Casey Anthony trial: Defense says toddler Caylee drowned by accident

The defense drops a series of bombshells in the Casey Anthony trial, saying the murder defendant was sexually abused by her father and brother and lied to hide 'ugly' family secrets.

Red Huber/AP
Casey Anthony reacts in court during her trial at the Orange County Courthouse, Tuesday, in Orlando, Fla. Anthony is charged with killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in 2008.

The murder trial of a Florida woman accused of killing her two-year-old daughter opened with a series of bombshells on Tuesday as her defense lawyer told the jury in an opening statement that the toddler was not murdered, but had accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool.

Defense Attorney Jose Baez called the death of Caylee Anthony a “horrible tragedy, a common tragedy.”

But he said the young mother, Casey Anthony, panicked, and instead of calling for emergency help, participated with her father, a former police detective, in a coverup.

“Casey should have been stronger,” Mr. Baez said. “She should have called 911.”

Baez said Ms. Anthony’s father, George Anthony, was present as the two discovered Caylee’s lifeless body.

The assertions stunned those observing the high-profile trial in Orlando. Many had wondered on the eve of the trial how the defense would answer prosecution charges that Ms. Anthony had waited a month before contacting police about her missing toddler.

But the accidental drowning assertion was only the beginning of an explosive account offered up by Baez. The defense’s version of events took several darker turns.

The defense lawyer said George Anthony had sexually molested his daughter Casey since she was eight years old, and that Casey’s brother, Lee, had also sexually molested her. He also alluded to an FBI theory that Lee might have fathered Caylee.

No father on birth certificate

No father was designated on the child’s birth certificate, and the family had sought to hide her pregnancy.

“This family must keep its secrets quiet,” the lawyer said.

“This is not a murder case. This is not a manslaughter case. This is a tragic accident that happened to some very disturbed people,” Baez said.

In an increasingly strange twist, Baez also told the jury that George Anthony not only sought to cover up the child’s death, but actively worked to implicate Casey in what he described as Caylee’s staged murder by allegedly placing duct tape over the dead toddler’s face and then positioning the remains in a place where they would likely be discovered.

“All you have to do is follow the duct tape and discover who placed Caylee’s remains,” Baez urged the jurors.

Prosecution's opening statement

That version of events differs sharply from the account offered earlier during the two-hour opening statement of Assistant State Attorney Linda Burdick.

She told the jury that Casey Anthony had engaged in a pattern of lies to family members and police about the whereabouts of her daughter.

The child was last seen alive on June 16, 2008, yet police were not notified that Caylee was missing until a month later. Word that she was missing triggered a nationwide alert and massive search. The toddler’s remains were discovered Dec. 11, 2008, a short distance from her home.

The cause of death is undetermined, but prosecutors charged Casey Anthony with first-degree murder. If convicted she could receive a death sentence.

At one point, Casey Anthony made up a story that a nanny had kidnapped the toddler. There was no nanny. In addition, Casey Anthony told members of her family that she worked at Universal Studios. Police discovered that, also, was a lie.

“In a pattern that is repeated throughout this case when Casey Anthony’s lie can no longer stand – when she can no longer get out of the corner she has painted herself into – what does Casey Anthony do – Casey Anthony comes up with a new, a bigger, a better lie,” Ms. Burdick told the jury.

'Three pieces of duct tape'

Prosecutors suggested to the jury that Casey Anthony had grown tired of the burdens of being a mother. She allegedly used chloroform to subdue the child and then wrapped duct tape over the toddler’s mouth and nose.

“The only evidence of cause of death are three pieces of duct tape covering [Caylee’s] nose and mouth,” Burdick said. “There is no other reason for the placement of multiple pieces of duct tape on this child’s nose and mouth other than the specific intent to end that child’s life.”

The prosecutor concluded her opening statement by referring to a possible motive. “As difficult as it may be for anyone to accept that a mother would intentionally kill her own children, from the evidence you will hear in this case there is no other conclusion to be drawn,” she said.

“No one else benefited from the death of Caylee,” Burdick said. “Caylee’s death allowed Casey Anthony to live the good life – at least for 31 days.”

Defense lawyers offered a different view of the evidence, accusing the police of conducting a selective investigation aimed more at winning a murder conviction against Casey Anthony than revealing the truth of what happened to Caylee.

“Everyone wants to know how in the world can a mother wait 30 days before ever reporting her child missing,” Defense Attorney Baez said. “It is insane, bizarre. Something is just not right about that.”

“The answer,” he said, “is that she was never missing. Caylee Anthony died June 16 in her family’s swimming pool.”

The defense tactic raised a second question. Why, if her death was an accident, did Casey Anthony lie so frequently to her family and to police.

'Ugly secrets will come out'

The answer, according to Baez, is tied up with Casey Anthony’s past as an alleged victim of sexual abuse and molestation by both her father and brother.

“What does a sex abuse victim look like,” Baez asked. “These ugly secrets will come out slowly in this trial.”

After the opening statements, prosecutors called their first witness – Casey Anthony’s father, George.

He denied sexually abusing his daughter and he denied the version of events offered by defense lawyers that he discovered his granddaughter’s body in the swimming pool, later placed duct tape over her mouth and nose, and disposed of the body.

The trial is expected to continue on Wednesday.

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