Media coverage causes jury system malfunction

Many cases throughout the U.S. history have caused shock and upset as jury members decide the fate of those standing accused of heinous crimes like kidnap, rape, and murder.  But only those within the community who were directly affected and it spread within a limited capacity via local newspapers. Now with the media covering hot cases and giving viewers all over the world minute by minute updates on what’s happening, some people become so enthralled in cases they have emotional attachments even if they have no real life attachments. These attachments along with the media coverage makes it extremely hard for a jury member of these hot cases to objectively do their job of convicting or freeing an individual without any emotional connection, for fear of backlash from the community. Examples can be clearly seen through a few of the most widely covered cases in the past few years.

The Casey Anthony case was one of the most shocking. Despite large amounts of evidence pointing straight at Anthony for the death of her two-year-old daughter Kaylee Anthony, the jury found her not guilty on any counts. This enraged people all over the U.S. and Anthony was forced to hide when she was set free. In a way she is forced into a prison, but just not the kind of prison that would have given her daughter justice. There was also the collateral damage as many of the jury members also had to go into hiding after receiving numerous death threats for letting Anthony walk.

Then we come to Jodi Arias, a woman who was accused of stabbing her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, over 27 times, shooting him in the face, and finally slashing his throat. Her antics on-camera while incarcerated enraged thousands who devoted weeks and even months to watching her. In some interviews she stated “no jury would convict me” and how her relationship with Alexander was “fatal attraction.” Fortunately after months of witnesses, testimonies, and evidence, the jury took only 15 hours to determine her guilty, and less than three to find it an especially cruel murder. However the real head turner came when the jury was deciding her fate, life or death. The jury came back after only a day of deliberating and declared that they could not come to a unanimous decision and ended in a hung jury. Later interviews with a few jury members showed mixed emotions towards Arias and a few felt that they could just not give her death. Many say they fell victim to her ‘pretty face,’ others feel that the four out of eight members who could not give her death lied when they said that they could on the initial interviews. Either way, the case was put in limbo as the prosecution scrambles to get a new jury and start the penalty phase all over again. We won’t be hearing again about Ms. Arias for several months. If the case ends up with a hung jury again, then it goes to the judge to sentence her but the option of death for Alexander’s especially cruel murder 100 percent off the table.

Now, one of the major cases of the moment is George Zimmerman’s, a man accused of killing an unarmed teenager, Treyvon Martin. The facts in this case are so convoluted due to the extravagant media coverage it is almost hard to really determine what happened, but the only thing that people seem to care about is that Martin was black. Evidence shows he had THC in his sytem at the time of the incident and constantly talked about, and took part in, drugs and violence. However most of those who are really passionate about this case believe that it was only racial profiling of Martin by Zimmerman that was involved and nothing else. Zimmerman was obviously beaten as shown by photographic proof, but then he did disobey the 911 dispatcher and followed Martin. This case received a jury of six women, specified as five white and one Hispanic. The hope is that this jury can look away from the racial issue and look purely at the facts. But there is the potential backlash from the community that would pretty much torch and pitchfork the jury if they found Zimmerman not guilty purely on the fact that many in the general population feel race was the contending factor.

We cannot limit the media coverage of cases like this, but there has to be something that can be done to protect jury members from the potential repercussions. To guard them from people all over the world who want to raise hell because of their decision to convict or not convict. These people are ordinary citizens who just happened to be chosen for these cases, but they have to live in the fear that if they make the wrong decision they will no longer be safe in their own communities because everyone knows who they are. They can no longer look at the facts and must take into account what waits for them after their decision is made. It is the simplest form of self-preservation and it makes for a flawed jury system and the media scrutiny can be blamed.