Published November 17, 2014
Legal experts say prosecutors' meticulous murder case against Casey Anthony so far, along with the woman's sensational claims that her father covered up her daughter's death after the 2-year-old drowned, could make it difficult to avoid a conviction.
Saturday ended the second week of testimony in Anthony's murder trial, and prosecutors say it also marks roughly the halfway point of their case. Prosecutors are trying to prove that the single mother, then 22, suffocated her daughter Caylee by placing duct tape over the girl's mouth and then dumped her body in the woods near her parents' home.
It's a high-profile case that has demanded a methodical approach from a prosecution team with more than 70 years of combined experience — in part because, if convicted, Anthony could become only the fourth woman added to Florida's current roster of 397 death row inmates.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys introduced a wild theory during opening statements, saying that the toddler accidently drowned on June 15, 2008, in her grandparents' swimming pool and that grandfather George Anthony helped dispose of her body. They also claimed he molested Casey when she was a child, leaving her emotionally scarred.
Even without a clear motive established for why Casey Anthony, now 25, might have killed her daughter, some court watchers said those defense arguments may be overshadowing any deficiencies in the prosecution's case.
"I believe they have almost relieved the state of their burden of proof by making such strong assertions in opening statements," said Karin Moore, a professor at Florida A&M University's College of Law. "They are going to have to prove it now. It is going to be a difficult task for them."
Caylee was last seen by her grandparents on June 16, 2008. The state contends Anthony waited 31 days before telling her family the toddler was missing. George Anthony denied abusing his daughter and being involved with Caylee's death on the witness stand, at one point lowering his head and saying, "When I heard that ... it hurt really badly."
So far, prosecutors have mostly ignored all that, meticulously showing jurors the carefree lifestyle Anthony led during the month her child was believed to be missing, and through the repeated lies she told friends, family and law enforcement. They have also presented evidence that a decomposing body — presumably that of Caylee — was in Casey Anthony's car. But the bulk of their forensic evidence is still to come, and it's unclear if it will be enough for a conviction in a highly circumstantial case.
Casey Anthony told detectives she had been trying to find her daughter in the month before the disappearance was reported, but so far prosecutors have shown numerous examples of her going to nightclubs, shopping and hanging out with friends during that time.
It's also undisputed by the defense that once law enforcement was notified, Anthony continued to spin a web of lies centered on an imaginary nanny named "Zanny" that she initially said kidnapped her daughter, taking detectives to a vacant apartment where she claimed the woman lived.
She also took them to Universal Studios theme park, where she had told her parents she worked as an events planner, talking her way in despite having no employee identification. She dropped the charade as she walked detectives toward what she said was her office — but still said she had nothing to do with Caylee's disappearance. The detectives called her a liar and at one point asked her if Caylee had drowned.
One potential problem for prosecutors is that all their witnesses who knew the two have only used words like "loving" and "special" to describe Casey and Caylee's bond — giving no indication the woman wanted to harm her daughter.
That's why prosecutors have focused on Anthony's lies. They even showed more than five hours of recorded jailhouse visits she had with her parents, in which she continued to insist Caylee was kidnapped. The visits occurred after Anthony was jailed on child neglect and criminal obstruction charges and before she was charged with Caylee's death.
The videos also seem to undercut the defense contention that George Anthony helped cover up his granddaughter's death, as he appears to not know where she might be and clings to the hope she might be alive.
Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, said things don't appear to be going well for the defense.
"Given all the question marks about this case and the lack of strong motive evidence for Casey Anthony to kill her own child, there might have been a defense ability to pause at accidental death," Coffey said. "But what happened is that in the opening, the defense went too far, raised other sensational allegations that they don't seem to have any sensational evidence to back up."
Defense attorney Jose Baez has kept the drowning theory alive, getting lead detective Yuri Melich to admit that Anthony's mother, Cindy, mentioned seeing the ladder to the family's above-ground pool up and the gate open in early June.
At the same time, lead prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick and fellow state attorneys Frank George and Jeff Ashton have gotten virtually everyone Casey interacted with in June and July 2008 to say she never mentioned her child wasn't alive during that time.
In the end, Coffey thinks it might force defense attorneys to do something they don't want to do.
"They might not have any choice but to put Casey Anthony on the stand," Coffey said. "And given the clear evidence that she is a compulsive liar, that is the worst kind of choice any defense lawyer would have to make."
Associated Press writers Mike Schneider in Orlando and Tony Winton in Miami contributed to this report.