and that his killer is free to harm other innocent people, but that’s life, and I know what “beyond reasonable doubt” means.
However, I fail to understand the meaning of reasonable doubt in Casey Anthony’s case. My head just whorls when I read the opinions of jurors and legal experts that the burden of proof was on prosecution and the prosecution did not produce enough evidence that Casey had killed her daughter. It seems that the jurors demanded the same amount of evidence as if the defendant had been a stranger to the victim. My opinion, however, is that there are some situations when the burden of proof is on you to prove that you are innocent, and this is when you have accepted certain responsibility beforehand. If you are appointed to guard some property or person and you fail to protect the guarded object, you will be expected to prove that you have done your best. And if you become a parent and accept your parental responsibility by bringing your child home, instead of giving her for adoption, you are to prove your innocence if something bad happens to her. Even if she suffers an accident, you still have to answer questions, because young children cannot protect themselves from accidents – this is the duty of their caregivers.
I think that any doubt in Casey Anthony’s guilt was unreasonable because I cannot imagine any reasonable hypothesis (except insanity) under which she could be not guilty. Let’s believe the defense that Caylee drowned accidentally and her panicked grandfather put duct tape on her face to make the accident look like murder (?!) and threw the body into the swamp. Well, wasn’t Casey obliged to protect her 2-year-old daughter from accidental drowning? Recently, a 1-year-old boy named Joseph drowned in the bath while his mother Shannon Johnson was facebooking. Although his death was undisputed accident, the mother was sentenced to 10 years. The judge told her, “(Joseph) was a human being that had a right to life. And you, as his mother, had a responsibility to make sure he got that chance. That was your responsibility.” I think this judge was right. I also think there are deep flaws in a system severely punishing a negligent mother who generally acts as a good citizen while allowing a negligent or (more likely) murderous mother to be rewarded with freedom for her lies.
Let me repeat – I agree with the opponents of Caylee’s law that it will be costly and will harm innocent parents. However, I fear that its absence may spell death for many young children, viewed by their parents as unwanted burden rather than joy. Seeing Casey Anthony acquitted and commentators praising the verdict as a victory for the US justice system, other people may be tempted to emulate her. Things are bad enough as they are. Opponents say Caylee’s murder is a single, isolated case. This not only makes me ask how many cases must happen before something is done – it is simply untrue. Unfortunately, when a child is murdered, parents are the first suspects, and in two-thirds of cases there is no need to look elsewhere.
If you disagree with me, I can only apologize for wasting your time. But if you agree with me and live in the USA, you can consider signing a petition for Caylee’s law. I cannot sign it myself because I am not an American. It is difficult even to explain why I still have so much interest in a country which is no longer home to my dearest people. Perhaps because I believe that in a world where nothing can undo the evils of the past, our only hope can be for a better future, and our deeds are the only way to make it come true.