The Casey Anthony Story

Nov 7, 2011 - by Denise Noe

Casey Anthony

Not since O.J. Simpson’s murder trial in 1995 has national media attention focused so intently on one case, and not since Simpson’s acquittal has the public been more shocked by the verdict that exonerated Casey Anthony of any responsibility in the death of her toddler daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony.   

by Denise Noe

The case of Casey Anthony, a young mother accused of murdering her small child, triggered a ravenous media feeding frenzy not seen since the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial in 1995. The parallel was magnified when public outcry at the Casey Anthony verdict echoed the outrage over the Simpson verdict.

A Time magazine article proclaimed the case “the first murder trial of the social-media age.” It noted that hundreds of people began showing up each day as early as 2 a.m. to land one of the 50 courtroom seats reserved for the public at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando. 

Millions of people followed the trial every day on live-stream video feeds provided by TruTv and HLN. Both CNN and NBC built two-story structures in a lot across from the courthouse to catch every possible detail of the trial and transmit it to eager viewers. Hundreds of media vehicles often surrounded the Orlando courthouse.  Prominent TV personalities such as Geraldo Rivera and Greta Van Susteren covered the trial but no one was more incessant in publicizing this case than Nancy Grace. A former prosecutor and author of three best-selling books, she is known as an outspoken advocate for victims’ rights. Her Headline News’ (HLN) program, called Nancy Grace, garners high ratings. The program focused incessantly on the Casey Anthony trial with its hostess making no secret of her belief that the accused was guilty.

Multiple Facebook pages were posted in honor of Caylee, a child who lost her life just two months shy of what would have been her third birthday. A multitude of Twitter accounts with titles like CaseyJunky tracked every wisp of information connected with the case for thousands of followers.

Prior to the disappearance of her daughter Caylee, 22-year-old Casey Anthony was an obscure never-married mother who had trouble holding down jobs, bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend and lived with her parents – George Anthony, 57, a retired Ohio police detective residing in Florida and working as a security guard, and Cindy Anthony, 50, a nurse.

 

The abandoned car and the baffled grandparents

The celebration of Father’s Day on June 15, 2008 was marred at the Anthony home by a bitter quarrel. Cindy and Casey argued about Casey’s parenting skills. George reminded them that it was Father’s Day. The two women stopped arguing but the mood was tense when Casey bid good-bye, taking Caylee.  It would be the last time George and Cindy Anthony ever saw their granddaughter.

Casey found new accommodations. She continued talking with her parents on the phone. Cindy frequently asked to speak to her granddaughter but Casey invariably said Caylee was with her nanny.

On July 15, 2008, George received a certified letter from Johnson’s Wrecker Service, an impound yard. It said an abandoned car registered to George and Cindy had been towed to Johnson’s.

The car was a 1998 Pontiac Sunfire George and Cindy frequently allowed Casey to drive.

George drove to Johnson’s. As he approached the car, he was put off by a nasty odor. The former police detective thought he recognized that smell as the decomposition of a dead being. Dr. Cyril H. Wecht and Dawna Kaufmann write in From Crime Scene to Courtroom: Examining the Mysteries Behind Famous Cases, “He drove the vehicle home with all of its windows open and the air conditioning blasting, and parked it in the garage. When Cindy and [Casey’s brother] Lee passed by the car, they also noted the obvious odor, with Cindy asking, ‘What died?’”

Cindy phoned Casey who said she was on a “mini-vacation” in Jacksonville, Florida.

Cindy called Casey’s friends. They said Casey was staying with boyfriend Tony Lazzaro.

An exasperated Cindy showed up at Lazzaro’s condominium and found both Lazzaro and Casey. Cindy demanded to see Caylee but the child was not there.

Casey agreed to accompany Cindy to the Anthony residence. Mother and daughter argued. While still in the car with Casey, Cindy phoned 911 and said she wanted to file a stolen vehicle charge against Casey. Cindy thought the abandonment of the car constituted theft.

The two arrived at the Anthony residence. Cindy repeatedly asked where Caylee was. Casey was evasive. Cindy made a second 911 call, again complaining about the car Casey had abandoned and suggesting a police officer come to the home to question Casey about Caylee.

After the second 911 call, Casey said she did not know where Caylee was. Casey said she had last seen her with a nanny who had disappeared.

 

A child is missing!

Caylee Anthony

Cindy made a third 911 call. In a panicky voice Cindy said, “I have a possible missing child. I have a 3-year-old who has been missing for a month. . . . I’ve found out that my granddaughter has been taken – she has been missing for a month. Her mother has finally admitted that she had been missing.”

The operator asked about the address Cindy was calling from and Cindy ignored the question, exclaiming, “We are talking about a 3-year-old little girl. My daughter finally admitted that the babysitter stole her. I need to find her!”

The operator asked, “Your daughter admitted that the baby is where?”

“She said she took her a month ago,” Cindy said, “and my daughter has been looking for her. . . She just admitted to me that she’s been trying to find her by herself. There is something wrong. I found my daughter’s car today and it smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”

The operator said, “Is your daughter there? Can I speak with her?”

Casey Anthony took the phone. Her calm voice contrasted sharply with her mother’s hysteria as she said, “My daughter has been missing for the last 31 days.” 

The operator queried, “And you know who has her?”

Casey answered, “I know who has her. I tried to contact her and I actually received a phone call today from a number that is no longer in service. I did get to speak to my daughter for about a minute.”

Asked again who had Caylee, Casey said, “Her name is Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez.” Casey continued that Zenaida had been Caylee’s nanny for almost two years.

The operator asked why Casey had not called 31 days previously to report her daughter missing.

Casey explained, “I’ve been looking for her and have gone through other resources to try to find her – which is stupid.”

Law enforcement officers arrived at the Anthony home. One took down a statement from Casey in which she said she had dropped Caylee off at the apartment of Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez. When she returned to the apartment to pick Caylee up, neither her daughter nor the nanny was there. 

