The two high profile trials two worlds apart
are each drawing to a close. In Court 8 at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, in the City of London, Jeffrey Samuels QC has been making his closing speech
on behalf of his client, who whatever the verdict will be returned to Wakefield Prison
in the North of England in the knowledge that if he ever is freed it will be when he is so old and frail that he has to be transported in an ambulance to an old folks’ home or geriatric ward where he will spend the last few months of his life bedridden and probably senile.
The prognosis for Casey Anthony in Court 23A at the Orange County Courthouse, Orlando, Florida, is hardly anymore alluring; she too will be returned to prison whatever the verdict, because the seven count indictment against her includes four of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Unlike Bellfield, she could also face the death penalty if convicted of the murder of her daughter.
Of the two, the London trial is likely to finish first, probably this week. The Orlando trial has been punctuated by contumelious delays which have been due almost entirely to lead defence attorney Jose Baez.
On January 6, Mr Baez was fined $583.73 in prosecutor’s attorney’s fees for a “wilful violation” of an earlier court order. On Saturday morning, the court convened early for Judge Perry to warn him that after this trial is over for his client, it won’t be over for him, because he may yet be cited for contempt
over another matter; you cannot choose which court orders you comply with, and which you don’t, he said. Today, although the court sat, the jury did not, Perry adjourned the proceedings until tomorrow morning, probably because of a problem with the witness whom Baez intended to put on the stand Saturday, and who should have appeared today.
Like Jeffrey Samuels, Jose Baez and Cheney Mason have defended their client vigorously. While counter-attack is often the best form of defence, it does not require any legal nous to realise there are times when humility and even a plea for mercy are sounder options. From before this trial commenced, Mr Baez in particular has promised much and delivered nothing. In his opening address he claimed Caylee Anthony’s death was an accident, the young girl had drowned in the pool in the back garden of the family home, and rather than Casey, he blamed her father, George Anthony, not for killing her but for covering up the crime. The reason he gave for Casey acquiescing to that cover up was, in a word, sensational
, but after the State put George Anthony on the stand and he made a simple denial, he was not cross-examined on the issue at all.
Mr Baez has accused State expert witnesses of being hired guns. How much are you being paid to testify here? one expert witness was asked by the man who claims to be fighting this case and Anthony’s previous cheque fraud case for “less than $90,000
Again, it does not require any legal nous to see that Anthony’s best defence to this horrendous charge would have been one of insanity, or something similar implying mental impairment, considering how bizarre was her behaviour and how outrageous were her lies from the moment her daughter went missing. It remains to be seen if either Mr Baez or the more experienced Cheney Mason even broached the subject with Anthony, but although it is too late to change boats in mid-stream, and although their repeated motions for dismissal have fallen on deaf ears, there is one way in which Anthony could win a retrial, although admittedly it is a very long shot indeed with as sagacious a jurist as Belvin Perry Junior in charge.
In the United States as in Britain, if the standard of advocacy fails to meet a certain threshold, a retrial may be ordered, that level is called the Strickland Standard, after Strickland v Washington
. The second prong will be fairly easy to meet; it requires that prejudice be shown the defendant. One has only to sample the media coverage to realise why this is so. It remains to be seen though that if in spite of his willingness to throw all and sundry “under the bus” – including himself – Mr Baez is so incompetent as to meet the criterion of ineffective counsel.
Back in London, Jeffrey Samuels is anything but ineffective counsel; although he has defended his client vigorously, he has done so without making wild, sweeping allegations that he cannot substantiate or that no reasonable person could entertain. He has suggested that the attempt to kidnap Rachel Cowles
was one of mistaken identity, indeed, as Miss Cowles did not identify Bellfield, mistaken non-identity is probably a more fitting phrase. He has also suggested both that Amanda Dowler may not have been murdered, and that she may have been murdered by someone else.
Like Caylee Anthony, Amanda’s remains were found six months after she disappeared, and there was no readily discernable cause of death, like a skull fracture. In both cases it beggars belief that either suicide or accident should be considered, but Jeffrey Samuels did remind the jury that while the disappearance of a two year old girl must always be regarded as sinister, a thirteen year old is a different matter entirely; it was not until the gruesome find in the Yateley Heath woods that a missing person inquiry became a murder investigation.
Mr Samuels has made other suggestions which are certainly plausible; Levi Bellfield is being paraded as “the local serial killer”, the case against him in this trial is “pure fantasy”, the evidence has been tailored to fit, and but for his previous murder convictions he would not be in the dock.
These are all issues of fact for the jury to decide; they will doubtless be assisted in their decision by a judge who although not as distinguished as Belvin Perry, will be every bit as meticulous when he sums up.