Just hours into the murder trial, Casey Anthony’s team had called the death of her 2-year-old an accident and her father an incestuous child abuser. Diane Dimond on the shocking opening arguments.
Casey Anthony looked like a tortured ballerina a la the “Black Swan” as her lead defense attorney delivered his shocking opening statement.
The defendant wore her long flowing ponytail down her slender back.
But after lunch she returned, as if to prepare herself for what was about to happen, with her hair knotted up into tight bun.
“This is not a case of first-degree murder,” defense attorney Jose Baez announced to the jury. “On June 15, 2008, Caylee Marie Anthony died in the family swimming pool.” And there it was.
Casey, sitting at the defense table, sobbed into a tissue.
While all those searches for the child were going on over all those weeks and months, she was already dead.
Baez explained to the jurors that, sadly, drownings are the No. 1 cause of children’s deaths in Florida. It’s not a unique situation, he said, unless it happens “in an incredibly dysfunctional family,” like the Anthonys.
“After Caylee died, Casey hid her pain, retreated into a dark corner to escape her ugly life,” Baez said. And it was the description of what he called a “bizarre” and “insane” life that held the entire courthouse rapt.
According to Baez, Casey’s father sexually abused her, beginning at the age of 8. Her older brother Lee also “touched her,” leaving the clear impression it was touching of a sexual nature.
“She was taught to keep the secret and to lie,” her lawyer said. Casey, sitting at the defense table, sobbed into a tissue.
“At 13, she’d have her father’s penis in her mouth and then go to school and play as if nothing was wrong,” Baez said in a dramatic tone. Casey sobbed and covered her face, embarrassed.
“Sex abuse does things to us. Some people can live with it, some can’t,” he added.
At the long defense table surrounded by a team of six, Casey Anthony’s face reddened and she silently dabbed at her nose and eyes.
Sitting in the back of the courtroom, a solemn-looking George Anthony looked down at his folded hands. His wife Cindy sat stoned-faced next to him.
George Anthony wasn’t only incestuously involved with his daughter, according to her defense team, he was the one who fished out the lifeless body of Caylee from their backyard pool and allegedly yelled at his daughter, “Look what you’ve done! Your mother will never forgive you! You will go to jail for child neglect for the rest of your life!” The quote was delivered by a shouting Baez.
The courtroom was left open-mouthed, wondering what happened next on that June morning. But there the defense narrative faltered.
Baez had much derogatory to say about Roy Kronk, the county meter reader who called police several times about seeing a small skull in the woods where Caylee’s remains were ultimately found. Attorney Baez called him “a morally corrupt person… who hid the body” for the $250,000 reward. Baez revealed that Kronk had also sold his story to Good Morning America for $15,000.
Baez never explained how Caylee’s body was disposed of after she was allegedly found in the Anthony’s pool, who put the duct tape on the toddler’s mouth and nose or how Kronk might have come to get the body to hide it. He also never explained why someone who wanted money for a corpse would hide the corpse for months.
The claim that Kronk hid Caylee and deposited her in a wooded area right before her remains were found (to help pay a car-repair bill) does not square with the state’s contention that the amount of overgrowth entwined around her bones showed the child had been in the same spot “for months.”
The state’s opening, which came first, was delivered by prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick. It was a timeline-based presentation during which a heart-tugging photo of Caylee was projected on large courtroom screens.
“This was the last photo (grandma) Cindy ever took of Caylee Marie,” the jurors were told. It was taken as the child visited her great-grandfather for Father’s Day.
There was an audible reaction when a new picture slid next to the smiling little girl with a coloring book in front of her.
“This,” prosecutor Burdick said in a soft voice, “was the last photo ever taken of Caylee—on December 11, 2008.” Hardly a person in court could look for long at the extreme closeup of the child’s skull.
Casey Anthony was sobbing. The jury was still.
Defense attorney Baez tempted the jury with all sorts of information intended to raise reasonable doubt. George used the exact duct tape found on the skull to hang up a missing child poster. George had access to everything Casey did, Baez said, and, without saying it, he seemed to be hinting that the grandfather had wrapped the child’s head with it.
Baez also held up a poster-size evidence photo of the rotting garbage taken from Casey Anthony’s car trunk.
“That’s where the smell [in the car] came from!” he said, as he shoved the poster closer to the jury. Several jurors in the back row leaned forward to take a good look. It was the defense’s counter to the state’s contention that an overwhelming smell in the trunk of Casey Anthony’s car was from human decomposition and a promise that experts would testify to that.
The defense also promised upcoming testimony from George’s alleged mistress, a woman named Crystal Holloway, even displaying a loving text message he had sent her. “She will tell you on January 22, 2009, George broke down and told her, ‘It was an accident that got out of control.'”
Baez didn’t mention that Holloway (a.k.a. River Cruise) has a twin sister named Cecilia (a.k.a. Skye Benhaida) and the sisters were linked to the theft of more than $1,000 in jewelry in 2008. Baez also didn’t mention that they were suspected of selling their story to the National Enquirer.
When George Anthony took the stand as the first witness in the case, Baez did not ask him about his so-called mistress’ statement, or about the pool accident he’d described in his opening statement or about whatever happened to Caylee’s body. But some courtroom observers thought Baez scored points in painting a picture of a non-communicative, perhaps, dysfunctional family.
Did he know his daughter was pregnant? George Anthony said no. Did he ask who the father of his grandbaby was? No. Was he sure his daughter had a job at Universal Studios? Well…no.
But, when the state asked George Anthony direct questions about the defense allegations against him, he vehemently and emotionally denied knowing how, when, or where his granddaughter died. He was equally firm when asked if he’d molested his daughter.
With a quivering chin he replied, “No, sir, I did not.”
Correction: This article misstated that Casey was holding a teddy bear in court.
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. Dimond has written extensively about the John Edwards sex scandal for The Daily Beast and 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.