Casey had repeatedly called the nanny but received no response. She went back to the apartment and no one answered her knock.

She had spent much of the past month haunting places Zenaida frequented and questioning mutual acquaintances about the nanny’s whereabouts.

Detective Corporal Yuri Melich arrived on the scene. He would become the lead investigator in the case. He examined the four-page statement and found it baffling.

Melich told Casey he did not find what she had related believable. Then he told her that lying to the police is a crime. Did she want to change her statement? Casey firmly replied, “No.”

Casey sat down with Melich and other officers. She made a tape-recorded statement in which she repeated what she had previously said. This time, she added that Zenaida resided in apartment #210 at the Sawgrass Apartments. Casey met Zenaida four years previously when Zenaida was hired as a seasonal worker at the Universal Studios theme park. When asked why she had not previously reported Caylee missing, she replied, “I was scared that something would happen to her if I did notify the authorities or get the media involved . . . fear of the unknown. Fear of the potential of Caylee getting hurt, of not seeing my daughter again.” Officers asked for Zenaida’s phone number. Casey said it was on a cell phone she lost at work.

Casey said Caylee’s father was named Eric and that he died in a car accident in 2007.

In an apparent attempt to help, she said, “Caylee has very distinctive features even if her hair was cut or changed. She has dark hazel eyes.” Then Casey said of Caylee, “She has a birthmark on her left shoulder . . . a small line, it looks almost like a small beauty mark.”

At the end of the interview, she swore it was truthful.

George and Cindy told the officers Casey had told them the same about Caylee’s father. They had never met or spoken with him.

After this interview, Melich asked Casey to accompany him to points of interest. He drove her and the other officers to the Sawgrass Apartments, the building where Casey said Zenaida had lived in 2006.  Officers discovered it was an apartment complex for senior citizens – and had been in 2006.

They returned to the Anthony residence.

Melich and another officer drove back to the Sawgrass Apartments. They interviewed the manager and a maintenance worker. Both were shown a photograph of Caylee and said they did not recognize her. Neither did they know Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez. The manager stated that the unit in which Casey said Zenaida lived had been vacant 142 days.

The manager found a list of people who had filled out apartment applications. A “Zenaida Gonzalez” had signed one on June 17 of that year but never rented there. A copy was made of the list that included Zenaida’s cell phone number. Melich called it. Zenaida Gonzalez said she was not a nanny and had never heard of Casey or Caylee.

Officers later interviewed Zenaida Gonzalez, who reiterated that she had never worked for Casey or knew her or her child. An officer showed her a photograph of Caylee and she said she did not recognize the child. Zenaida signed a sworn statement attesting to these denials.

Melich drove to Universal Studios. He met with personnel official Leonard Turtora who said Casey had worked there but had been fired in May 2002. Universal had no record of Zenaida Gonzalez working there.

Then Melich called Casey and put her on a speakerphone so Turtora could hear her. Casey said she was an event coordinator at Universal Studios. She gave an extension for her office. Turtora said there was no such extension. According to Wecht and Kaufmann, “Turtora also said the man Casey claimed was her direct supervisor was not on the employee roster, and when she gave the name of someone who headed her department, that man said Casey was not employed there.”

Melich called two police officers and asked them to pick Casey up and for the three of them to meet up with him at Universal Studios. Once she arrived, Turtora escorted her and the officers onto the property and the four found Melich.

Asked to take them where she worked, Casey strode down a hallway but suddenly stopped.

She turned around and said she did not work here anymore.

The group went into a small conference room for another tape-recorded interview.

 

Are you a monster?

Detectives questioning Casey Anthony found that the attractive young woman spoke in a crisp, self-possessed manner. Her demeanor was eerily absent the fear and anguish they expected from a mother whose child had been missing for over a month. She continued to insist that she had no idea where her daughter was.

Melich said there were only a “couple of ways” her lying could be understood. He explained, “I can look at you as a person who’s scared. Who’s concerned and who’s kind of afraid of what’s gonna happen because of something bad that happened before. Or we can look at you as cold, callous and a monster who doesn’t care.”

Later Sergeant John Allen said, “Everybody makes mistakes. . . . We’ve done some things we’re not proud of.” However, he elaborated, “there comes a point in time you either own up to it, you say you’re sorry, you try to get past it. Or you lie about it, you bury it.” Still later he suggested the possibility of a “horrible accident” that she should come clean about. He assured her that “there’s nothing you’re gonna tell any of the three of us that’s going to surprise us.” He said, “I’ve had to sit down with mothers who rolled over their babies accidentally. I’ve had to sit down with mothers whose kids have drowned in swimming pools. I’ve had to sit down with mothers who had boyfriends who beat their kids to death.”

Given all those lures, Casey did not nibble. She coolly clung to her nanny story.

Detective Appie Wells asked a question that suggested a warped sort of mercy killing. He queried, “Is you’re daughter in a better place?”

Casey replied, “No, she’s not. . . . If she was with her family right now she’d be in the best place.”

At one point late in the interview, Casey displayed expected emotion. Tears blurred her eyes as she called Caylee “the one thing in this world that I love more than anything.”

When the interview ended, Casey once again swore she had told the truth.

The story of the missing Caylee grabbed headlines and received major play in radio and TV across the United States.  Three feet tall, the dark-haired child loved her teddy bear and hosted tea parties with her stuffed pig and Elmo doll.  She also relished listening to music and stories, drawing and swimming.

 

The investigation continues

An officer in a police car pulled up information about persons named Zenaida Gonzalez in the Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID) of Florida. Casey was shown these photographs. She recognized none of them. Shown the picture of the woman who had signed the Sawgrass Apartments rental application, she called the woman “too old” to be the Zenaida who cared for Caylee.

Police officers researched Casey’s story and her background.  They interviewed Casey’s friends and acquaintances. Even those fond of Casey said she was a habitual liar. Some of them said she had stolen from them.

