Casey Anthony trial: why emotional day could bolster defense

Casey Anthony's brother and mother both took tear-filled turns on the stand Friday, as the defense tried to paint a more human portrait of a dysfunctional family.

By , Staff writer

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    Lee Anthony testifies in the murder trial of his sister, Casey Anthony, at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Fla., on Friday.
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Jurors at the Casey Anthony murder trial heard more tearful testimony on Friday from Ms. Anthony’s mother, Cindy, and her brother, Lee, who broke down after admitting he felt hurt that no one in the family would discuss with him Casey’s pregnancy.

“I was very angry at my mom and my sister, that they didn’t want to include me and didn’t find it important enough to tell me,” Lee Anthony said on the witness stand, his voice breaking.

Tears ran down his face. “I was very hurt,” he added.

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Across the courtroom, defendant Ms. Anthony was also crying, dabbing her face with a tissue.

The emotional moment was important for the defense case because it seems to support claims that the Anthony family was strangely dysfunctional – to the extent that Mrs. Anthony did not recognize her daughter was expecting a child until seven months into the pregnancy, that Ms. Anthony was apparently unable to admit her condition to her mother or anyone else, and that no one in the family acknowledged the obvious situation to Mr. Anthony, who lived in the bedroom next to Casey’s.

Mr. Anthony was so upset at the exclusion, he testified, that he declined to visit Ms. Anthony and the newborn baby, Caylee, at the hospital.

The testimony came on the eighth day of the defense case and the 27th day of the first-degree murder trial of Ms. Anthony, the Florida mother accused of killing her two-year-old daughter. The trial is expected to wrap up late next week, with jury deliberations perhaps beginning Saturday.

Prosecutors say Ms. Anthony used chloroform and duct tape to immobilize and smother Caylee, then stashed her body in the trunk of her car before dumping it in a wooded area near the family home. They say she then repeatedly lied to friends, family, and the police that a baby sitter kidnapped the child.

Defense attorneys say Caylee died in a swimming pool accident, and that after panicking, Ms. Anthony and her father, George, sought to cover up the death by making it look like a kidnapping.

After days of testimony by forensic experts raising questions about the reliability of the state’s evidence and the methods used to gather it, defense attorneys are now shifting their focus toward the more human side of the case.

In his shocking opening statement last month, defense attorney Jose Baez promised the jurors that the whole truth about the Casey Anthony saga would include dark revelations about the Anthony family. He suggested his client’s apparent emotionless behavior staying with her boyfriend, partying in nightclubs, and repeatedly lying after Caylee went missing in mid-June 2008 was a result of years of sexual abuse by her father and brother.

Although it was never mentioned on Friday, the sexual abuse accusation hung like sword over Lee during his testimony.

It is unclear whether the defense will seek to introduce sexual abuse as a key part of its strategy. To do so they would almost certainly have to call Ms. Anthony to the stand. There is no indication at this point they will.

Lee testified that when he first noticed Ms. Anthony’s pregnancy, he approached his mother to ask her about it. There was no discussion or even acknowledgment of the situation.

Prosecution questions Lee's sincerity

During cross examination, Assistant State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton strongly implied that Lee was staging his emotional testimony for the benefit of the jury. Mr. Ashton reminded Lee that prosecutors had asked him similar questions two years ago.

“Did you cry during that portion of your deposition,” Ashton asked.

“I don’t recall that I did,” Lee responded.

“What was the difference in this courtroom that wasn’t present two years ago,” the prosecutor asked.

“Two years ago I did not 100 percent hold the belief that Caylee was dead,” he said. “Since then I believe she is.”

He added: “I have regrets, and I wish I could have been there [for Caylee] a lot more than I was.”

Ashton seized on the claim that even in 2009 Lee didn’t believe Caylee was dead. Didn’t you speak at a memorial service for Caylee six months before the deposition, he asked.

During followup questioning by Mr. Baez, Lee was asked why he didn’t cry during his earlier deposition. “Is sitting here today much different that sitting in the state attorney’s office two years ago,” Baez asked.

“Absolutely.”

“Can you share with the ladies and gentlemen of the jury why?”

“I don’t want to be here,” Lee said. “I don’t want my sister to be here, and my parents to be here. I am also emotionally in a much different place than I was a couple years ago.”

He added: “This is obviously very emotionally draining and very difficult.”

Defense dwells on pool stairs

Earlier the jury was shown pictures of the above-ground swimming pool in the Anthony’s backyard.

Mrs. Anthony said swimming was one of Caylee’s favorite activities and that she was always eager to get into the pool. For that reason, the family routinely removed the stairs to the pool when no one was swimming.

But She told the jury that on June 16, 2008 – the day prosecutors say Caylee was murdered – she came home from work and was alarmed to see the stairs to the pool in place but no one swimming in the pool. She said the side gate to the backyard was open.

The comments seemed to back up the defense's claim that Caylee could have died in an accidental drowning.

Under questioning by Assistant State Attorney Linda Burdick, Mrs. Anthony said there was no way Caylee could lift the ladder to the pool or open the side gate.

She testified that she called her husband at work to tell him about the ladder being in place. She also said she mentioned it to co-workers the next day.

“Did your daughter tell you there was an accident involving the pool,” Ms. Burdick asked, seeking to reinforce the prosecution's argument that Ms. Anthony is a liar.

“No ma'am,” Mrs. Anthony responded.

“In fact, she continued to assert to you that the child was kidnapped by a baby sitter,” Burdick asked.

“That’s correct,” Mrs. Anthony said.

The trial is set to continue on Saturday morning.

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