Open the Door and Let Them In
Should George and Cindy Anthony be allowed to attend their daughter’s trial?
Mark Lippman, George and Cindy’s attorney, filed a motion last week addressing that very question, to which his answer is “yes.” You see, Casey's parents are in the unique position of being both witnesses for the state and relatives of the victim, Caylee. And that dual relationship to the murder case against Casey presents a conundrum that may take the wisdom of Solomon to resolve.
On the one hand, the Florida Constitution guarantees that relatives of the victim are entitled to the right to be informed and to be present at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings. In other words, George and Cindy have the right to attend the entire trial. On the other hand, the state or defense could request the Rule of Sequestration because George and Cindy are witnesses. Invoking this rule would keep them out of the courtroom until they testify, one by one. While odds are slim the defense would seek to enforce the rule, the state most likely will because the court already granted such a request at an earlier hearing. Prosecutors feared that there was a real possibility that one’s testimony could taint the other.
Initially, I believed the Anthonys should be sequestered for this very reason. But I’ve since changed my mind, thanks to a recent conversation with renowned criminal defense attorney Mark NeJame.
He cited the competing interests: Yes, George and Cindy lost their granddaughter, but the court has every right to sequester them. Yet, NeJame said he believes George and Cindy should be allowed to sit in on the entire trial. Somewhat perplexed, I asked him why.
"Whatever transpires in the courtroom on any given day can be observed through the media, anyway, he said. In other words, George and Cindy can watch the proceedings on television or view live feeds on the Internet. "What purpose would it serve to restrict their presence?” he continued. “There is no greater prejudice by letting them in, so why exclude them?"
Those were good questions, but what did he mean by no greater prejudice? He made me think. How could George and Cindy's presence possibly impact the trial? Could they prejudice the jury or themselves by being there together? I couldn't really come up with any viable reasons. Certainly, they'll be able to watch the trial on TV and the Internet, and there's nothing standing in the way of them talking about the case in the privacy of their home. I don't see how their attendance would provide them with the opportunity to change their testimony, not when a good part of what they'll say will be backed up by transcripts elicited from past hearings and depositions.
What NeJame was telling me and what I was rationalizing in my head were beginning to gel. "You know," he added, "there's nothing that should hinder justice by allowing them in. It's more or less the public that seems to be vengeful."
He didn't mean that in a condescending way, and I certainly understood where he was coming from since I've been following the case a long time. A lot of people feel no sympathy for George and Cindy, to put it mildly. "Many [people] don't want them in,” NeJame said, “but should the decision be based on that or on what’s right from a legal perspective?"
I completely understood and respected his position. And it made sense.
On Monday, as Judge Perry took Casey, her attorneys, and the prosecutors behind closed doors to attend to some "housecleaning" issues, I spoke to Lippman, who had been in the courtroom with Cindy. I asked him which way he thought Perry would rule on his motion. But Lippman said the decision on whether to allow the Anthonys to attend most likely would be up to Casey. It hinges on whether she wants to allow her parents in or not. He said this was one of the reasons why Perry was huddled with prosecutors and Casey and her defense team.
"It's in her hands," Lippman said.
Maybe, but I don’t see the state walking away quietly from this matter if Perry grants Lippman’s motion. The prosecution will have its reasons for keeping the Anthonys out, but I don’t anymore.
George and Cindy should be allowed to attend the whole trial – and nothing less.
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