Boyfriend Tony Lazzaro told detectives he first learned of Caylee’s disappearance when police arrived at his home. He had met Casey in May and began dating her in June. He met Caylee. The last time he saw her was June 2. He said Casey moved in with him on June 9 but continued to spend her nights at the home she shared with her parents until June 16. She did not bring Caylee with her but said the child was with her nanny whom Lazzaro never met.

The first night they spent together was June 16. Before retiring, the couple visited a Blockbuster and rented movies. He turned over receipts of the June 16 transaction. Police visited the store and examined surveillance tapes confirming Lazzaro’s statement.

Casey’s friend Amy Huizenga – who cohabited with Casey’s former boyfriend Ricardo Morales – contacted police.

Huizenga said she had received text messages from Casey in late June saying Casey’s father had driven her car and run over an animal, causing the car to have a bad smell. Huizenga also said Casey had stolen hundreds of dollars from her checking account. Police soon charged Casey with these thefts.

Police interviewed Casey ex-boyfriend Jesse Grund. He said Casey phoned him June 25 and asked if he wanted to meet with her. She said Caylee was with her nanny and the two of them were spending the weekend at a beach.

Grund said Casey told him her brother Lee had tried to pressure her into an incestuous relationship. He also recalled that Casey had once appeared to suffer a seizure of some sort and had awakened foaming at the mouth and shaking. Detectives discovered a chat log between Jesse and Casey in which she said she wanted to obtain the tranquilizer Xanax. Street slang for Xanax is “Zanny,” leading some people to hypothesize that “Zanny the nanny” was the Xanax with which Casey might have tranquilized Caylee. Their romance ended in May 2006 when Casey became enamored of Tony Lazzaro.

Although Casey had complained about the demands Caylee made, people who had observed them together invariably described the relationship as affectionate and Grund was no exception. “I don’t believe Casey would ever have hurt Caylee on purpose,” he said. However, he added that Casey was sometimes not as attentive as she should have been, a failing that could have led to an accident. Grund recalled, “Caylee would hang out in the living room while Casey was in the computer room. Sometimes Casey would go outside to use the telephone and leave Caylee in the living room.”

Grund suggested two ways an accident was possible: Caylee liked to put rocks in her mouth and was drawn to the swimming pool. He also thought Casey might behave erratically in tragedy’s aftermath. He said, “I literally believe that Casey would have an emotional breakdown. I almost believe she would take Caylee and put her somewhere and then tell herself a new story, a new reality of what happened to her.”

On July 16, Melich arrested Casey for child neglect and providing false information to the police. She was incarcerated in a local jail.

Authorities obtained search warrants allowing them to take items from the Anthony home including Casey’s laptop computer. The Pontiac Sunfire, with the child’s car seat still in its back, was impounded.

Investigators examining Casey’s computer found photographs of Caylee with her great-grandfather, Cindy’s father, who resided in a convalescent home. The pictures were dated June 15, 2008. This was a week after Casey and Cindy said they had last seen Caylee. When confronted with this evidence both admitted they had been mistaken.

Detectives examining Casey’s cell phone records found no numbers listed to Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez and no calls to her.

Melich, Sergeant John Allen and Crime Scene Investigator Gerardo Bloise met at the laboratory forensic bay to examine the Sunfire. The driver’s door was opened. All three believed they smelled the odor of decomposition. A dog named Gerus, trained to alert only to the smell of human decomposition, was brought to the car. Each car door was opened. Gerus sniffed but gave no reaction. The trunk was opened and Gerus barked an alert.

Wecht and Kaufmann report, “Search dogs brought in the first days of Caylee’s disappearance hit on areas around the [Anthony house swimming] pool, leading investigators to think ‘something’ had happened there.”

The Anthonys knew it would be dangerous for Caylee, who loved to swim, to be in the pool without the assistance of a responsible adult. Cindy and George said they always ensured that the ladder to the pool was away from Caylee’s access when she was not supposed to swim.

However, the swimming pool had occasioned concern from the beginning of the investigation. Wecht and Kaufmann note that there was speculation that Casey had deliberately drowned her daughter or that the child had gotten into the pool and accidentally drowned. Forgetting one time to remove that ladder could have led to tragedy.

In a conversation with the manager of Johnson’s Wrecker, Simon Birch, detectives learned that Birch believed he had smelled decomposition when a car door was opened.  Birch also recalled opening the trunk and seeing flies swarm out of it. There had been a white garbage bag in the trunk, food items inside it and a pizza box sans pizza. Police retrieved the garbage bag from the dumpster of Johnson’s Wrecker.

Investigators interviewed Danny Colamarino, owner of Cast Iron Tattoos. He said Casey was a regular customer and had received a new tattoo either July 2 or 3. That tattoo had been made on her shoulder and read “Bella Vita,” Italian for “Beautiful Life.” Wecht and Kaufman note, “She had another tattoo appointment scheduled for July 19th that she would not be keeping.”

At the July 22 bond hearing for Casey on the child neglect and providing false information charges, police informed the court that they were treating the disappearance of Caylee as a potential homicide and Casey as a “person of interest.”

Bail was set at $500,000.

Anthony neighbor Brian Mark Burner told detectives that either June 18 or 19, Casey had borrowed a shovel from him.

Cindy, George and Lee frequently visited Casey in jail. These visits were videotaped and appeared on television where they were discussed by a variety of crime experts. Under Florida’s “Sunshine Law,” such visits are a matter of public record.

Casey insisted in these visits that her daughter was with the nefarious nanny. She complained that police were not putting enough effort into searching for Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez. Her descriptions of the missing nanny became ever more detailed.

Police attempts to locate the elusive Zenaida remained frustratingly futile. As they widened the circle of Casey’s friends and acquaintances that they interviewed, they still found no one who had either seen or spoken with Zenaida.

