Two-year-old Caylee Anthony had been missing from her home in Orlando, Florida, for a month by the time her mom, Casey Anthony, reported her missing. It was her grandmother, Cindy Anthony, who alerted the authorities, and naturally the grandmom was frantic when she dialed 911. “Caylee’s missing,” she told the dispatcher. “It smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car…”
Caylee’s grandfather, George Anthony, had picked up the car in question earlier after receiving an impounded vehicle notice. He immediately noticed what seemed to be the distinctive smell of decomposing matter coming from the trunk. The car belonged to his daughter, Casey, and her purse was in the vehicle too.
On July 15, 2008 – the day when Caylee was finally reported missing – Cindy had found Casey at the house of her boyfriend. She subsequently brought her daughter back home and confronted her, and it was then that the revelation about Caylee’s disappearance came out. On June 16, said Casey, she’d left Caylee in the care of her nanny, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, in Orlando; however, she hadn’t seen either of them since.
But why had Casey waited so long to report her daughter missing to the police? She told the 911 dispatcher, “I’ve been looking for her and just gone through other resources to find her, which was stupid.” But it quickly transpired that Casey was lying – and not just about how Caylee had disappeared.
Indeed, detectives soon ascertained that Caylee’s nanny, Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez – a woman Casey affectionately called “Zanny” – was a figment of Casey’s imagination. Or at least in part. In fact, a woman called Fernandez-Gonzalez did exist, but she had never met, spoken to or had any contact with Casey, Caylee or anyone else in her family.
The next big lie concerned Casey’s supposed employment at the Universal Orlando resort. She actually led detectives around the theme park – before admitting that she didn’t work there. However, perhaps her most disturbing lie concerned a phone call which she claimed to have had with Caylee on the very day that the little girl was reported missing.
“She was excited to talk to me,” Casey told detectives, seemingly recalling how they’d chatted about a book she was reading. However, in reality, Caylee had been dead for weeks by then. This was confirmed on December 11, 2008, when a utility worker found the little girl’s decomposing remains in some woods near the Anthony family home.
By that time, a grand jury had indicted Casey on counts of capital murder. And in April 2009 the prosecution announced that they would press for the death penalty. However, it was not until May 24, 2011, that the trial actually commenced in Orlando. It lasted six weeks and received huge public scrutiny. Indeed, the media branded it “the social media trial of the century.”
Casey pleaded not guilty. Yet while the evidence against her was largely circumstantial, it did include a testimony from her father about the smell of decomposition in the trunk. Moreover, this was a claim backed up by forensic air sample tests, which suggested that the vehicle had indeed been used to transport human remains.
Furthermore, high levels of chloroform had also been detected in the trunk, leading the prosecution to theorize that Casey had suffocated her daughter using chloroform and duct tape. And worst of all, an analysis of Cindy Anthony’s computer indicated that someone had recently searched the internet for articles on “neck breaking,” “foolproof suffocation” and “how to make chloroform.” But if Casey had murdered her daughter, what was the motive?
According to the prosecution, Casey was a reckless party girl who wanted to be free from the responsibilities of single parenthood. Indeed, on July 3, 2008, just days after Caylee died, the mother had got a tattoo reading “La Bella Vita” – Italian for “The Beautiful Life.” However, she told psychiatrist Dr. William Weitz that the tattoo was not a symbol of freedom but rather an expression of “irony in terms of how [her] life [had] turned out.”
Furthermore, Dr. Weitz, who was responsible for determining Casey’s competency to stand trial, claimed that she had been an exemplary student at school. “She wins the citizenship awards. She wins Junior Achievement awards,” Weitz wrote in a 447-page deposition. “Basically, there is no history of violence, aggression, any commitment of any behavior that would be antithetical to rules and regulations of schools, of churches, of the legal system.”
And so the defense dismissed the prosecution’s theory. They claimed that Caylee had, in fact, drowned by accident in the family pool on June 16, 2008. Casey had panicked, they said, and along with her father – an ex-police officer – she had tried to cover up the event by burying her. The prosecution, however, responded by saying “no one makes an accident look like murder.”
Then, in one of the trial’s most disturbing twists, Casey alleged that her father had sexually abused her from the time when she was eight years old. However, George Anthony strongly refuted allegations that he had either abused his daughter or participated in the burial of his granddaughter’s body. And Casey herself never took the stand.
Casey was found guilty of providing false information to law enforcement authorities on four counts; two were later quashed on appeal. She received a four-year prison sentence. She was, however, found not guilty of the charges of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter or child abuse. So, she walked free on July 17, 2011.
Today, Casey Anthony – who was once branded “the most hated mom in America” – is 30 years old. She resides in South Florida, where she shares her home with an investigator who worked on the O.J. Simpson case, Patrick McKenna. But in March 2017, she chose to break her silence and submitted to an in-depth interview with the Associated Press.
“Based off what was in the media, I understand the reasons people feel about me,” she told AP. “I understand why people have the opinions that they do… [But] my sentence was doled out long before there was a verdict. Sentence first, verdict afterward. People found me guilty long before I had my day in court.”
She added, “Everyone has their theories, I don’t know. As I stand here today I can’t tell you one way or another. The last time I saw my daughter I believed she was alive and was going to be okay, and that’s what was told to me. My father told me she was going to be okay. That she was okay…”
In response, George Anthony has released a statement to People magazine saying that his “heart hurts even more now” as he is “once again forced to relive the hints, rumors, lies and allegations that are being made.” And according to the Orlando Sentinel, he is set to provide “a candid and shocking interview” in a new, three-part documentary called Casey Anthony: An American Murder Mystery.
Meanwhile, the assessment of Belvin Perry, the judge who presided over the trial, is not particularly convincing. “The most logical thing that occurred… was that (Anthony) did not intentionally kill her daughter,” he told WFTV. “The most logical thing that happened was that she tried to knock her daughter out by the use of chloroform and gave her too much chloroform, which caused her daughter to die.”