The Casey Anthony defense team began with a blockbuster opening statement, full of jaw-dropping claims and promises of evidence that would explain away incriminating testimony about sex, lies and prison video tapes.
Lead defense attorney Jose Baez’s gambit caused many veteran court watchers to predict Casey Anthony would have to take the stand to testify on her own behalf—especially if her team hoped to prove that her bizarre party girl actions following the death of her two-year-old daughter Caylee stemmed from years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father George and her brother Lee.
Yesterday, Judge Belvin Perry specifically offered Ms. Anthony the opportunity to tell her side of the story.
“Is it your decision not to testify based upon consultation with your counsel?” he yesterday.
Standing at her lawyers side and wearing a tailored pinstriped blouse Casey Anthony said, “Yes,sir.”
Thus, the defense concluded with a whimper and a basket full of unfulfilled promises to the jury. No Casey to explain the alleged abuse Baez had offered. No direct testimony to prove incest. No evidence of a mystery man who moved the body after death as Baez had described. No proof presented that showed Caylee had accidentally drowned and fished out of the family pool by her grandfather who then disposed of her body.
When it was over there were many more questions than answers and no one in the elaborate ceremonial courtroom on the 23rd floor of the Orlando courthouse had a clue about what the jurors were thinking.
Throughout six weeks of testimony the jurors have looked both rapt and bored. The forensic evidence was, as usual, presented in a scientifically plodding manner. Law enforcement officials garnered more interest as they walked the jury through each step of their investigation. Some witnesses came and went quickly, others were re-called several times, including members of the Anthony family.
For comic relief there was a colorful grief counselor named Dr. Sally Karioth who holds masters degrees in both nursing and musical theatre. She called herself a “certified traumatologist” and was introduced to help the jurors understand how Casey Anthony could go on with life for 31 days as if her child hadn’t died. In speaking about the different ways people grieve, the prosecution got her to admit that there really is no scientific precedence for the defendant’s actions.
In the social media sphere, where so many people have followed the case, prominent Orlando defense attorney Mark Nejame tweeted of Karioth’s testimony: “Find me one other person out of 6,000,000,000 in (the) world who went boozin’, stealin’, screwin’ and tatooin’ after their child died.”
In the opening statementm attorney Baez had excoriated county meter reader Roy Kronk, the man who found Caylee’s remains in the woods near her grandparent’s home. Baez labeled Kronk “a morally bankrupt individual” and said that he had gotten the child’s dead body (in some unexplained way) and hidden it for months while waiting for the reward money to grow. There was no specific testimony to explain this part of Baez’s storyline.
The only true controversy rising from Kronk’s time on the stand went largely unaddressed. The jury heard tape recordings from three separate phone calls the meter reader had made to authorities in August 2008 reporting he had found something “that looked like a little skull.” On August 13th an officer was dispatched who did no investigation of the area and who berated Kronk for wasting his time, saying the swampy area had already been searched.
“He climbed back up the embankment and slipped in the mud, got mad and chewed me out for half an hour,” Kronk said bitterly. “I’m still mad about it.” When Kronk went back to the area on December 11, 2008, after flood waters had receded, he once again called in what he saw. This time officers responded en masse and a massive recovery effort followed. However, after six months out in the elements Caylee Marie Anthony’s scattered and skeletal remains held no definitive clues as to her cause of death.
Jose Baez had promised the jury to reveal “ugly things, secret things” about the “dysfunctional” Anthony family that had caused his client to cover up the accidental drowning of her baby daughter. Gripping the side of the lawyer’s podium at center stage and shifting his weight like a boxer ready to fight Baez asked George Anthony if he knew what the criminal penalty was for molesting a child under the age of 12. A stoic George firmly denied the implication. “I would never to anything like that to harm my daughter.”