Casey’s friend Ryan Pasley contacted police. He said Casey told him she wished she had not had Caylee when she, Casey, was so young. She complained that Caylee put a crimp in her social life.

Both police and media took a close look at Casey’s behavior during the month in which Caylee was supposedly missing. The mother who claimed to have been searching for her missing daughter had done it in a peculiar way. Did she think she would find the toddler in nightclubs?  That was where Casey had spent much of her evenings. Time-stamped photographs appeared of Casey in clubs smiling broadly and dancing merrily. A couple of pictures were taken in which she looked unhappy but she appeared sick from excess drinking.

Chemical analysis from the FBI’s Quantico, Virginia laboratory showed residues that could be chloroform in the Sunfire trunk.

Detective Sandy Cawn examined the Anthony family computer for searches for “chloroform.” She found several. There had also been searches specifically for how to make chloroform. There were searches for “chest injuries” and “neck breaking.” The majority of searches were performed in March 2008, three months before Caylee went missing. A chilling possibility was introduced: that Casey was planning to murder her daughter months in advance of doing it. Another, slightly less horrifying possibility was that Casey had sedated Caylee with chloroform and the child accidentally died as a result.

There was no way to know who in the home had looked up the information. Melich compared times of the searches with schedules of Cindy, George and Casey. He eliminated Cindy because she had been at work. George or Casey could have made the suspect searches.

On August 18, Detective Cawn informed authorities Casey had conducted Internet chats with probationary Deputy Sheriff Anthony Rusciano. He told Melich and another detective that he had seen Casey once in 2007 and chatted with her in May 2008. In one chat, Rusciano invited Casey to his home. She answered, “Want me to bring the little snot head?” and then “didn’t think so.” Rusciano’s failure to inform superiors about his relationship with Casey led to his dismissal.

Bounty hunter and colorful media personality Leonard Padilla, usually seen sporting a black cowboy hat, traveled to Orlando to post Casey’s $50,000 bond on August 20.  Casey left jail the next day but was legally confined to her parents’ house.

Padilla spent much time at the Anthony residence. As others were, he was struck by Casey’s seeming lack of grief or remorse. 

Padilla talked to Casey about Caylee and was repeatedly told the”Zanny the Nanny” story that he found unbelievable. He came to believe Casey had given the child to someone else to raise and wanted to keep her actions secret.

Protestors frequently gathered outside the Anthony property. People shouted accusations as George and Cindy went to and from their house. Protestors brandished signs reading “Baby Killer.” At least one held up a mock tombstone. Rocks were thrown at the Anthonys’ house windows. People magazine quoted neighborhood association attorney Karen Wonsetter observing, “It kind of reminds you of a Biblical stoning.” A tour bus even took its passengers to the home as if it was another one of Orlando’s famous attractions.

Investigators interviewed Cindy’s brother, Rick Plesea. He told them a troubling story that illustrated the Anthony family’s capacity for denial. Cindy, George and Casey attended Rick’s June 2005 wedding. Rick noted Casey’s belly protruding and thought it obvious she was pregnant. Casey left the room. Rick asked George and Cindy about their daughter’s pregnancy. Cindy immediately denied that Casey was pregnant, saying she had just put on some weight. Others joined the discussion, amused that Cindy, a nurse, could not see that her daughter was pregnant. Cindy stoutly insisted that Casey could not possibly be pregnant – because she was a virgin.

Two months later, Casey delivered Caylee.

 

Casey’s revolving door: In jail again, out again, in again, out again

“The Orange County Sheriff’s office announced that a hair found in the car trunk is likely Caylee’s, and that the child was almost certainly dead,” Wecht and Kauffman reported in their book. Apparently an FBI lab report stated that, under microscopic inspection, the hair had a dark band that was indicative of decomposition. DNA confirmed the hair to [be that of] an Anthony family member.” Since Anthony members were present and accounted for except for Caylee, the implication was that Caylee was deceased and her body had been in the trunk.

Alarmed at this news, Padilla pressed Casey for answers. She told him to leave the house. He rescinded her bond and she returned to jail August 29, 2008.

On September 4, 2008, George and Cindy posted bail for Casey by signing a promissory note. Casey was again out of jail but confined to home.

Casey was re-arrested on bad check charges September 15 but soon bailed out again on a much lower bond.

Zenaida Gonzalez filed a defamation lawsuit against Casey on September 25, 2008.

Casey was officially named a “suspect” in Caylee’s disappearance on October 1, 2008. On October 13, she was charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter and four counts of providing false information to law enforcement. On October 14, a grand jury returned an indictment for first-degree murder. She was back in court on October 15 and remanded to jail.

The first-degree murder charge carried a possible death sentence.

The child neglect charge was dropped on October 21.

 

Caylee’s skull is found

According to Orange County meter reader Roy Kronk, he was making his rounds on December 11, 2008 and stopped to urinate in a relatively isolated, swampy area when a white bag caught his eye. He prodded the bag and something he described as “round and white” rolled out. He was uncertain as to what it was but something about it alarmed him, especially since he was aware, as the whole country was, of the search for Caylee.

He called 911 and was told officers would be sent. He returned to the same area the next day. The bag and “round and white” item were still there. He made another phone call. This time the police arrived.

They found that the “round and white” item was a small human skull. Since it was less than half a mile from the Anthony home, there was immediate suspicion that it was Caylee’s. The skull had light brown hair attached to it. Most ominously, duct tape was attached to the skull.

The skull was taken to the medical examiner’s office.

The area was cordoned off so it could be processed.

DNA showed the skull was indeed Caylee’s. Other skeletal remains were found and identified as hers.

On January 22, 2009, George Anthony sent several text messages indicating he intended to commit suicide. Police tracked his cell phone and found him in a Daytona Beach motel room. He had apparently mixed prescription medication and alcohol. They also found a letter in which he said he wanted to join Caylee in heaven. He was hospitalized and then released.

