Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Casey Anthony Outrage, Part II: Now They Tell Us

 From what's sure to be only one of hundreds of "how did this happen" articles...

The government failed to establish how 2-year-old Caylee Anthony died and they couldn't find her mother's DNA on the duct tape they said was used to suffocate her. There was conflicting testimony on whether the putrid smell inside the family's car was a decomposing body or simply trash, and it was never quite clear why chloroform was so important.

Now, as I said below, I haven't been following the coverage of the trial...but were any of the media pointing this out before the verdict? Because that stuff seems pretty important, especially not being able to establish cause of death. I'd venture to say there's no way to get a murder verdict without that.

Like I said before...if they were so anxious to spin the "guilty, guilty, guilty" narrative that they didn't report that, then maybe it's the reporters you should be mad at for not doing their damn jobs (not to mention the prosecutors who tried a weak case they should have pled).

Oh, well. On to the next outrage. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Why I'm Not Outraged at the Casey Anthony Verdict

When you're an attorney, especially if you do criminal law, people are always asking you: "what do you think of the [insert name of latest high profile defendant here] trial?" It's been especially intense for some reason during this latest blockbuster trial, that of Casey Anthony, who was charged with killing her daughter Caylee. The question is often followed up with "you can't possibly think she's innocent, can you?"

 My answer, as always, is: I have no idea. I haven't heard any of the evidence.  I've seen trials, then seen coverage of those same trials.   And I know for sure that, if your only knowledge of the case is what you've seen on TV or read in the paper, you haven't heard all the evidence. It's impossible. Trials go on for days, sometimes weeks, and what you see in the mass media is a thirty second, at most, glimpse of what went on. Unfortunately, those tidbits you're fed are  picked by someone who's looking, not for the most important facts, but for the most dramatic or sensational ones. 

The media are not interested in justice; they're interested in eyeballs on the page or screen. For that reason, frankly, they often do  a piss-poor job of  covering criminal trials. Reporters  make up their minds early on, construct a narrative around their preconceptions, and the decision on what to tell you is invariably bent around that narrative. And they've all apparently decided that "guilty! guilty!  guilty!" is the narrative most likely to sell, unless a case falls so completely to pieces and starts to stink so bad  they can't ignore the stench  any longer. 

 I'm not just talking about Nancy Grace, who's only the most egregious example. Court coverage in general is abysmal, and I haven't seen any yet that even bothers to give lip service to the concept of "innocent until proven guilty." 

 This is why I never follow the latest "trial of the century." I know I'm not getting all the information I need to make a decision. I'm getting only those parts of the story that some reporter thinks will get tongues wagging around the water cooler the next day so you'll come back that evening and watch some more.  

The only people who heard all the facts in that case are the people in that courtroom. What they found important may have been light-years removed from what some reporter or paid "legal expert" on the news found important  enough to tell you. So none of us are in a position to be screaming that the jurors were stupid or that justice was not done. That's why I'm not outraged that Casey Anthony was acquitted, because I can't decide on whether she killed her daughter or not based on what's on TV. 

Monday, July 04, 2011

Review: THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, by Tom Piccirilli

The Midnight RoadThe Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

During an investigation of a child abuse complaint, Social Worker Flynn finds a scarred, mentally disabled man kept in a cage in the basement. In the ensuing attempt to get the man and the child away, Flynn wrecks his car, dies, and is brought back to life. Now, a dead bulldog is following him around talking to him and people are being killed in front of him for no reason he can see.

I really loved Tom Piccirilli's The Cold Spot, but I just couldn't get into this one. Maybe it's because I know too many actual social workers to really believe in a gun-toting, brawling Child Protective Services worker like Flynn. In any real CPS organization, he'd have been out on his ass years ago. (I have the same problem, BTW, with most "legal thrillers"--my ability to suspend disbelief only goes so far). So maybe the problem is me.

