Sunday 4 December 2016

Jury prepares to decide fate of mum in Caylee (2) murder case

Kyle Hightower in Orlando and Independent.ie reporters

Published 04/07/2011 | 15:37

Casey Anthony pictured during the final stages of her trial in Orlando. Photo: Getty Images
Casey Anthony pictured during the final stages of her trial in Orlando. Photo: Getty Images
Casey Anthony pictured during her trial with defense counsel Cheney Mason. Photo: Reuters
Casey Anthony pictured enjoying a night out while her two-year-old daughter was missing
Caylee Marie Anthony daughter of Casey Anthony
The parents of Casey Anthony, George and Cindy Anthony pictured at the memorial for their granddaughter Caylee Anthony
Casey Anthony pictured enjoying a night out while her two year-old daughter was missing

The trial of single mum Casey Anthony on charges that she murdered her two-year-old daughter to enjoy a carefree life, was nearing conclusion in Orlando, Florida today.

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Prosecutor Jeff Ashton reminded the jury that all of the scientists for the state agreed that the skeleton of little Caylee Anthony, which was found in the woods six months after the child disappeared in June 2008, had been there for months. The defense contends the skeleton was either placed there or had been disturbed.

The skull and jaw bone were held together by duct tape, which meant it had been in place before the body decomposed, he said. The prosecution contends Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape.

"People don't make accidents look like murder, that's absurd,," he said in response to the defence claim that Caylee died in a swimming accident and because her mother Casey had suffered a dysfunctional childhood, she lied and hid the body.

Anthony has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder. She could face a possible death sentence or life in prison if convicted of that charge.

She is also charged with aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to law enforcement.

Ashton began his original closing argument by showing a video of Casey Anthony playing with Caylee, causing Anthony to apparently choke back tears. But she quickly regained her composure.

He told the jury that Anthony wanted a relationship with her boyfriend, to go out with her friends and to live the carefree life she had lived before Caylee's birth.

"Something needed to be sacrificed. That something was either the life she wanted or the life thrust upon her. She chose to sacrifice her child," Mr Ashton said during his 90-minute argument.

The prosecution contends that Caylee was suffocated with duct tape by her mother, who then crafted elaborate lies to mislead everyone, from investigators to her own parents.

Defence lawyers countered that the toddler accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool, and that her seemingly carefree mother in fact was hiding emotional distress caused by alleged sexual abuse from her father, George, who has firmly denied that claim.

But neither prosecutors nor the defence have offered firm proof of how Caylee died.

"It can never be proven," defence lawyer Jose Baez said. That by itself should give the jury reasonable doubt that Ms Anthony killed her daughter, he said.

He said the prosecutors' case was so weak that they tried to portray Anthony as "a lying, no-good slut".

For the prosecution, Mr Ashton said Ms Anthony was concerned that her daughter Caylee was getting to the age where she might have let it slip that her mother was spending her days and nights with her boyfriend, not going to work and leaving Caylee with a nanny.

"Casey is very bright," Mr Ashton said. "Her lies are very detailed . . . But when Casey wants to do what Casey wants to do, she finds a way."

Jurors heard previously that Ms Anthony's DNA was not found with her daughter's skeletal remains when they were discovered in December 2008.

The burden of proof very much rests on the shoulders of the prosecution.

To date they have relied upon a highly circumstantial case, focusing on what they called the lies told by Ms Anthony in the 31 days after Caylee was last seen alive.

They also heavily concentrated on an odour in the boot of Ms Anthony's car, which the prosecution's forensics experts said was consistent with the smell of human decomposition.

However, no physical evidence ever linked Ms Anthony to traces of chloroform found in the boot, and Judge Belvin Perry ruled that the jury would not get to smell air samples taken from that boot.

The sensational trial has been broadcast across the US, and millions of Americans tuned in again today to hear the closing arguments.

"There's something wrong. I found my daughter's car today and it smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car."

These words, spoken by Cindy Anthony, in a phone-call to Florida police on 15 July 2008, reporting her daughter and granddaughter missing, sparked the beginning of a bizarre murder case that has gripped America for the past three years.

Cindy's daughter, Casey, and her two-year-old granddaughter Caylee, had been missing from their home for about a month, when Casey's car turned up in a tow yard. Her parents collected the car and on opening the boot noticed the unpleasant smell.

When Casey returned to her parents' home, where she and Caylee lived, and told them she had left her child with a childminder a month earlier. She then claimed the childminder had abducted Caylee and that she had been searching for her on her own for weeks.

But the name of the babysitter Casey gave to police, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, was just the beginning of a series of bizarre and conflicting lies that would lead to her arrest. When investigators found Gonzalez, she had never met Casey or her family. Moreover, the apartment Casey had said was the minder's home, where she'd left Caylee, had been vacant since February.

Casey claimed to have been looking for Caylee going to nightclubs she said she thought the babysitter frequented. But friends she partied with said she had never mentioned the child's disappearance to them, adding she didn't seem unduly troubled. Casey had simply said Caylee was with the nanny.

She updated her picture galleries on her social media sites regularly with party pictures during this time.

From early on police made it clear they were not looking for anyone else in the case. Apart from Caylee's grandparents and Casey herself, no one seemed to hold much hope the child was still alive.

By October 2008, despite the fact that no body had been found, Casey was indicted and charged with intentionally killing her daughter, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter and providing false information.

Still, investigators knew without a body or hard evidence, even her elaborate trail of lies and suspicious behaviour might not lead a jury to convict her. Then in December 2008 came a breakthrough.

A man who had called police three times about a suspicious bag he'd seen in swampy woodland called again several months later. He had returned to the area and was surprised to see the bag was still there. This time investigators found Caylee's remains, her mouth bound by duct tape, with a heart-shaped sticker placed on top.

She had been wrapped up in a Winnie the Pooh blanket, and a plastic toy horse and, more chillingly, a stainless-steel knife were also reported to be found at the scene. The site was less than half a mile from Casey Anthony's home.

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