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In The Court Of Public Opinion, A Mother Accused Of Murder Is Always Guilty

10/09/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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This photo taken on August 29, 2015 shows former Indian media executive Indrani Mukherjea being escorted into a police station through a scrum of media in Mumbai. A former Indian media executive has been arrested on suspicion of murdering her daughter for having an affair with her stepson, Mumbai police said August 27, in a case gripping India. Indrani Mukerjea is accused, along with two others, of strangling Sheena Bora to death in 2012 before dumping her body in a forest in western Maharashtra state and setting it alight. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

I am not sure I can add anything newsworthy to the breathless, hysterical and over-the-top coverage of the Indrani Mukerjea case. She has already been tried by the media who have played judge, jury and executioner, all without any solid evidence or even the body of her sister/daughter Sheena Bora.

This is an unprofessional, unethical way of covering a murder story, but certainly not something that only the Indian media is guilty of. I have seen news outlets all over the world lose all decorum, dignity and good sense when a "sensational" story comes along.

And if I have learnt anything from watching the media operate here in the United States, I can add this observation to the Mukerjea story: In the court of public opinion, a mother accused of the heinous crime of murdering her child is always guilty.

People accused of murder sometimes get second chances and walk away to some semblance of normal lives. But when it's a mother, all bets are off.

In the United States, this was the lesson I learnt from the case of Casey Anthony, who was known as the "most hated woman in America".

"In the eyes of the world, the concept of a mother killing her own goes contrary to everything that religion and culture stand for."

In 2008, the country first heard of Casey, a pretty, 22-year-old living in Orlando, Florida. Her parents reported Casey's two-year-old daughter Caylee Anthony missing and the public was enchanted by the gorgeous toddler.

The police were suspicious of Casey from the beginning because she lied about being employed, lied about her baby sitter and lied about her alibi, lied about where her daughter was and kept lying. She was arrested and bought into trial on charges of first degree murder. She never talked to police and would not tell them where her daughter was. Eventually, the body was found miles away from where the Anthony lived, but because it was decomposed so badly, law enforcement had little to go on.

Still, the prosecution set out to convict her, putting their best attorneys on the case and seeking the death penalty. At the trial, they portrayed Casey as a party girl, who killed her toddler because she didn't want the burden of taking care of the child. Daily, media reports quoted sources with grim details of the crime: the child was possibly chloroformed, placed in the trunk of the car for days and then disposed of like trash.

Defence attorneys, who spent hours on her case, working pro bono, countered with the shocking revelations that Casey was sexually abused by her father and the child as not murdered but drowned in the family pool. And that Casey's father had buried the body in the woods.

There was unprecedented media coverage and even more exceptional was the anger and the outrage by the public. Women lined up for hours, holding up posters of the toddler and screaming for justice. The women were young and old. Some were mothers and some had adopted children. Others were unable to bear children. They chanted "Justice for Caylee" and "Death for Casey."

"[Indrani Mukerjea] may not have to work again but I cannot imagine her being invited anywhere or playing any role in society."

In fact, the cynical say that the case ignited such passion in women because the child was beautiful and photographed well. But then so did Casey, who was young, middle class, very pretty with no criminal record. It was an odd, strange saga.

After a 12-person jury acquitted Casey in the charge against murder but found her guilty of lesser charges of lying to police and providing false information.

And since she was given credit for time served, she was freed. But the hatred, anger and death threats were so serious that she was escorted from jail by cops with machine guns. She was reviled by the public. Social media was filled with disappointment at the justice system. Petitions for another trial, more investigations and requests to public officials were sent. No stone was left unturned by the general public.

It's been several years since Casey has been freed but in a sense, she is still incarcerated.

She lives in an undisclosed location, somewhere in Florida. She does not go out in public because she is still the most hated woman in America. Constantly on her guard, she does not work outside the home in which she apparently has a job as a housekeeper, secretary and caretaker.

She can't go to a gym or a beauty parlour or a shopping mall. Not even to a McDonald. She is not welcome anywhere. She will never live a normal life. And that's what I foresee for Indrani as well.

She may not have to work again but I cannot imagine her being invited anywhere or playing any role in society.

The public never forgives a mother who takes the life of her child. In the eyes of the world, the concept of a mother killing her own goes contrary to everything that religion and culture stand for. It's deeply sinful and terribly wrong. There is no redemption or salvation granted to the accused, even if she is acquitted by the court.

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