Two summers have passed since Casey Anthony was acquitted of the murder of her daughter, 2-year-old Caylee Anthony. After the verdict that shocked the nation and the world, Casey returned to life on the outside. But life has been anything but normal for her – she lives in seclusion, supported by her legal team and unknown benefactors. She’s embroiled in three civil lawsuits and has filed for bankruptcy protection. Any hope of multi-million dollar book deals and interviews has long since dissipated. Casey won her freedom but remains one of the most reviled women in America. By and large, the public believes she is guilty. The justice system in the state of Florida took a beating in the court of public opinion. But what went wrong in that Orlando courtroom? To answer that, let us start at the infamous tow yard in Orlando where the Pontiac Sunfire was recovered:
George Anthony and his wife, Cynthia (Cindy), arrived at the tow yard on a tropical July day in 2008. Cindy made a scene, outraged at the paperwork and expensive fee required to recover the Sunfire, which had been impounded since June 30th. As George and yard manager Simon Birch approached the vehicle, George noticed the odor. He later reported that he braced himself for the worst possible outcome…fearing he would find the dead bodies of his daughter Casey and granddaughter Caylee. A quick check of the trunk uncovered no such horror, but the stench of human decomposition was unmistakable. Insects later identified as coffin flies escaped from the open trunk, and maggots had invaded debris and a bag of normal household garbage. Simon Birch would testify that he had detected the odor within a few days after impounding the abandoned Sunfire from an Orlando Amscot office.
What happened next theoretically derailed any hope of securing justice for a murdered child. George, a former police detective, Cindy a nurse, and Simon the experienced impound manager, were all acquainted with the distinctive odor of human decay. All of them identified it. No one called the police. Filling the empty gas tank, George rolled down the windows and drove the car home. Caylee’s favorite doll sat alone in the child’s rear seat carrier — her backpack and clothing were also there, along with a pair of women’s slacks, heels and a handbag belonging to George’s daughter, Casey.
Or as Prosecutor Linda Drane-Burdick would ask repeatedly in opening statements:
“Where is Caylee?”
With the car securely in the family garage and the battery removed to ensure it would remain stationary, George left for his shift as a security guard. Cindy applied herself to the task of tracking down her missing daughter and cleaning up a potential crime scene. We can imagine that Caylee’s doll gazed at her reproachfully as Cindy scrubbed and sanitized, emptied a can of Febreeze, and washed her daughter’s clothes. With renewed determination, Cindy then tracked down Amy Huizenga, Casey’s friend, persuading her to lead the way to Casey’s hideout. MIA for the last month from the family home after a mega-blowout with Cindy, Casey Anthony had vanished in the older model Sunfire her parents had provided for her exclusive use. In a vindictive gesture, Casey had packed Caylee and her backpack in the car and driven away from the only home her tiny daughter had ever known. Then came silence. Days then weeks passed. Casey spun elaborate tales of vacations, beach trips, and glamorous hotel work assignments in her [nonexistent] career as an “event planner.” Cindy waited.
But where was Caylee?
The impound notice arrived, and all hell broke loose. Cindy’s fierce temper flared, and she would wait no more. Late that night, with her elusive wild child hunted down at the apartment of her new lover Anthony Lazzaro, Cindy Anthony got Casey in the car. She placed a call to 911. Finally! But then something strange happens…or doesn’t happen. Cindy informs the dispatcher that she wants to report a stolen car. Naming her daughter as the car thief, an agitated Cindy yells that it smells as if a dead body was in the damn car! Indignantly, she adds that money was stolen.
Stolen car, stolen money. But WHERE is Caylee?
With officers on their way, another 911 call is placed as Cindy and Casey head home. Eventually, Casey speaks directly to the dispatcher. In a flat monotone, this young mom describes a horrifying scenario. Her daughter Caylee, age 2, has been missing for…31 D-A-Y-S!
