Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Trial of Casey Anthony

The Defense Makes an About Face

 

Defense attorney Jose Baez
Defense attorney Jose Baez

On May 24, nearly 2 weeks after jury selection with great publicity, Casey Anthony's trial for the murder of her daughter, began.

For the prosecution, the story remained the same. Casey Anthony was an habitual liar, who had killed her daughter Caylee to regain her carefree, single life by drugging her, putting duct tape on her mouth and dumping the body in the woods. According to the state, she had spent the month between the murder and the 911 call partying and living a single woman's life, even getting a tattoo that read "bella vita," or "beautiful life."

But as the trial got under way, it quickly became clear that the official story—at least for the defense— had been changed—again.

Gone was the timeline that Casey had originally given police: that on June 15 her daughter had disappeared under the care of a woman named Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez; gone was the notion that she'd spent a month searching for Caylee in vain before calling the police.

Instead, Casey Anthony's defense now presented a very different story, one that made the defendant—by this point, a media pariah—a more sympathetic creature. It was a defense focused on reasonable doubt, on poking holes in the prosecution's case.

Prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick
Prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick

The prosecutor who delivered the opening statements, Linda Drane Burdick, did not help the state's case by doing so in the slowest, dullest way possible, punctuating her sentences with long, pregnant pauses that seemed designed to put jurors to sleep. That they were still awake by the time she reached her less-than-scintillating conclusion was little less than a miracle. The prosecution hewed to the established line: Casey Anthony wanted a single woman's life, wanted to party in clubs with her DJ and promoter boyfriend. She hadn't had a job in years, but had lied repeatedly to her family, posturing as if she had been going to work, when she had been going nowhere. The prosecution argued that Caylee was becoming too old, and would soon be able to speak and tell on her. It was a shocking theory, but people have committed murder for far less.

Casey Anthony's defense attorney Jose Baez had a harder job: He had to convince the jurors that the woman on trial, who'd been found guilty in the court of public opinion years before her trial, was not a murderer, that the story was completely different. To do so, he dropped a bombshell in the jury's lap: Casey Anthony hadn't failed to report her daughter missing because her daughter had never been missing at all. Instead, she had died in a tragic swimming pool accident, one that the entire family was complicit in covering up.

 

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