THE CAYLEE ANTHONY
Thirty days. That staggering number-the amount of time that elapsed before anyone reported the disappearance of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony-has always stood as one of the many dark secrets at the heart of the murder case against Caylee's mother, Casey. Thirty days during which a then 22-year-old Casey casually rented movies with her boyfriend, lived it up at a "hot bodies" contest at an Orlando nightclub and betrayed not even the slightest hint that anything was wrong-a point even her lawyer conceded in his explosive opening arguments on May 24 in an Orlando courtroom. "How in the world can a mother wait 30 days before ever reporting her daughter missing?" defense attorney Jose Baez asked a mesmerized jury. "It's insane. It's bizarre. Something's just not right about that."
Nearly three years after little Caylee first disappeared in June 2008, the case is finally being tried, kicking off with dramatic opening arguments that offered more twists and shifting allegiances than an entire season of Law & Order
. Whatever Anthony family unity that may have remained was shattered the moment Baez began to talk. To some legal experts, his defense strategy-spanning everything from shocking allegations of sexual abuse by Casey's father, George, to the involvement of the meter reader who found Caylee's body-seemed to include a grab bag of explanations. "It felt like Jose Baez threw everything against the wall and is seeing what sticks," says Orlando criminal defense attorney Richard Hornsby. The risk, says Hornsby, is "throwing everything together and saying there was some conspiracy. Everyone did something wrong-but not Casey. That's not realistic." Adds a prosecution source: "The defense says that Casey was abused, intimidated and scared, but what is that really? Smoke and mirrors."
Or the unexpected truth? Riveting jurors and seasoned trial watchers alike, prosecutors argued that the bubbly toddler who loved to swim and snuggle with her teddy bear was murdered by Casey in a coldhearted bid to rid herself of the responsibility of motherhood. Dropping the first of several bombshell claims, Baez countered that Caylee-whose remains were found in the woods near the Anthonys' home in December 2008-actually drowned in the family's pool, a tragic accident that, Baez argued, was covered up by Casey's father, George. Said Baez: "It snowballed out of control."
No one disputes that, at the very least, Casey constructed an avalanche of lies. In the days following opening arguments, testimony from Casey's friends, ex-boyfriend and parents-who in 2010 said, "We won't turn our backs on her"-painted a chilling portrait of a woman with an uncanny knack for spinning falsehoods, who managed to ensnare those closest to her. Even her defense, in a way, is built on lies: untruths that Casey told about her daughter's death, according to Baez, because she had learned to keep secrets after being sexually abused by her father as a child-allegations George Anthony, 59, a former police officer, vigorously denies. Asked by the prosecution on May 24 if he was present when Caylee died, George replied through tears, "When I heard that today, it hurt really bad, 'cause if I would have known something happened to her, we wouldn't be here today." Looking pointedly at his impassive daughter, who refused to meet his gaze, George added, "I would have done anything to save [Caylee's] life."
Now Casey's life hangs in the balance as a jury of seven women and five men sort through the thicket of claims, damning evidence and overwhelming emotion. On May 28, when Casey's mother, Cindy, took the stand, both Anthony women wept as prosecutors flashed a photo of Caylee's Winnie the Pooh-themed bed. Asked about her last memory of Caylee, Cindy, 53, recounted Father's Day 2008, when she, Caylee and Casey looked at family pictures together. "It was a very special moment that the three of us shared," Cindy testified. "I remember it like it happened yesterday." Now the parents who once said they stood behind their daughter "100 percent" have subtly but critically shifted their stance. "They support the justice system," says Anthony family attorney Mark Lippman. "They hope for the best."