The 911 call featured prominently in the murder trial of Casey Anthony. The prosecution built a case on those 31 days this young woman was “drinking, screwing, stealing and tattooing… “ [legal commentator Mark Nejame]. But that night, Casey was dealing with a more urgent and familiar problem. Cindy was a volcano of anger, and Casey’s short-lived escape had come to an end. The abandoned Sunfire ensured that her parents would ultimately put the pieces together.
Financially dependent, she relied on them to provide for her and her toddler. Lying about being employed, she had constructed an elaborate fantasy life. Maintaining the illusion of a professional event coordinator, she would dress the part, departing for “work” at Universal Studios. Caylee would accompany her mom to be delivered to the nanny or left in the care of the company-provided child care center. When Cindy was at work, on days George was working a later shift, Casey would return home when the coast was clear. Cindy and George, of course, never met any of Casey’s phantom work colleagues nor did they ever initiate contact with nannies or other adults entrusted with the care of their granddaughter.
Without income, Casey had a strategy for making ends meet: raiding Cindy’s bank accounts. Cindy would find out, scream and yell, and things would blow over. Life continued in this pattern until Casey’s impulsive departure that June day.
As Casey responded to the emergency dispatcher, an implausible explanation emerged for not reporting Caylee missing. Casey was conducting her own investigation. Dropped off at the nanny’s apartment the morning of June 16th, Caylee had disappeared that day with nanny Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez. Although specifics would change over the next five months, Casey didn’t budge from her alibi.
Responding officers at the Anthony home reported on the car odor. Casey was interviewed. The police deferred to the jurisdiction of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO). Yuri Melich, a detective in the Child Abuse and Missing Person’s Division, arrived at the home on Hopespring Drive. From that time continuing throughout the following day, Detective Melich (Yuri) grilled Casey for information, drove her to the nanny’s apartment building, had her point out specific locations supporting her alibi. Zenaida’s (Zanny) apartment had been vacant for over 100 days. Nothing about her story added up.
Yuri and another detective eventually drove Casey to Universal. A confused HR employee escorted them as Casey walked with purpose to her “office.” As she led them down a hallway, she stopped abruptly finally admitting she didn’t work there. Yuri and his partner used an available conference room to interview Casey, giving her every opportunity to come clean. She refused. Casey Anthony was arrested later that day, July 16, 2008, charged with child neglect, false statements and obstructing a criminal investigation.
When cadaver dogs hit on the car trunk, George Anthony released the car to law enforcement custody for forensic analysis.
By late August, Casey was out on bond. Equusearch, the missing persons search organization, arrived in Orlando to aid in the search for Caylee. Owner Tim Miller needed direction on where to focus their efforts. When he asked Casey to point out locations for the search, he was rewarded with the wrath of Cindy. Casey was off limits and Cindy unceremoniously kicked Miller out of her home.
Detectives continued their investigation. Computers were seized revealing Internet searches for “neck breaking”, “shovel”, “chloroform” and more. A series of photos documented much of Casey’s social life during the month her little girl was missing. Casey herself had uploaded them to MySpace and Photobucket. There she was grinding her stuff in a Hot Body Contest at Fusian Lounge. There she was with new lover Tony at his hip-hop showcases at Fusian — drinking shots, partying hard. Casey moved in with Tony and his roommates. Tony had met little Caylee a couple of times and was fond of her. But displaying maturity and decency, he made it clear that his apartment was unsuitable for a child.
On the last day Caylee was seen alive, Casey and Tony are captured on store cameras shopping for videos. Caylee was nowhere in sight. Tony would testify that they spent the next couple of days in his bed. He missed a day of school. Devastated to learn of Caylee’s fate, he and his friends cooperated fully with police. Casey had offered him a series of explanations about Caylee’s absence, the same fun activities she was lying to Cindy about. Portraying herself as an event planner to Tony, she’d spend her days doing god knows what until Tony arrived home from school. Stealing friend Amy’s cash and checkbook, she’d buy herself clothes at Target and cases of beer and groceries for Tony and his roommates. Life was good. Casey memorialized her freedom with a new shoulder tattoo. Bella Vita.
