11:00 PM CDT, July 5, 2011
It's no wonder emotions spilled over as the controversial verdicts in the Casey Anthony murder trial were read on Tuesday. Inside the Orange County Courthouse tears were shed and embraces shared by Anthony and her defense team. Outside, angry shouts of No!, No way! and Ridiculous! from the throngs who had gathered.
A six-week-long trial to decide the fate of a mother charged with the calculated murder of her 2-year-old child will do that.
The drama kept watchers in Central Florida and around the nation spellbound with heated charges and counter-charges of deceit, child abuse, sexual abuse, cover-ups and indecent parenting.
What remains a wonder, the day after the jury absolved Anthony of murdering or abusing Caylee Marie, is that Chief Judge Belvin Perry managed to keep his courtroom from turning into an emotional circus.
The kind of circus, you'll recall, that Judge Lance Ito not only tolerated but seemed to encourage while he was presiding over the O.J. Simpson case many years ago. The judge deservedly became a source of relentless late-night TV mockery.
Belvin Perry was no Lance Ito.
Whether you agree or disagree with the jury's verdict — but accept it, everyone must — Perry dealt with Anthony, attorneys for Anthony and the state, witnesses, the jury and the trial's spectators with a firm yet fair hand.
Perry set an example for decorum that was a refreshing shift from some of this sensational case's uglier and embarrassing moments. Protesters cursing at Casey Anthony's family members outside their Orlando home. Casey's brother narrowly missing some of the protesters with his car. Self-serving bounty hunters and assorted charlatans trying to capitalize on the notoriety. Devotees of the trial literally fighting to get a seat inside the courtroom. A well-known cable commentator constantly referring to Anthony as "Tot-Mom" instead of her name.
But in Perry's courtroom, sanity and, thank goodness, the rule of law, reigned.
One courtroom spectator served out a six-day jail sentence from Perry for making a profane gesture at an attorney for the prosecution.
Jose Baez, the lead attorney who helped his client escape all but the most minor charges, was admonished by Perry for failing to provide prosecutors with the information due them concerning witnesses for the defense.
Jeff Ashton, the generally professional assistant state attorney, drew Perry's wrath for his sophomoric smirking during Baez's summation.
But Perry also repeatedly made the point of showing his respect for witnesses and the men and women of the jury who put their lives on hold to hear the excruciating details surrounding the Anthony case.
Love or hate the jury's verdict, Perry ran a textbook courtroom. Looking back, and moving forward, there may be few sources of pride in this case, but Belvin Perry's unwavering respect for the law will be one of them.
That's something everyone should be able to agree upon.