06.14.11

Did They Get Her?

The Casey Anthony prosecutors wrapped up their case yesterday. Diane Dimond analyzes whether they proved that she killer her toddler daughter—and what the defense needs to do to free her.

After 19 days of testimony, the prosecution wrapped up its case yesterday in one of the most notorious murder trials the state of Florida has ever put on. And with 25-year-old Casey Anthony facing the possibility she will be put to death for the murder of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, the state called the defendant’s mother, Cindy, to tie-up up loose ends.

Cindy explained why the mitochondrial DNA matched the 9-inch long hair found decomposing in Casey's car trunk couldn't have been anyone else in the family's except little Caylee. She testified that the child's Winnie-the-Pooh blanket had mysteriously disappeared from the home along with black plastic trash bags and a canvas laundry bag that had been stored in the garage—all items found with the 2-year-old’s remains.

And then, having bolstered the prosecution, Cindy mouthed the words, "I love you," to her incarcerated daughter as she left the stand.

It would have been a dramatic ending, but the last prosecution witness was actually tattoo artist Bobby Williams who etched a swooping "Bella Vita" tat into Casey's upper back during the time she should have been mourning her baby's death. The jury got to see a photo of Casey, in a white sports bra, displaying the "Beautiful Life" tattoo.

Prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick and her team, Jeff Ashton and Frank George, have methodically walked the panel through testimony from some five dozen witnesses. Jurors have seen and heard things most of us will never have to ponder. Tiny skeleton bones, expert opinions on the smell of human decomposition and insects that feast upon dead flesh, and the possibility that a baby's mother committed deliberate murder so she could be free to go out dancing and drinking with her latest boyfriend.

One young woman testified that Casey once admitted, "I'm such a good liar!"

At times raw reality hit this jury in the face.

There was a graphic minutes-long animation featuring a picture of Caylee's smiling face. It morphed into the real life picture of her skull. Jurors watched spellbound as a piece of recovered duct tape was superimposed over her tiny nose and mouth. Proof, the state said, that just one piece of the tape (three were found with Caylee's remains) would have been enough to suffocate the toddler.

There was jaw-dropping testimony from Medical Examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia explaining why she ruled Caylee's death a homicide by unknown means. Three reasons, she said: the child was not reported missing for more than month, she was hidden in heavy plastic bags and left outside "to rot like trash" in the woods and third, the presence of duct tape around the skull.

"There is no child that should have duct tape of its face when it dies," the coroner said in a firm tone. “I think (homicide) ... is the only logical conclusion."

And there was an excruciating diagram of the 3.8 acre body dump site - a heavily wooded area just 15 houses away from the home Casey and Caylee shared with Grandparents George and Cindy Anthony. Orange County Sheriff's forensics supervisor Ronald Murdock explained what was found in circled areas labeled as "A through I."

"Her skull, an arm and some hand bones" were found in Area A, said Murdock. Another arm bone and a lower leg bone, along with some teeth were recovered from Area B. In Area D the child's right foot bones were discovered with "carnivore damage." In Area F searchers discovered the bones of her trunk and pelvis with both upper leg bones still connected. The two-year-old’s complete spinal column was found dragged into area G and it also showed signs of "animal damage." A few of her ribs were found in Area I. A photo of her nearly re-constructed skeleton laid out on a sterile examining table revealed that some of Caylee was never found.

A computer expert from Canada testified how he drilled down into the family computer and found more than 80 searches on a web site that describes "how to make chloroform" months before Caylee died. John Dennis Bradley told the jury he also found searches for "neck breaking" and "internal injuries."

An expert in human decomposition from the spooky-sounding Body Farm in Oak Ridge, Tennessee testified he was "shocked" at the high levels of chloroform he found in an air sample taken from the defendant's car trunk. Dr. Arpad Vass said after he opened a sealed can which contained a swatch of the trunks stained carpet he involuntarily "jumped back" because the smell of human decomposition was so intense.

Dr. Neal Haskell, a veteran forensic entomologist, confidentially declared that insect activity proved the child's dead body had to have been stored somewhere for a few days before it was placed into the trunk of Casey's car. Haskell said he found a swarm of 'coffin flies' on paper towels recovered from the trunk and those insects appear only during the second stage of decomposition.

Haskell's statements gave weight to evidence from the handlers of two cadaver-searching canines that their police dogs had detected a specific spot near Caylee's playhouse in the Anthony's backyard. It left court-watchers wondering if the child's body might have first been stored inside the playhouse.

Couple the investigative and scientific evidence with testimony from a dozen of Casey Anthony's contemporaries, and the state's presentation takes shape as a strong case. Casey's friends testified that during the 31 days Caylee was "missing" her mother never let on that anything was wrong. She continued to be her fun loving, carefree self. Although one young woman testified that Casey once admitted, "I'm such a good liar!"

Yet this is a circumstantial case and one with questions that will likely never be answered. Everyone seems to agree the child died on June 16, 2008, but her remains weren't located for six months. No cause of death can be determined because there was no soft tissue or muscle left to examine. The deterioration of Caylee's body came from the intense Florida heat, animal scavenging and the aftermath of being submerged in flood waters left by Tropical Storm Fay which roared through the area in August 2008.

As the defense takes center stage tomorrow, lead attorney Jose Baez has already written the legal libretto he must follow. In his opening statement Baez stunned the room when he announced, "This is not a murder trial." Caylee, he said, drowned in the family's pool and Casey kept it a secret because she'd been raised to lie by her sexually abusive father and brother. Baez claimed it was George Anthony who fished the child's lifeless body out of the pool and hinted that it was he who had disposed of the body.

The best person the defense has to testify about all this is Casey Anthony, but will they risk putting an admitted liar—someone who Baez says has several "imaginary friends"—on the stand? How could the jury be expected to believe anything she says? The prosecution would have a field day on cross-examination.

While the defense never has to prove anything, the jury will surely want Baez to explain what he meant when he called Roy Kronk, a county meter reader who found the remains, "a morally bankrupt person" who hid the body of Caylee so he could collect a $250,000 dollar reward.

If Jose Baez doesn't fully explain his opening allegations you can bet the Prosecution will remind the jury of that failure in its closing statement.