Caylee’s skeletal remains were turned over to George and Cindy who had them cremated.

A memorial service was held for her at the First Baptist Church of Orlando. Almost two thousand people attended.

Casey had petitioned the court to attend but was denied.

Prosecutors announced on April 13 that they would seek the death penalty because the alleged murder was “heinous, atrocious and cruel” and Caylee had been under 12 years of age.

The report of Orlando’s Chief Medical Examiner Jan Garvaglia listed Caylee’s cause of death as “Homicide by Undetermined Means.”  It described skeletal remains intermingled in two black plastic trash bags and a canvas laundry bag. The bones had been broken prior to death. Wecht and Kaufmann write, “The skull, which had been inside the three bags, was wrapped with several overlapping pieces of duct tape, around the anterior portion of the lower skull, keeping the mandible (lower jaw) and a portion of the maxilla (upper jaw) in place. Garvaglia wrote that the duct tape was ‘clearly placed prior to decomposition.’ She also made clear her view that the remains had been placed at the site soon after Caylee was last seen alive, noting roots from the area’s foliage that were wrapped around some bones and growing into the canvas bag.” Garavaglia believed that vertebrae outside the bags showed animal activity before complete disarticulation – the separation of two bones at their joint – but after decomposition started.

Scalp hairs adhering to the duct tape were sent to the FBI laboratory for toxicology testing. The hair tested negative for major tranquilizers including Xanax. So much for the hypothesis that Casey had tranquilized the child.

A Winnie the Pooh baby blanket had been found in the bags, along with material that had probably originated in a pull-up diaper and a pair of cotton shorts. Glittery pink letters were found scattered around the remains. The letters spelled out the words BIG, TROUBLE, COMES and SMALL. A photograph was found of a smiling Caylee wearing a t-shirt sporting the message: BIG TROUBLE COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES.

The FBI lab found no fingerprints on the duct tape. DNA belonging to a female who was not Caylee, Casey or Cindy was found. It turned out to have been that of a document examiner. No other DNA was found on it.

 

The Prosecution: Countless lies, suspicious computer searches and duct tape

Due to the incredible amount of negative pre-trial publicity directed toward Casey Anthony in the Orlando area, the jury pool was summoned from Clearwater, 100 miles away.  A jury of seven women and five men was impaneled after 11 days of jury selection.  Half of the jurors were parents.  The jury was sequestered in an Orlando hotel.  The trial ran Monday through Saturday each week, with Sundays set aside for family visits with the jurors at the hotel.

Assistant State Attorney Linda Drane Burdick was lead prosecutor in the case of Florida v. Anthony. Assistant State Attorneys Jeff Ashton and Frank George assisted Burdick.

Jose Baez headed the defense team. His assistant counsels were attorneys J. Cheney Mason, Dorothy Clay Sims and Ann Finnell. Casey asked to see Baez after a fellow inmate recommended him. Impressed by him, Casey asked him to take her case. It propelled him, a little-known Orlando attorney who had practiced law for only three years, onto the national stage.

According to ABC News, Baez had a colorful and troubling past. He graduated from law school in 1997 but was not admitted to the bar until 2005. The article reports, “An order by the Supreme Court of Florida states that he was denied admission because of his failure to pay child support to his ex-wife and secure life and health insurance for his teenage daughter.” The order continued that he had at one point defaulted on student loans and declared bankruptcy and that, like his most famous client, he had written bad checks.

Chief Judge of Orlando’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Belvin Perry Jr. presided after Judge Stan Strickland recused himself at the request of the defense. According to Orlando Magazine, the “defense alleged that Judge Strickland’s conversations and lunch with an Orlando blogger showed a bias against the defense.”

Some speculated that the defense erred when they persuaded Strickland to step down as many believed Judge Perry more prone to harsher sentencing.

The son and namesake of one of Orlando’s first black police officers, Perry was known for his no-nonsense demeanor. Orlando Magazine observes, “He is a man of few words, and when he speaks in court not a word is wasted on idle chitchat or grandstanding.”

Perhaps most ominously, from the defense viewpoint, Strickland had sentenced no defendant to death while Perry had sentenced eight defendants to death. Moreover, in his career as a prosecutor, Perry had prosecuted Judy Buenoano for murder. He had asked for the death penalty for Buenoano. The jury sentenced her to death and she was eventually executed. This showed that Perry had no chivalrous aversion toward executing women.

In Burdick’s opening statement, she recounted that the last time anyone except Casey saw Caylee alive was at 12:50 p.m. on June 16, 2008 when she was seen by Cindy and George. Burdick continued that Casey told Cindy she and Caylee were spending the night with nanny Zenaida when Casey would actually spend the night with Tony Lazzaro – who would not see Caylee.

Burdick discussed the lies Casey had told Cindy. The prosecutor emphasized photographs showing Casey frequenting stores during the day and partying at night during the month she tried to keep the concerned grandmother at bay. On July 15, Burdick claimed, Casey told “a new, a bigger and a better lie.” That new lie was that nanny Zenaida had kidnapped Caylee.

Burdick described Casey repeatedly lying to investigating officers. CNN.com relates, “Burdick’s opening statement then moved on to the forensic evidence found in Anthony’s car and at her parents’ house, including the scent of remains picked up by cadaver dogs and Dr. Arpad Vass’s tests confirming the presence of the odor of human decomposition.” Burdick discussed Anthony computer searches for chloroform and neck breaking.

Finally, Burdick came to the discovery of Caylee’s remains. She pointed out that three pieces of duct tape covered the nose and mouth area of the skull. CNN.com reports, “Burdick said there was no reason for the placement of those strips of tape ‘other than the specific intent to end that child’s life.’” She alleged that Casey used chloroform to knock Caylee into unconsciousness and then put duct tape over her nose and mouth, suffocating her. After murdering Caylee, Burdick contended, Casey stuck the corpse in the trunk of her car and drove around with it for a few days before disposing of the decomposing body.