Baez was also unsuccessful in his attempt to have Jesse Grund, a former boyfriend of Casey’s, testify about the time she had told him her brother hovered over her bed at night and tried to touch her. When brother Lee was in the witness chair Baez never asked him about his sister’s claim.
Lee did offer a raw glimpse inside a festering family wound. He openly cried when asked why he wasn’t at the hospital when his niece was born. His voice choked with emotion when he explained his continued hurt over being shut out of his sister’s pregnancy.
“I was just angry at everyone in general… that they didn’t want to include me,” Lee said, wiping his eyes. What caused the schism over the out-of-wedlock birth was never explained.
There was testimony about a secret extra-marital affair between George Anthony and a woman named Krystal Holloway, aka River Cruz. He denied the affair. She told the jury George once said to her it was all “an accident that snowballed out of control.” Prosecutors confronted her with a sworn police statement in which she had said George told her “I believe it was an accident that snowballed out of control.” The distinction caused Holloway distress and she fidgeted and sniffled through the remainder of her testimony.
As jury deliberations near—expected to start soon after the July 4th break—the jurors will certainly remember the beating George Anthony took during this trial. Jose Baez has tried to paint him as the evil monster in a tragic family drama that culminated in the death of a 2-year-old child. George Anthony did not lie down and take it.
He and Baez sparred back and forth in front of the jury on many subjects pointedly calling each other “sir” as if to stress civility in an uncivil conversation. Asked by Baez why his police statement said only that he smelled “de-comp” and not “human decomposition” in the trunk of his daughter car the former cop sat up straight and replied through gritted teeth.
“Sir, let me be clear. I am 100 percent sure … it smelled like human decomposition. That`s what it smelled like to me. And my knowledge of law enforcement and what I saw for ten years of law enforcement gives me that opportunity to know what that is. I can close my eyes at the moment, sir, and I can smell that again. “ The jury watched closely as he closed his eyes for effect.
Defense attorney Baez asked about his January 2009 suicide attempt by asking with a sneer, “So, you got a six pack of beer and some blood pressure medicines?”
“Sir, I had lots of different medicines….I didn’t want to be in this world anymore. I needed to go be with Caylee. I believed I failed her,” and Grandpa George openly wept.
Through the two hours of tearful testimony Casey Anthony sat watching her father with a look on her face that registered between disinterest and disdain. After he left the stand she smiled and whispered with her defense atorneys.
Later, the eight-page suicide note George wrote to Cindy Anthony was projected on the courtroom screens for the jury to read. It began with, “I cannot be strong anymore...” and ended with, “I love you Cynthia Marie. Caylee here I come. Lee, I am sorry.”
One of the last areas of questioning from the defense required George, Cindy and Lee to be recalled to the stand individually to describe how the family had disposed of their dead pets over the years. Baez asked about dogs and cats going back 30 years and in each instance the jurors heard the Anthony’s routine practice was to place the animal in plastic bags and secure it with strips of packing or duct tape. The last such burial occurred when Casey Anthony was a senior in high school and her mother testified her daughter was present for the preparation of the body and some of the other entombments in the family’s back yard.
It was clear from the tone Baez used that he wanted jurors to infer that George used the burial tradition to dispose of his grand-daughter’s body. After cross-examination by the state, the focus shifted to Casey.
“Did you ever throw a dead pet in a swamp?” prosecutor Jeff Ashton asked George Anthony. He shook his head no.
Lead prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick asked Cindy Anthony, “I take it you didn’t euthanize your own pets with chloroform?”
“No, ma’am,” she answered.
“Did you put duct tape on the nose and mouth?”
Again, the answer was, “No, ma’am.”
As he watched the court action Orlando attorney Mark NeJame commented, “Doesn’t Jose Baez realize this (goes to show) how Casey Anthony learned to bag a dead animal and she merely repeated this on Caylee?”
Next up: the state concludes its brief rebuttal case. Then closing arguments. And then the jury finally decides a sad, bizarre case that has gripped a nation