At the end of the highly acclaimed HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, actress Kate Winslet runs away from her ungrateful, manipulating adult daughter one afternoon and finds herself alone at the bar of her restaurant. Her ex-husband appears at her side—he, the father of the horrid daughter—and tells Mildred it's OK to hate your own child. He grabs a bottle and says, “Let’s get stinko!” Mildred smiles knowingly as the end credits roll.
Veda Pierce’s betrayal (she sleeps with Mildred’s new husband among several other unforgivable transgressions) came to mind Tuesday while watching the testimony of Casey Anthony’s parents during her capital murder trial in Orlando, Florida. The pain in their eyes and the quaver in their voices as they testified about how the betrayal of their own daughter may have led to the death of their 2-year-old granddaughter, Caylee, was heartbreaking. It made one want to give George and Cindy Anthony permission to “get stinko!” to help ease their obvious suffering.
George Anthony has been called to the witness chair by the state several times to help prosecutors weave their narrative tale about this spellbinding case. The defense attorney, Jose Baez, often employs a snarky tone when cross-examining the grandfather of the dead child. In his bombshell opening statement, Baez told the jury that Casey Anthony was the liar that she is because George sexually abused her from the age of 8 and taught her that lying “was normal.” Still, George has steadfastly controlled his emotions as the most painful questions have been asked.
It wasn’t until Grandma Cindy took the stand Tuesday that observers could see how the death of this tiny child—and the chilling evidence that points to their own daughter as the killer—has truly affected this family.
At one point, Cindy Anthony turned to Judge Belvin Perry and said, “Do me a favor? Please take Caylee’s picture off the screen… I just can’t concentrate.” The courtroom’s video screens went black.
“Please take Caylee’s picture off the screen… I just can’t concentrate.”
The state directed Cindy’s testimony to the period between June 15 and July 15, 2008, when Casey took her child away from the family home and failed to return, telling her mother lie after lie to explain her absence. The jury heard how Cindy finally tracked down her daughter at a new boyfriend’s apartment and when she took her mother on a wild goose chase around town and refused to say where Caylee was, the completely frustrated grandmother called the police in hopes the desperate action would compel her daughter to reveal the truth.
In the background, Casey is heard asking her mother for one more day before taking her to Caylee. Cindy snaps, “I'm not giving you another day. I gave you a month!"
Having nowhere else to go, Cindy drove home with Casey and placed a second call to authorities. This 911 call more explicitly blamed Casey Anthony for stealing money and a car from the family. An officer is requested.
On the witness stand, Cindy looked distressed while listening to herself on the two 911 tapes. Her daughter, sitting at the defense table, was stone-faced. Then, Cindy was asked about the last emergency call she had made.
“I was pacing in the hall waiting for the officers to arrive,” she told the court. “It seemed to take forever. Then I overheard Casey tell Lee (her brother) that she hadn’t seen Caylee for 31 days.” Cindy admits panic set in and she lunged for the phone again.
Through gulps of air, Cindy is heard frantically telling the dispatcher, “My granddaughter has been taken! She has been missing for a month! Her mother finally admitted she has been missing! The babysitter stole her… I need to find her!” As the operator calmly asks for the address, Cindy shouts, "There's something wrong. I found my daughter's car today, and it smells like there has been a dead body in the damn car!"
In the witness box, Cindy Anthony fell apart. She covered her face and rubbed her fingers through her short blond hair. Her slender shoulders heaved with sobs. The grief of reliving that moment made her double over and she nearly disappeared behind the desk.
The defendant began to cry, too.
But it wasn’t until the state played a phone call Casey had made from jail right after being arrested that the jury got to hear the unvarnished version of the defendant’s personality. In clipped, nasty tones, she told her mother, “I just saw your nice cameo on TV,” taking about the case. “You don’t know what my involvement is, Mom? Really?” When Cindy tells her daughter not to waste her call on arguing, Casey flippantly (and with frequent “F” bombs) asks for her brother so he can give her the phone number for her boyfriend, which she lost when police confiscated her cellphone. “I don’t want to talk to you. Just put Lee on the phone!”
When it was defense attorney Jose Baez’s turn to question Cindy, he said, “Let’s talk about Casey’s imaginary friends.” Cindy looked befuddled. Baez ran through about 10 people Casey always talked about—from Zanny the nanny to Caylee’s real father. From a wealthy suitor, his young son and mother to a friend named Juliette and her daughter Annabelle. Cindy Anthony had to admit she’d never spoken to or met any of them. Baez asked incredulously, “You believed all these friends are real? “ Cindy answered, “I trusted Casey. She’d never given me any reason not to believe in her.”
After a pause and a heavy sigh, an exhausted looking Cindy said, “I just found out they are imaginary.”
So is the defendant a delusional person with a mental problem or just one damn good pathological liar? Or both? The testimony of Casey’s parents sets the jury up to decide.
Investigative journalist and syndicated columnist Diane Dimond has covered all manner of celebrity and pop culture stories. Her latest book is Cirque Du Salahi which uncovered the full story behind Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the so-called "White House Gate Crashers". Dimond has written extensively about the John Edwards sex scandal for the DailyBeast and she first broke the news that King of Pop Michael Jackson was under investigation for child molestation. She is author of the book, Be Careful Who You Love—Inside the Michael Jackson Case. She lives in New York with her husband, broadcast journalist Michael Schoen.