June 15, 2011 — -- Casey Anthony's father is fighting back after weeks of being accused by his daughter's lawyers of sexually molesting Casey Anthony when she was a child and helping to hide the body of his dead granddaughter, 2-year-old Caylee Anthony.
An angry statement issued by George Anthony's lawyer refers to his daughter as "the Defendant Casey Anthony," and insists he had nothing to do with her actions "established by the State of Florida in the presentation of their case."
Casey Anthony is on trial for allegedly killing Caylee, and could face the death penalty if convicted of the charge.
What prompted George Anthony to publicly break with his daughter during her Florida murder trial was an attempt by her lawyers to introduce a surprise witness to their list of people who will take the stand when they start presenting their case Thursday.
The witness list includes Vasco Degama Thompson, an ex-convict who served time for kidnapping, ABC affiliate WFTV reported. The defense alleges that Thompson had phone conversations with George Anthony on July 14, just days before Caylee was reported missing, according to a statement issued by George Anthony's lawyer.
In their opening statement, Casey Anthony's defense said that Caylee drowned in the family pool, that the body was discovered by George Anthony and that he helped dispose of Caylee's body. Casey Anthony never told the truth about Caylee's death, they claimed in the opening statement, because she was trained to lie to cover up her father's sexual abuse.
The reason for having Thompson as a witness was not explained by the defense, but it prompted an angry statement by George Anthony's lawyer Mark Lippman in which he denied his client ever knew or spoke with Thompson.
"This simply appears to be another attempt by the defense to attack my client," Lippman's statement said.
"Mr. Anthony has and will continue to maintain the position that he had nothing to do with the death of Caylee Marie Anthony or any of the events that occurred afterword regarding the actions of the Defendant Casey Anthony established by the State of Florida in the presentation of their case," the statement read.
The harsh language and the family split comes a day after Casey Anthony's mother Cindy left the witness stand and mouthed the words "I love you" to her daughter across the courtroom. Casey Anthony looked away and rolled her eyes.
The family feud erupted hours after Casey Anthony's lawyers ridiculed the prosecution's murder case, saying they did not even prove that Caylee was murdered.
Defense lawyer Cheney Mason trashed the forensic evidence and the testimony of Casey Anthony's friends and family, which was intended to build a circumstantial case proving that she killed 2-year-old Caylee in the summer of 2008.
"There is no evidence to establish when the child died...where she died, how she died, who if anyone was with her in attendance when she died," Mason said.
Casey Anthony's defense team was fighting for an instant acquittal, but Judge Belvin Perry denied that motion. On Thursday, the defense will call their first witness on the third anniversary of Caylee's disappearance. She was last seen alive on June 15, 2008.
Defense lawyers must also decide whether to take the risky step of having Casey Anthony testify in her own defense.
The stakes couldn't be higher for Casey Anthony. If she does take the stand and the tactic backfires, she could be convicted of killing Caylee, a charge that carries the possibility of a death sentence.
Will Casey Anthony Testify in Own Defense?
If Casey Anthony takes the witness stand, she faces a high wire act that requires her to convince the jury that she's the victim of sexual abuse in a way that doesn't appear coached and calculating. Her emotions must appear to be that of a victim and not of a killer faking remorse, experts said.
Experts contend that Casey Anthony's defense team created a high burden for themselves by offering such a detailed opening statement that made graphic claims of sexual abuse.
"It's one of the top 10 rules of criminal defense...you don't create a burden for yourself," said Lurvey. "When the defense comes out -- and particularly in a circumstantial evidence case -- and creates a competing theory, you sort of take on an obligation to prove your theory."
George Dekle, a University of Florida law professor and a prosecutor in the Ted Bundy case, said that it's unlikely that anyone but Casey Anthony can testify about the alleged sexual abuse.
"The allegation of sexual abuse that were made in opening statements was an indication that the defense is probably intending to call her to the witness stand because it's highly unlikely you're going to get somebody to take the witness stand on her behalf and say that, 'yes I sexually molested her,'" said Dekle.
Casey Anthony's defense team could ignore the molestation claims altogether and avoid putting her on the stand, but it will be hard for the jury to forget those shocking statements. It will also make defense attorney Baez and his team look foolish, experts said.
"They have this practical consideration that they promised all of this stuff," said Florida defense attorney Diana Tennis. "They've got themselves all boxed in. They should not have given that level of detail so they could have given themselves some wiggle room."
Tennis said that if Anthony doesn't testify, she will almost certainly lose her case. The prosecution painted Casey Anthony as a compulsive liar. Jurors watched video and listened to audio of Casey Anthony building an elaborate lie that a nanny had taken her daughter.
"They know she's a liar. She can't do as badly as we all expect her to do," Tennis said. "I agree that it's fraught with danger, but I still think they've put themselves in a box that it's either that she testify or you offer zero evidence of this opening statement."
Other legal experts argue that Casey Anthony's compulsive lying is the reason she shouldn't take the stand.
"There's no reason to think the jury will believe her. It gives the prosecution an open field to go through every inconsistency and go through every character flaw that she has to remind the jury that she's untruthful," said Robert Jarvis, a lawyer and professor at Nova Southeastern University.
Jarvis said that defendants typically make poor witnesses. When former boxer Mike Tyson took the stand, it virtually sealed his guilty verdict in a rape case, Jarvis said. O.J. Simpson didn't take the stand, but his defense had the leather glove that didn't fit which secured his not guilty verdict.
"She [Casey Anthony] will be on the stand for days and days and days and it will just be withering...every day will be worse than the day before. The only thing that she has going for her is if you put her on the stand, presumably she breaks down and she cries and the jury will have some sympathy for her," said Jarvis.
Would Casey Anthony's Testimony Help or Hurt Her Case?
But even the way Casey Anthony shows emotion if she takes the stand, could help or hurt her.
"Her breaking down on the stand and crying, most jurors are going to say these are crocodile tears or these are tears of remorse. She's finally admitting what she did was wrong," Jarvis said.
Mary Anne Franks, a University of Miami Law School professor, said that jurors tend to judge young women perceived as bad mothers very harshly.
"The jury will want to look in Ms. Anthony's eyes to see if she's telling the truth this time, and to see which image being offered of Ms. Anthony actually seems to fit, the heartless party girl or the traumatized sex abuse victim," Franks said.
Franks said that Anthony's potential testimony about alleged sexual abuse would add even more emotion to a trial that has been packed with gut wrenching testimony from Caylee's grandmother, Cindy Anthony, pictures of Caylee's skeleton and a time lapse video of the decomposing toddler.
"You're going to move into tricky territory if this trial's narrative has gone from a beautiful little girl has died to there's another victim in this case, Casey Anthony...it's going to shift it into a higher emotional gear," said Franks.
On cross-examination, the prosecution could attempt to debunk the abuse claims by asking about explicit details of the abuse, hoping to catch Casey Anthony in a lie. That strategy could also backfire because of the emotions involved, making prosecutors look like a bully, experts said.
If jurors feel that Anthony is lying on the stand, it could anger them and hurt Anthony, experts said.
The prosecution could still gain from Anthony's testimony. Even if it is emotional, it might not provoke any sympathy.
"Many people, and jurors are no exception, have a strong sense of how they think an innocent person should look and behave, and if the defendant doesn't conform to those expectations, the impact can be devastating," Franks said.
Nearly all experts agree that putting a defendant on the stand is a desperate move.
"Putting a defendant on a stand in any case is a 'hail Mary' pass. It's something you do when you have nothing else. It will be the defense conceding they have nothing," said Jarvis.