As aggressive an opening statement as this was, Burdick had a major problem on her hands:  She had no real evidence of anything she claimed Casey had done.  Everything she said was merely her theory of what had happened based solely on shreds of circumstantial evidence she was attempting to weave together for the jury. 

 

The defense’s bombshell opening statement

Defense Attorney Jose Baez

Lead defense attorney Jose Baez had a much bigger problem as he approached the jury.  Not only was he defending the most reviled young woman in the United States, his client had a high probability of being sentenced to death unless he had a way to turn the prosecution’s case against her upside down. To do this, Baez needed to fashion a whole new narrative, one that would turn his client from a monster into a victim to be pitied and understood. 

In taking this approach and abandoning the Zanny-the-nanny-did-it-defense, Baez was something like the fellow at the poker table with the worst hand whose only chance of winning was to bluff all the other players into folding their cards by pushing all of his chips into the pot. 

Baez, who fancies himself something of a latter-day Johnny Cochran, began by asking the question that had baffled so many people. “How in the world can a mother wait 30 days before ever reporting her child missing?” he said. “That’s insane, that’s bizarre. . . The answer is actually relatively simple. She never was missing. Caylee Anthony died on June 16, 2008 when she drowned in her family’s swimming pool.”

Baez said George Anthony pulled a dead Caylee out of the pool. He brought the corpse to Casey and shouted, “Look what you’ve done! Your mother will never forgive you. You’ll go to jail for the rest of your life for child neglect.”

The attorney said, “Casey began to cry and cry and cry.” Then she and her father conspired to cover up the death. Baez suggested George feared prosecution because he had been there when the child accidentally drowned.

Both the cover-up and Casey’s partying could be understood because she had spent much of her life pretending things were all right when they were horrible. “After Caylee died, Casey did what she’s been doing all her life, hiding her pain, going into that dark corner and pretending that she does not live in the situation that she’s living in,” Baez related. “It all began when Casey was 8 years old and her father came into her room and began to touch her inappropriately and it escalated.” Baez painted a picture of a girl attending school seeming cheerful, relentlessly keeping up a normal façade after she had been forced to fellate her father the evening before.

Baez said Lee Anthony “tried to follow in his father’s footsteps” and sexually molested his sister, although his abuse was not nearly as extensive.

“Casey was raised to lie,” Baez argued. “Sex abuse does things to us, it changes you.”

Baez concluded, “She’s not guilty of murder. . . This is a sad, tragic accident that snowballed out of control.”

Casey wept as Baez made his opening statement. Cindy and George sat in the courtroom stone-faced as George’s reputation was trashed.

One odd aspect to this defense is the fact that a detective suggested the possibility of an accidental drowning when interrogating Casey – who disregarded it and insisted on the kidnapping by the imaginary Zenaida

The prosecution called George to the stand. He vehemently denied molesting Casey. He also said he knew nothing about Caylee’s supposed drowning. “If I would have known something happened to Caylee, I wouldn’t be here today,” George asserted. “I would have done everything humanly possible to save my granddaughter if what was stated prior really happened.”

 

The chloroform conundrum and decomposition

The prosecution called software expert John Dennis Bradley. He testified that between March 17 through 21, 2008, someone at the Anthony home searched “chloroform” 84 times. The sheer volume of the searches displayed a tremendous amount of pre-meditation on presumably Casey’s part.  Under cross-examination, the best the defense could do to mitigate the damage was to get Bradley to admit there were two computer accounts in the Anthony home and there was no way to know whether it was Casey or her father who conducted the searches.

When Bradley, now back at his office in Oshawa, Ontario, later learned that the software he used had an error in its code, he ran another test and discovered that instead of 84 searches for chloroform there had been only one. That single search led to a website offering information about how chloroform was used in the 1800s.

Knowing that the prosecution placed great weight on a large number of searches as indicating pre-meditation and that Casey Anthony’s life was on the line, Bradley notified detectives and prosecutors of the error. A WESH Orlando article reports that Bradley “even offered to fly back to Orlando at his own expense to correct the testimony.”

Both sides had given their closing arguments when informed of this crucial error. According to CF News 13, “Defense attorney Jose Baez actually asked the judge to instruct the jury about the searches for chloroform, but prosecutors fought back saying they gave their closing argument.”

CF News 13 states, “Legal Analyst David Fussell said had the jury found Anthony guilty, this could have been grounds for a mistrial.”

Dog handler Jason Forgey testified that cadaver dog Gerus indicated a “high alert of human decomposition” at the car trunk. Sgt. Kristin Brewer testified that a dog named Bones alerted for decomposition in the Anthony backyard during a July 2008 search. However, neither dog alerted in a later visit. Brewer believed this was because the odor had dissipated.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia testified, “It’s a red flag when a child has not been reported to authorities with injury, there’s foul play. . . . There is no child that should have duct tape on its face when it dies.” She testified that even a small amount of chloroform could kill a child.

University of Florida Professor Michael Warren was called by the prosecution to show a computer animation of the manner in which duct tape could have been used to murder Caylee. The defense objected to showing this animation. Baez argued, “This disgusting superimposition is nothing more than a fantasy.”

Judge Perry ruled that it could be shown.

 

Warren testified that he thought duct tape was placed on her body before it began decomposing.

The last witness for the prosecution was tattooist Bobby Williams. He testified that Casey told him she wanted “Bella Vita” tattooed on her in a “feminine type font.” On cross-examination, Baez asked if it was “customary in your business for people to get tattoos to remember loved ones who have passed away?” Williams testified that it was common.

This left open the possibility that Casey had the words put on her not to celebrate the “beautiful life” that she could enjoy now that she was rid of her daughter but to commemorate the “beautiful life” that had been lost.

After 18 days of court testimony from 59 witnesses, the prosecution rested.

