Casey Anthony trial: Should investigators have found Caylee four months sooner?

A meter reader says at the Casey Anthony trial he first told investigators of Caylee's remains four months before they were recovered. Was an opportunity lost to collect better evidence?

Red Huber/AP
David Dean, a meter reader and former co-worker of Roy Kronk, is questioned by defense attorney Jose Baez during the Casey Anthony trial at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday. Kronk says he contacted the sheriff’s department three times about Caylee Anthony's remains. Could Caylee's remains have been found by police earlier?

The man who discovered the skeletal remains of two-year-old Caylee Anthony testified Tuesday in the murder trial of her mother that he tried three times in August 2008 to get the sheriff’s department to investigate what appeared to be a child’s skull in a wooded area not far from Caylee’s home.

Roy Kronk, a county meter reader, said he called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on three consecutive days, but no one from law enforcement went into the swampy woods to investigate.

One deputy, after a cursory look around, even berated him for wasting the department’s time with a frivolous report.

Four months later on Dec. 11, 2008, Mr. Kronk said he returned to the same place in the woods near a distinctive log.

He told the jury that he saw a plastic bag. “I held the bag up,” Mr. Kronk said. “The contents of the bag shifted and that’s when I discovered the skull. It was at my feet.”

Kronk’s testimony has been highly anticipated among those closely following the Casey Anthony murder trial. In most cases, Kronk would be hailed a hero for helping to bring closure to the grim vigil for the missing toddler. But defense attorneys are hoping to use the unusual circumstances surrounding the discovery of Caylee’s remains as a way to suggest reasonable doubt to the jury.

In his fiery opening statement, defense attorney Jose Baez accused Kronk of moving and hiding Caylee’s remains.

“We are not saying he had anything to do with her death, but he is a morally bankrupt individual who took her body and hid her,” Baez said back at the start of the trail on May 24.

It is unclear why Kronk – or anyone else – would risk the legal consequences of tampering with evidence. Defense lawyers have suggested that he needed money and was hoping to receive a $255,000 reward offered in the nation-wide search for Caylee. But hiding the remains would not boost the reward.

Rather than implicating Kronk in some ill-defined conspiracy, his testimony on Tuesday raises serious questions about the basic competence of investigators with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Had law enforcement responded to Kronk’s first phone call to police on Aug. 11, forensic experts would have had a significantly better chance to lift fingerprints, DNA, or other direct physical evidence from the deteriorating duct tape found near Caylee’s skull.

The defense suggests that police conducted thorough searches in the wooded area and were unable to locate Caylee’s decomposing body because it had been moved and hidden for a period of time.

Prosecutors maintain it was not detected because the area was underwater for much of the summer due to a tropical storm and heavy rains.

The truth may never be known. Kronk testified that the first time he entered the wooded area on Aug. 11 – less than two months after Caylee is thought to have died – he saw a gray vinyl bag and what looked like it might be a small human skull. He said there was no peculiar odor in the area.

Later that night he called the sheriff’s department. “I don’t know what it is,” he told the dispatcher. “I’m not saying it is Caylee or anything. This could be nothing.”

Kronk was asked by Defense Attorney Cheney Mason whether he saw the same grey vinyl bag when he returned to the scene four months later on Dec. 11.

“No,” he said.

Kronk said he wasn’t sure the skull was real, or even a skull. He said he prodded the object with his meter-reader stick “and tipped it up. I apologize for doing so, but I didn’t know what it was.”

He added: “I gently pivoted it up.”

“It wasn’t stuck in the mud, was it?”

“No,” Kronk said.

Kronk’s testimony was different than the first written statement he gave to police in early 2009. In that statement he said that the bag opened and a small human skull with duct tape and hair dropped out.

“That was my original statement,” he acknowledged. He said he “made a mistake” in the statement.

“Did the skull come out in any way,” Mr. Mason asked.

“No sir.”

“You recognize that you said that under oath before, but now you are saying something else,” Mason said.

“That whole period for me is a little fuzzy,” Kronk said. “After finding what I found, it kind of unnerved me.”

Kronk’s testimony came on Day 30 of the first-degree murder trial of Casey Anthony, the Florida mother accused of using chloroform and duct tape to kill her toddler daughter. Prosecutors say she kept the child’s body in the trunk of her car for several days before dumping it in the wooded area around the corner from the family home.

Defense lawyers maintain that Caylee accidentally drowned and that her mother, Casey, panicked. Rather than call police, she hid the body with the help of her father.

George Anthony denies any involvement.

In other testimony on Tuesday, the defense team called Mr. Anthony to the stand and confronted him with accusations that he had an extra-marital affair with Krystal Halloway, a former volunteer in the Caylee search effort.

“Did you have a romantic relationship with her,” Baez asked.

“No sir,” he said. “To me that is very funny.”

Baez wasn’t done. “Were you ever intimate with her,” he asked.

“No sir. That also is very funny.”

Mr. Anthony acknowledged going “a few times” to Ms. Halloway’s home, but he said his actions were noble. She had told him she was dying of a brain tumor and he said he went to comfort her.

The defense attorney also asked whether Mr. Anthony had ever told Ms. Halloway that Caylee’s death was “an accident that snowballed out of control.”

“That conversation was never there. I never confided in any volunteers,” Mr. Anthony said.

“You never told Krystal Halloway while the two of you were being romantic that this was an accident that snowballed out of control,” Baez asked.

“I never did.”

On cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton threw in a zinger question of his own.

“Did you ever tell [Halloway] that while your daughter was home on bond that you grabbed her by the throat, threw her up against a wall, and said ‘I know you did something to Caylee, where’s Caylee,’ ” Mr. Ashton asked.

Mr. Anthony responded: “No sir. I’d never do something like that.”

The trial is set to resume Wednesday morning.

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