On the up side, while the revelation of who the mysterious antagonist is shouldn't be any real surprise to anyone paying a bit of attention, once he's out in the open, he's one of the scariest and downright creepiest villains I've ever read.

So, the book has its points. But I'd recommend reading The Cold Spot instead.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Your Annual Summer Vacation Guide

Latest Newspaper Column:

Another summer is upon us with a vengeance, complete with the eyeball-melting heat and humidity we Southerners all know and love.

On the bright side, summertime is vacation time. And vacation time means time once again for our annual compendium of wild, wonderful and wacky tourist attractions.

For the tourist who's always had a fascination with James Bond or Jason Bourne, there's the International Spy Museum, located in Washington, D.C. There are exhibits on espionage throughout history, including displays of real spy gear and lectures about true-to-life spies.

At least they claim to be true. You never know. If they're into complete realism, they'll be lying to you. For a couple of hundred bucks, you can even sign the kids up for the museum's "Spy in Training" program, which includes, among other things, a two-week summer camp in which the budding spooks learn about "fingerprinting, handwriting analysis and cryptography," while "meeting real former spies and running missions in some of the city's most prominent attractions."

Of course, if the kids are nabbed by Homeland Security, the museum will deny all knowledge of their actions. That's how the game's played.

I was astounded to learn that the great state of Connecticut has not one, but two museums devoted to garbage.

The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority runs two "award-winning" museums, one in Hartford and one in Stratford, with "unique exhibits and programs on the many challenges and solutions of waste management." Additionally, "each museum has a viewing area where visitors can observe the working regional recycling center." Wheeeee!

As if that weren't spine-tingling enough, the site in Stratford features "Trashasaurus," a giant dinosaur figure made of exactly one ton of refuse, supposedly about the amount each person throws away every year.

I guarantee you, if you take the kids to this attraction, they'll talk about it for years. I can't guarantee they'll talk about it with anything other than complete outrage and disbelief that you dragged them to a trash pile in the middle of summer, but they'll surely talk about it. You better hurry, though; due to budget cuts, the museums may have to close their doors, and Trashasaurus will be as extinct as his non-rubbishy brethren.

As I've mentioned in earlier columns, I fear robots. So I was reluctant at first to recommend RoboWorld, an exhibit at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum that advertises itself as "an exhibition so exciting it'll fry your motherboard."

But when I read the description of how kids can shoot basket against Hoops, "a basketball-shooting industrial arm," play air hockey against a robot, discover how robots can read facial expressions, and "explore the future of robots in this one-of-a-kind robotics experience," I realized that this is the perfect opportunity.

Our children do need to learn these things, because they will most likely be the ones fighting those soulless mechanical demons for possession of the planet. Know your enemy and all that. Just be sure to sit the kids down afterward and explain to them that while Andy, the robot guide at the exhibit, may look friendly and cuddly, someday he and billions just like him will attempt to exterminate them and everyone they love. They'll thank you for it later.

"But Dusty," you say. "All of this cultural and educational stuff is fine, but what about what we really want to hear from you? No, not your rendition of 'Free Bird.' What about your guide to the nation's freakishly large objects?"

Fear not, dear friends. Hear now the story of the 20 Foot Rabbit of Gainesville, Georgia.

In the latter half of the 20th century, Gainesville began billing itself as "Poultry Capital of the World." They even erected a pillar to commemorate it, sort of like Nelson's column in London, if Admiral Nelson had been a barnyard fowl.

This didn't sit too well with the town's older residents, who recalled that the place used to be known as "Rabbittown," due to a number of ranches in the area where farmers raised herds of the critters for food. (The din at branding time must have been horrific). Thus, they erected a 20-foot rabbit statue, with, according to, "the soft lines and awkward alert pose of a chocolate Easter bunny."

But don't try to take a bite out of it. It appears to be made of concrete.

Wherever you go this summer, I wish you cool breezes and safe travels.