ORLANDO, Fla. May 24, 2011 — -- Casey Anthony's lawyer opened her defense today with the stunning claim that her daughter Caylee Anthony drowned in the family's swimming pool on June 16, 2008, a month before she was reported missing.
The claim in her lawyer's opening statement was the most remarkable moment in a day of startling accusations and revelations that included charges of incest, claims that the man who found the girl's body put it there, and that Casey Anthony faked having a job and a nanny for two years while living with her parents.
The opening statements began in an Orlando courtroom today, nearly three years after Caylee was reported missing in the summer of 2008. Anthony, 25, faces a battery of charges including first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, aggravated child abuse and providing false information to law enforcement. She could face the death penalty if convicted.
Her lawyer, Jose Baez, tackled the most difficult question during his opening statement: How Casey Anthony could go for a month without reporting her daughter missing.
"How in the world can a mother wait 30 days before ever reporting her child missing? That's insane, that's bizarre... The answer is actually relatively simple. She never was missing," Baez said. "Caylee Anthony died on June 16, 2008 when she drowned in her family's swimming pool."
Baez also claimed that Casey Anthony's father, George Anthony, found the body in the backyard pool and indicated that he helped dispose of the body. The defense lawyer even suggested George Anthony planted evidence to implicate his daughter and deflect suspicion from himself.
"What makes this case unique is the family that it happened to. You will hear stories about a family that is incredibly dysfunctional, you will hear about ugly things, secret things, things that people don't speak about," Baez said.
Casey Anthony wept as defense attorney Baez described her and her family. Anthony's defense team alleges that she was sexually abused by her father and brother and hid her daughter's death like she hid the secret of her alleged sexual abuse.
"On June 16, 2008, after Caylee died, Casey did what she's been doing all her life, hiding her pain, going into that dark corner and pretending that she does not live in the situation that she's living in... it all began when Casey was 8 years old and her father came into her room and began to touch her inappropriately and it escalated," Baez said.
George Anthony, the first witness called in the trial, denied the defense team's allegations that he ever abused his daughter, Casey Anthony. He said that today's opening statements were the first time he ever heard about Caylee's alleged drowning.
"When I heard that today, it hurt really bad. If I would have known something happened to Caylee, I wouldn't be hear today," George Anthony testified. "I would have done everything humanly possible to save my granddaughter if what was stated prior really happened."
The defense lawyer said that Casey Anthony's actions in the month before Caylee was reported missing, but allegedly already dead, were affected by the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her father.
"Casey Anthony was raised to lie," Baez said. He added, "Sex abuse does things to us, it changes you."
The attorney said, "She's not guilty of murder... This is not a murder case. This is a sad, tragic accident that snowballed out of control."
Casey Anthony Murder Trial Begins With Tears
Baez alleged that after pulling Caylee from the pool, George Anthony screamed at Casey Anthony, "Look what you've done. Your mother will never forgive you. You'll go to jail for the rest of your life."
The defense lawyer claimed George Anthony attempted to make his daughter look guilty to stop the public from finding out about his alleged sexual molestation of Casey Anthony.
"You'll see evidence, conclusive evidence, that he took steps to throw his own daughter under the bus just to protect himself," Baez told jurors.
He claimed in his opening statement that George Anthony reported gas cans missing from his shed to point the investigation towards his daughter, Casey. The gas cans had traces of the same duct tape found on Caylee's body.
The prosecution claims Casey Anthony stole the gas cans from the family shed. The defense claims Casey Anthony routinely took gas cans from the family shed.
Baez said that George Anthony suggested that Caylee's death was an accident in a comment to an alleged mistress he met while posting flyers and raising money to find Caylee. "George began to break down and cry and she asked him what happened to Caylee and he said it was an accident that snowballed out of control. This is before Caylee was ever found," Baez said.
George Anthony did not testify about the alleged mistress. He did say that he had moved out of the Anthony home at least four months after Caylee was born because of marital problems with his wife, Cindy Anthony. He denied having anything to do with Caylee's disappearance.
"I never knew of anything that happened to Caylee until our lives started to unfold on July 15 …and Caylee was found on December 11 ," George Anthony said through tears.
The defense said that Casey Anthony isn't a murderer and that she did not hide Caylee's body. Instead, they said that Roy Kronk, the meter reader who discovered Caylee's remains, tampered with the toddler's remains.
"Mr. Kronk is a morally bankrupt individual who actually took Caylee's body and hid her," Baez said. Kronk later "found" the body, Baez claims, because he hoped to collect a reward.
The lawyer did not explain in his opening statement how Kronk allegedly came into possession of Caylee's body.
Casey Anthony began crying almost from the first moments of her murder trial today as the prosecutor laid out a string of elaborate lies that she allegedly used to avoid her parents for a month and pretend that her 2-year-old daughter Caylee was still alive.
