Not since the trial of O.J. Simpson has a murder trial captivated the American public as much as the murder case against Casey Anthony that was resolved Tuesday in Florida.
The reaction of the public to an Orlando, Fla., jury's findings that Anthony was not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter or aggravated child abuse in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, was one of disdain. Disdain for Anthony for "getting away" with murder, disdain for prosecutors for messing up a "certain conviction" and disdain for the 12 jurors, who couldn't see the facts as clearly as those at home.
Frankly, we don't know exactly what happened in Caylee's death.
Certainly the lies that Anthony told -- she was convicted on four misdemeanor counts of giving false statements to law enforcement officials who were investigating the June 2008 disappearance of Caylee -- gave her the appearance of guilt. But as much as anything else, the relentless pounding by prosecutor turned TV personality Nancy Grace had a great deal to do with the public's perception of the guilt or innocence of Anthony.
And it didn't help with many folks when Anthony claimed her father, a former policeman, conceived of a plan to hide an accidental drowning by making it look like a murder, or her claims that her father sexually abused her.
And it didn't help that she took a month before reporting her toddler's death, or that photos of her out partying during that first month surfaced. Not much of a concerned mother image there. The nanny Zanny and rich boyfriend that she made up destroyed her credibility.
It may well be that, as many believe happened in the Simpson case in the 1990s, that a killer has escaped justice. Or it may be, again as in the Simpson case, that the defendant's story, as implausible as it may sound, could be factual.
If there's a problem with the American court system, it's that you can never prove someone is innocent, which is why the system is based on the foundation that a defendant is assumed innocent unless it can be proven otherwise. Regardless of what "experts" opined around the clock on opinion shows jockeying for ratings, the cloak of innocence in the courtroom can only be taken off by evidence presented in that courtroom.
It may be that a few, many or even all the jurors felt one way in their hearts, but you don't send someone to prison or to the death chamber on how you feel about them. There has to be a gold standard of justice in which you, as a juror, ask yourself: Did the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt?
Prosecutors in Florida had a tough job as far as evidence. Caylee's body was hidden six months before it was found and was badly decomposed. Medical experts couldn't tell prosecutors how the child died. There just wasn't a strong enough physical link between the tot's death and Anthony for jurors to make the determination that she murdered her child.
In another parallel with the Simpson case, the likelihood is police won't uncover other suspects. The case is over for all practical purposes. Unless there's a confession someday out of the blue, the death of Caylee Anthony will never have an "official" resolution.
But again, like Simpson, Anthony has emerged a winner in the court, but she's lost in the court of public opinion, which is free to set what standards it wants without an constitutional instruction.
That will be unsatisfying to many who have kept up with this case over the past three years, especially those like one 51-year-old Minnesota woman interviewed by The Associated Press who came to Orlando on June 10 and spent $3,000 on hotels and food and more than 100 hours waiting in line for tickets to the courtroom, which she managed to get for 15 days during the trial.
"True crime has become a unique genre of entertainment," Robin Wilkie said. "Her stories are so extreme and fantastic, it's hard to believe they're true, but that's what engrosses people. This case has sex, lies and videotapes -- just like on reality TV."
The Anthony case is over, though it will linger about for years and years. But Ms. Wilkie and others shouldn't fear. Sooner or later, there will be another murder case just as compelling to them as the Simpson one or Anthony's, and there will be a someone with a 24-hour-a-day TV camera willing to feed their addiction every morsel it can.
We can only hope that addiction doesn't somehow manage to worm its way inside the courtroom.