Although public opinion favored the prosecution, there were problems with its case. As a Time article noted, “From a legal perspective, the case against Anthony is astonishingly weak. Before it rested its case June 15, the state could present only a ragbag of circumstantial bits of evidence against her. Her fingerprints weren’t found on the body or on the duct tape over Caylee’s mouth and nose. No eyewitness ever saw Casey hurt Caylee.” Indeed, prosecution witnesses called to testify to Casey’s partying who had seen her with Caylee invariably said on cross-examination that Casey seemed a doting mother.

The defense: Spitz, Cindy, Kronk and Krystal

The defense called forensic pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz to the stand. He performed a second autopsy on Caylee after Garvaglia’s autopsy. He said there was no clear indication the child’s death was a homicide. He also testified that the duct tape had been placed on Caylee’s skull after it decomposed. He said that if tape was placed on skin, DNA should have been left on it.

Spitz suggested that the crime scene photos may have been staged and that Caylee’s hair had been moved. “The person who took this picture, the person who prepared this, put the hair there,” he said.

In cross-examination, Ashton asked incredulously, “So your testimony is the medical examiner’s personnel took the hair that wasn’t on the skull, placed it there?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Spitz replied. “I can tell you some horror stories about that.”

Cindy testified that she had made searches for “chlorophyll” because she was concerned about how her dogs would be affected by eating bamboo and pulled up “chloroform.” She had searched for “chest injuries” because a friend was injured in a car accident. She recalled seeing “neck breaking” in a pop up for a YouTube of a skateboarder’s stunt. Prosecutors confronted her with employment records indicating she had been at work when the searches were made. She said she had left work early and the records were inaccurate.

The defense suggested Caylee’s body had been moved to the location where Kronk supposedly discovered it. Two private investigators testified they searched the specific area in which Caylee’s remains were later found in November 2008 and the remains had not been there. A team leader for Texas EquuSearch, a private organization dedicated to searching for missing persons, testified to taking two searches of the exact same area that found no remains.

The defense called Kronk. He had received $5,000 from Anthony spokesperson Mark NeJume as what WESH Orlando characterized as a “goodwill gesture” and collected a $5,000 CrimeLine reward. He had been paid a $20,000 photo licensing fee for a nationally televised interview. However, Kronk denied telling his son that the discovery would make him “rich and famous.” The defense called his son who testified that his father had predicted just that.H H

Krystal Holloway, a volunteer in the search for Caylee, took the stand. She testified she and George Anthony had enjoyed a romance while the search was ongoing. The defense entered into evidence a message George had texted her saying, “Just thinking about you. I need you in my life.” She testified that George had said Caylee’s death was “an accident that snowballed out of control.”

Under cross-examination, she said he had not said in their conversations that he was present when the accident happened. She also admitted initially telling police that George had said, “I really believe that it was an accident that just went wrong and [Casey] tried to cover it up.”

Many observers wondered if Casey would testify. They believed the jury would hold it against her if she did not but also thought she might crumble on cross-examination because of the lies she had previously told. How could anyone believe someone who lied so easily, dramatically and frequently?

The defense, after presenting 47 witnesses over 11 trial days, rested without calling Casey Anthony to testify in her own defense. 

The prosecutor then called rebuttal witnesses, including two officials from Cindy’s former employer who stated that she had to have been at work when she had testified to making searches for chlorophyll that pulled up chloroform.

 

Lifestyle clash or pool mishap?

Before closing arguments began, Judge Perry ruled the defense could argue that the child drowned but could not argue Casey’s mental state had been warped by sexual abuse since no evidence had supported that claim.

In the prosecution’s closing, Ashton contended, “When you have a child, that child becomes your life. This case is about the clash between that responsibility, and the expectations that go with it, and the life that Casey Anthony wanted to have.” He reviewed her multitude of lies. He emphasized the odor in the trunk.

Ashton held up a photograph of the laundry bag in which Caylee’s skeletal remains were found, proclaiming, “That bag is Caylee’s coffin!

Casey shivered and tears rolled down her cheeks.

Ashton ridiculed the contention Caylee accidentally drowned. He stated, “No one makes an accident look like murder.”

In the defense closing, Baez derided the prosecution’s forensic evidence as a “fantasy.” He argued there was no proof Caylee had been in the trunk. He said the prosecution’s emphasis on Casey’s lies and partying were an attempt to disguise the weakness of their evidence.

The drowning was “the only explanation that makes sense,” Baez argued. He reminded the jury of the absence of child safety locks in the Anthony home and displayed a photograph of Caylee opening the sliding glass door by herself. He said it would have been easy to forget to take the ladder from the side of the pool.

Burdick gave the prosecution’s rebuttal closing.  She argued that she and her colleagues backed up every claim they made in their opening statement six weeks ago. This indirectly pointed out that the defense never directly backed up their opening-statement claims of either sex abuse or drowning.

She called Casey Anthony “The most well-documented liar ever seen in a courtroom.”

Burdick said that “Responses to guilt are oh-so-predictable. What do guilty people do? They lie, they avoid, they run, they mislead… they divert attention away from themselves and they act like nothing is wrong,”

She displayed to the jury a split-screen with a picture of Casey smiling in a nightclub on one side and a close-up of the “Bella Vita” tattoo on the other.

“Whose life was better without Caylee?” Burdick asked.

 

The stunning verdict

The trial that began on May 24, 2011, went to the jury on July 3.  Deliberations were suspended over the 4th of July holiday and resumed on July 5.  During its deliberations, the jurors did not ask to review any of the 400 exhibits, request any clarifications of the law or ask for any of the trial testimony to be read back.  After deliberating for 10 hours and 40 minutes, the foreperson informed the court that the jury had reached a unanimous verdict that afternoon. 

More often than not when a jury returns a verdict this quickly and without asking for any type of assistance from the court, it bodes ill for the defendant.  This jury, however, was about to prove the old maxim that juries are unpredictable despite what all the talking heads predicted it would conclude.

The jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of murder, aggravated child abuse and manslaughter. She was convicted of four counts of lying to police officers.

Cindy and George Anthony

As the not guilty verdicts were read, Casey wept and hugged her attorneys.

Cindy appeared relieved. George appeared tense. Then they both left the courtroom without approaching their daughter.

Judge Perry sentenced Casey to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines for each of the providing false information counts. She was released from jail on July 17, 2011 due to time already served.

Although much of the public was outraged by the verdict, some seasoned courtroom observers found it understandable. Prominent Orlando defense attorney Richard Hornsby commented, “The bottom line is that the state didn’t convince the jurors that Caylee Anthony died at the hand of Casey. The prosecution never explained when or where Caylee died. Emotions can’t carry a weak case; we need hard facts. There were a lot of holes in the prosecution’s case. Baez’s argument rang true: We don’t know what happened.”

Talking to reporters in the aftermath of the verdict, the triumphant Baez declared, “My driving force for the last three years has been to always make sure there was justice for Caylee and Casey.”

The case was indeed circumstantial and many questions could not be answered. However, the acquittal left many frustrated, as one piece of evidence seemed utterly incompatible with an accident. As People reporters asked, “If Caylee accidentally drowned, why was she found with duct tape over her mouth and nose?”

An outraged Nancy Grace declared, “The devil is dancing tonight.” 

People reported that after the verdict, one spectator screamed, “Baby killer!”

Msnbc.com quotes a woman outside the courthouse saying, “I can’t believe it. I’m shocked.” Another spectator angrily said, “Where’s justice for Caylee? Do you mean to tell me that in Florida you can kill your child, toss her on the side of the road and go free?” The article quotes an Anthony family neighbor stating, “The justice system has failed Caylee.”

No jurors would speak to the press in the first few hours after the verdict. Juror Jennifer Ford broke her silence the next day. “Everyone wonders why we didn’t speak to the media right away,” she observed. She it was because they “were sick to their stomachs” to render that verdict. “We were crying and not just the women. It was emotional and we weren’t ready. We wanted to do it with integrity and not contribute to the sensationalism of the trial.”

It came down to gaps in the evidence. “I did not say she was innocent,” Ford stated. “I just said there was not enough evidence.” Ford believed Casey is a “pathological liar” but added, “bad behavior is not enough to prove a crime.”

Ford remarked, “If you’re going to charge someone with murder, don’t you have to know how they killed someone, or have something [to indicate] where, when, why, how? Those are important questions. They were not answered.”

Another juror talked to the press but asked that his name not be used. He said, “Everybody agreed that if we were going fully on feelings and emotions, she was done.” While talking to the reporter, he fell into tears. “I wish we had more evidence to put her away. . . . but it wasn’t there.” He elaborated that he felt Casey is “not a good person.” However, he continued, “We didn’t know how she died, we didn’t know when she died. Technically, we didn’t even know where she died.”

The jury foreperson said he felt “disgust” about Casey but the evidence was not great enough for a conviction.

While Casey had been acquitted in her daughter’s death, Casey’s problems were not at an end.

The defamation suit of Zenaida Gonzalez seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. Gonzalez says she lost her job as a result of Casey’s lies. That loss led to her eviction from her apartment. She says that she and her six children were harassed and threatened.

In a deposition for that civil suit, lawyers for Casey invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 60 times. Casey’s attorney in that case is Charles Greene. According to a CNN article, “Anthony herself said little in the deposition, but did acknowledge she was aware she was being sued by Gonzalez.” Greene did not permit Casey to answer many questions and stated, “I need not explain our factual basis other than to tell you that it could tend to incriminate and provide a link in the chain of evidence that could be used against her.”

WJXT Jacksonville reported that Judge Perry ordered that Casey “pay nearly $97,000 in investigative costs in the search for her daughter and also ordered that she pay an additional $119,000 to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.” She is held liable for the costs of searching for her daughter because her defense stated she knew Caylee was already dead.

The non-profit Texas EquuSearch (TES) filed sued against Casey for fraud and unjust enrichment. TES states that it spent $100,000 searching for Caylee. Attorney Marc Wites noted, “Resources were allocated here instead of to other families who had a missing person.”

Casey is to a large extent a pariah, with no job as of this writing, so the question of how she will pay the lawsuits is open. Larry Flynt has offered her $500,000 to pose nude for Hustler. Many media outlets would pay to hear her story – although her credibility is virtually non-existent.

A People article reported that a former guard said Casey discussed possible occupations should she be acquitted including “paralegal, dental technician and fashion buyer.” The guard said, “She always talked about how she wanted to do normal things” such as eat good food in contrast to the jail cuisine.

The same article reported that Casey felt extremely estranged from her parents when they gave a post-acquittal interview on the “Dr. Phil” show. George again denied molesting her and indicated he believed she had somehow caused Caylee’s death. Cindy insisted that she had made the infamous “chloroform” searches when she searched “chlorophyll” and suggested Casey’s lying was due to seizures. Like a former boyfriend, Cindy said she had witnessed Casey having a seizure.

Casey is in hiding as of this writing. A friend notes, “She knows that there are people out there who hate her.” Another says, “She has started to learn and recognize her lies and what they did to people. She has a lot of regrets.” Other sources say she plans to receive psychological counseling. People elaborates that she is receiving counseling from people who are donating their services since she is without a job or funds.

Another source remarks, “She’s young, she’s optimistic. She knows that she can’t change the past but she can move forward.”

A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel reports that Casey is “taking part in classes or therapy of some kind” and is “in compliance” in meeting as scheduled with her probation officer for a check fraud conviction.

Vexing questions about Caylee’s tragic death remain. Perhaps they will be answered satisfactorily as a result of the lawsuits or more information from Casey and other sources. Most likely, they never will.

 

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