Prosecutor Linda Drane-Burdick opened the case by going through each of the 31 days that Caylee was missing, although police and Anthony's parents were unaware of the girl's disappearance.
Using cell phone records and the testimony of Anthony's friends, lovers and family, Drane-Burdick tracked Anthony's moves in those 31 days as she went to several nightclubs and twice visited a tattoo parlor. One of her new tattoos read, "Bella Vita" which means "beautiful life." The prosecutor repeatedly asked during her statement, "Where is Caylee Anthony?"
During that time, the prosecution claimed that Anthony told a variety of lies about Caylee's whereabouts. She told her family and friends that Caylee was with a series of babysitters, was at Universal Studios, or was with a nanny, the prosecution claimed.
"Casey Anthony had access to all the pieces of evidence in this case...no one else lied to their friends, to their family, to investigators, no one else benefited from the death of Caylee Marie Anthony. Caylee's death allowed Casey Anthony to live the good life at least for those 31 days," said Drane-Burdick.
Jurors were shown the last photo taken of Caylee on Father's Day in 2008.
"This isn't about Casey Anthony. It is about what happened between the photograph taken on Father's Day, June 15, 2008 and the photograph taken on December 11, 2008," said Drane-Burdick, referring to the date when Caylee's badly decomposed body was discovered in a swampy field near her house.
Casey Anthony Murder Trial Begins
When Casey Anthony was finally tracked down by her mother and confronted with her lies, Cindy Anthony demanded to see her granddaughter.
At that point, "Casey Anthony comes up with a new and a better lie. Caylee was kidnapped by the babysitter, the babysitter that nobody has ever seen, that nobody has ever heard of," the prosecutor stated.
Anthony wore a white shirt with her long brown hair in a ponytail. At times she cried and shook her head as the prosecution depicted her as a party animal who lied to her parents repeatedly about the location of Caylee.
When the prosecution described how Caylee Anthony's decomposing body was found in December 2008, Anthony remained stone faced.
"The body of Caylee Anthony had been wrapped into a Winnie the Pooh blanket, stuffed into many garbage bags thrown into a littered swamp like she was just another piece of trash," the prosecutor said. "All that remained were scattered bones, remnants of clothes that she was wearing and pieces of the plastic bag that had entombed her."
When the prosecutor described the duct tape found on Caylee's body, with little hearts in a pattern, Casey Anthony shook her head.
"Caylee spent many months in that swamp, roots encircled the blanket, they encircled her hair, they wrapped themselves into the bags that she was in," the prosecutor said. "Duct tape covered the nose and mouth area of that tiny human skull. The duct tape was stuck in the hair indicating that Caylee's killer never intended that it be removed."
The most crucial piece of evidence for the prosecution is Anthony's 1998 Pontiac Sunfire. Forensic experts said the car's trunk tested positive for chloroform and decomposition.
Anthony listened as the prosecution described when her father picked up the Pontiac Sunfire after it had been towed.
"As they approach the vehicle, an overwhelming smell is emanating from it and it's coming from the trunk. George Anthony will tell you that he said a silent prayer that it was neither his daughter nor his granddaughter," said Drane-Burdick. "George Anthony got into that car, drove it home. When Cindy Anthony had her first contact with the car, her words to George Anthony were, 'Jesus, what died.'"
The car's smell prompted the family to contact the police about Caylee.
Caylee Anthony was missing for a month when her grandmother finally called 911 in the summer of 2008 to report her granddaughter's disappearance. In the call, she was alarmed about her daughter's car.
"I can't find my granddaughter. There's something wrong. I found my daughter's car today and it smelled like there's been a dead body in the damn car," said Cindy Anthony in the July 2008 call to police.
Two cadaver dogs detected the odor of human decomposition at a playhouse used by Caylee in the Anthony family's backyard. They also detected human decomposition in the trunk of Caylee's car. The prosecution said that one detective "found the highest concentration of chloroform that he's ever seen" in the cover of car's spare tire.
Also found in the trunk were pieces of Caylee Anthony's hair discolored at the root in a way that matches a decomposing human body, the prosecution claimed.
The prosecution coupled the car's forensic evidence with evidence that the desktop computer at the family home revealed Google searches about chloroform and neck strangulation nearly four months before Caylee disappeared.
Despite the car's forensic evidence, experts say the state doesn't have an air tight case against Anthony.
"There are so many pieces of strong evidence, but in a lot of them there seem to be strong evidence of reasonable doubt, too," said Richard Hornsby, a Florida lawyer who has blogged about the case.
There is no cause of death for Caylee. Her body wasn't found until December 2008, and by then it was too decomposed to determine how she died. The little girl's death was ruled a homicide of undetermined means by the medical examiner.
"The first thing you need for premeditated murder is how she died. The motive for killing her is somewhat weak," Hornsby said.