Casey was charged with murder and was remanded to jail to be held without bail. First degree murder charge is a capital offense in Florida subject to the death penalty. Lesser charges were aggravated manslaughter of a child, aggravated child abuse and four charges of lying to law enforcement. In a separate case, Amy had her prosecuted for stealing her money.
In a memorable observation, while sentencing Casey for perpetrating the check fraud, Judge Stan Strickland declared that “the truth and Miss Anthony are strangers.”
Despite their initial determination to hold Casey legally accountable, Cindy and George did a total reversal. Defending Casey consumed them. Public perception was that the entire family was conspiring to subvert justice. Their relationship with law enforcement deteriorated. Cindy perjured herself on the stand insisting that she performed the chloroform searches on the computer. In a ridiculous lie, she said she’d been searching for “chlorophyll” for her dogs but the search results pulled up “chloroform”. Prosecutor Linda Drane-Burdick’s patience wore thin during this testimony. Cindy’s employer had verifiable proof that Cindy was at work during those searches on their home computer. Cindy was defiant.
Dedicating themselves to freeing Casey, Cindy and George had long ago quit their jobs. Establishing a Caylee Foundation, they lived on donations and traveled to various Caylee sightings throughout the country. Yet they refused to participate in a single organized search for their granddaughter. This went on for a few months until December 11, 2008. On that day a meter reader found a small child’s skeletal remains in a swampy wooded area about 3/4 mile from the Anthony residence.
Caylee had been found.
When the remains were discovered, Cindy and George were chasing another suspected Caylee sighting in California. They flew home, checking into the Ritz Carlton Orlando, courtesy of ABC. Their home was being searched for evidence following the recovery of Caylee’s body. They dined that night at the Ritz. Their party included their son Lee and his girlfriend, the Anthony’s private investigator, the ABC producer and defense attorney Jose Baez. Baez later justified the luxurious meal by insisting they discussed the case, adding that it was understandably a somber occasion. While they dined, Caylee’s remains lay at the office of the Medical Examiner awaiting autopsy.
After extensive toxicology and forensic anthropological testing, in June 2009 the Orange County Medical Examiner was prepared to release autopsy findings as public record. George and Cindy tried to block the release but the judge rejected their motion. Physical evidence was compromised. Caylee’s body had been submerged in Hurricane Faye, and her skeletal remains scattered by animal activity. Dr. Jan Garavaglia (Dr. G) testified that Caylee’s face and airways had been wrapped in duct tape. The tape had kept the mandible attached to the skull. The child had been placed in a laundry bag and double bagged in plastic trash bags. Manner of death: homicide by unknown means.
Dr G: “There is no reason for duct tape to be near a child’s face.”
Testifying for the defense, once-prominent pathologist Dr. Werner Spitz conducted an independent autopsy. Calling Dr. G’s autopsy “shoddy,” Dr. Spitz maintained that her conclusions were unreliable since she had neglected to open the child’s skull. In ghoulish testimony, he was forced to reveal that Caylee’s tiny skull shattered from his use of an industrial saw. The state argued that with no remaining brain tissue to examine, such clumsy manhandling was unprofessional and incompetent.
The state built a meticulous case against Casey Anthony, so what went wrong? Jeff Ashton had a solid reputation as the first attorney in Florida to win a conviction based on DNA technology. Were they overconfident? In her opening statements, Prosecutor Linda Drane-Burdick did a superb job detailing Casey’s life as a reluctant single mom. Living under the thumb of her controlling mother, the two women were in constant conflict over Caylee. Overbearing, Cindy nagged incessantly about money issues and about her daughter’s irresponsible behavior. Casey wanted to go on a trip to Puerto Rico with her single friends. Cindy refused. They fought constantly. Cindy would threaten to take Caylee away from her. Casey’s pathological lying and stealing escalated. Despite the preposterous double life she was leading, Cindy and George turned a blind eye and pretended to believe her. They took her word for the nonexistent nanny, her phantom job and phantom paycheck.
The Likely Murder Scenario:
Through phone records and pings, the state established that Casey was close to home after leaving with Caylee on June 16, 2008, the last day of Caylee’s life. After George left for work, Casey returned home. She turned her cell phone off for a few hours that afternoon. Possibly drugging Caylee with chloroform, she blocked her airways with duct tape and suffocated her. Grabbing household items like the tape and laundry bag, she finished up by placing the heart sticker on her child’s face.
Casey ran out of time. Until she could figure out a plan to dispose of the body, she placed Caylee in her car trunk. She and Tony agreed to meet up at his apartment. Within a couple of hours of Caylee’s murder, Casey was walking arm-in-arm with Tony at the video store. For the next two days, they didn’t leave his bedroom. No one around Casey during that time detected anything different about her. She was happy.
After a few days in the Florida heat, Caylee’s body was rapidly decomposing. Casey told Amy that George must have run over a squirrel because there was a terrible odor in her car. Without a plan, she finally disposed of Caylee’s body close to her home as many killers do. A wooded area known to collect refuse became Caylee’s final resting spot. The outline of a small body curled in the fetal position left its impression in the trunk that had been her temporary coffin.
Dr. Arpad Vass, a scientific pioneer in human decomposition, testified for the state. He testified that every compound found in early human decomposition was present in the trunk, along with a “shocking” amount of chloroform. The defense countered that the household garbage attracted the flies and created the foul odor, and chloroform can result from other less sinister sources. A forensic entomologist testified about insect activity supporting the state’s assertion that Caylee’s body had spent 3 to 4 days in the trunk. Flies and larvae are attracted to the fatty acids present in human adipocere, similar to a waxy substance found in the trunk. Again, the defense blamed the garbage bag. A single hair was recovered from the trunk. Mitochondrial DNA identified it as belonging to the maternal side of the family. Early decomposition was detected at one end of the strand. Prosecutors said it was Caylee’s. Defense said it could have been Casey’s.
It was widely reported that Jose Baez monitored social media preceding and throughout Casey Anthony’s trial. During the eight years during which he was banned by the Florida Bar, Baez worked for information company LexisNexis while doing paralegal work and operating a bikini company. Media savvy, he made use of a jury consultant as well. Did the strategy work?
If it led to the bombshell revelations during his opening statements, the answer would be yes. George Anthony did not come across as a sympathetic figure throughout the trial. He sat silently in court while Baez delivered the accusations that presented George as a co-conspirator in the cover-up of Caylee’s death. While Casey cried on cue, Baez told the jury that Caylee was never kidnapped or missing. She had drowned in the family swimming pool. George discovered the body and cruelly blamed his daughter for negligence. Instead of calling for emergency help to revive Caylee, George, a former detective and doting grandfather, assured Casey he would dispose of her body. Their secret. And why would Casey agree to such a nonsensical plan? Another secret. Sexual abuse. In graphic terms presented for maximum shock value, Baez described a twisted, incestuous bond between father and daughter. She was used to secrets.
These questions remained unanswered. When Jose Baez delivered his closing argument, his client was portrayed as the ultimate victim, a young woman so damaged that she resorted to a fantasy world populated by her own cast of characters. The grief expert had explained away the hot body contests. Everyone grieves differently.
So that was that. The trial was over. The jury spent about 10 hours to conclude that Casey Anthony was guilty of lying to law enforcement. She had already served time for the check fraud conviction, and would be released in a matter of days. Interviews with the jury would reveal they didn’t understand basic jury instructions. At least one sought a six figure book deal. They liked Baez, they didn’t like Ashton. They didn’t like George. They reviewed no evidence.
In a celebratory mood, the defense team headed to the downstairs restaurant to toast their victory. Through the window, senior attorney Cheney Mason gazed out. In a fitting conclusion, he raised his hand in the vulgar gesture that requires no explanation, and turned back to lift his glass.
About Bondbabe007: I am an avid trial watcher, seeker of justice, true crime follower and blogger. I have a particular interest in victims, so frequently forgotten or overlooked in contrast to the narcissism and flamboyance of many perpetrators. I welcome comments and feedback.
Click below to read Bondbabe007′s recent post on the death of Meredith Kercher:
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