Casey Anthony trial: In blow to defense, father changes statement on car odor

Was the odor in the car driven by Casey Anthony caused by decaying trash or the decomposing body of her daughter, Caylee? On Wednesday, George Anthony disavowed an earlier statement that the smell was trash.

Red Huber/AP
George Anthony is shown a gas can entered into evidence during the murder trial of his daughter, Casey, in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, June 29.
Red Huber/AP
Casey Anthony reacts during testimony by her father, George, in her murder trial in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, June 29.

The father of a Florida woman accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter testified on Wednesday – in a reversal of an earlier statement – that the odor in his daughter’s car back in 2008 was the unmistakable stench of human decomposition.

In emotional and at-times angry testimony, George Anthony also denied that he sexually molested his daughter, and he lashed out at defense attorney Jose Baez, who has accused Mr. Anthony of participating in a coverup of his granddaughter Caylee’s death.

“You are trying to take this joy of my life away from me, and you can’t do that anymore,” Anthony told Mr. Baez.

At several points in his testimony, the father broke down, sobbing after he was asked about trying to take his own life in despair over Caylee’s death. As he cried on the witness stand, his daughter, Casey, sat stone-faced at the defense table, revealing no hint of emotion.

In his testimony about the car, Anthony disavowed an earlier sworn statement that the smell in the car was not human decomposition but the smell of trash left in the car trunk for several weeks.

“I could smell it three feet away on the passenger side,” Anthony told the jury. “Yes, human decomposition. Yes, I will say it. Human decomposition.”

The admission is a victory for prosecutors in the first-degree murder trial of Casey Anthony, who is accused of smothering her daughter and then hiding her body for several days in the trunk of her car. The skeletal remains were later recovered in December 2008 in a wooded area near the family home.

A key issue in the case is whether the strong odor in Ms. Anthony’s car in the weeks after Caylee’s disappearance in June 2008 was caused by decaying trash or Caylee’s decomposing body.

Baez sought to undercut the force of Mr. Anthony’s testimony by pointing out that at an earlier deposition, the father had told prosecutors it was the stench of trash, not human remains.

“The decomposition that I smelled on July 15, [2008], at Johnson’s towing smelled like human decomposition,” Anthony testified Wednesday. He said he had direct experience with the stench of dead bodies from his past work as a police detective.

“I can close my eyes and smell that again,” he said. “How dare you tell me I said something different than what I did.”

When Baez pressed the issue of how he could make statements that tended to support his daughter’s case in 2009 and yet testify to something significantly different in 2011, Anthony delivered his second bombshell of the morning.

“I didn’t want to believe back then [in 2009] that my daughter would be capable of taking the life of her daughter,” he told the jury.

Assistant state attorney Jeff Ashton seized on the statement during cross-examination.

“On Aug. 5, 2009, [at the deposition], you still believed that your granddaughter was killed by someone and it happened not in the custody of your daughter,” Mr. Ashton asked.

“Yes,” Anthony said.

During the deposition, you were upset, Ashton told Anthony, because you were being called upon to give testimony against your daughter in the murder of your granddaughter?

“Correct,” Anthony answered.

“But today, you no longer believe that your granddaughter died in the custody of someone other than your daughter,” Ashton asked.

The question prompted an immediate objection from Baez. It was sustained by Chief Judge Belvin Perry.

Ashton then asked about a July 2008 statement that Mr. Anthony gave to investigators. “Did you ever tell police that you thought your daughter murdered your granddaughter?” he asked.

“I didn’t believe that at that time,” Anthony said. “No.”

The implication for the jury is that while Anthony did not believe it in 2008 and 2009, perhaps he believes it now.

As expected, Baez also questioned Anthony about whether he had ever sexually molested his daughter.

“I would never do anything like that with my daughter,” the father testified.

“You would never admit to molesting your child,” Baez asked.

“Sir, I would never do anything like that to my daughter,” he said. “I would never do anything to harm my daughter in that way.”

Earlier in the morning, Cindy Anthony, Casey Anthony’s mother, was asked if she was aware of an incident involving her son, Lee, going into Casey’s room at night.

“No,” she answered.

On Tuesday, Baez sought to call a former boyfriend of Casey Anthony to testify that she once told him that she’d been molested by her brother. During questioning outside the presence of the jury, Jesse Grund said Casey told him that her brother had entered her bedroom late one night while she was sleeping and groped her.

Prosecutors objected to the testimony, and it has not been heard by the jury.

Mr. Anthony broke down in tears on the stand at several points. One point came after Baez asked him if he attempted to commit suicide in January 2009.

He admitted that he went to a hotel, drank alcohol in combination with assorted medications, and then wrote a suicide note.

Such details are important to the defense case because defense lawyers are seeking to paint Mr. Anthony not only as a child molester, but also as someone who would help his daughter cover up Caylee’s death.

Mr. Anthony has denied any involvement in a coverup.

During cross-examination by Ashton, Anthony was asked why he tried to take his own life.

He said when Caylee’s remains were found, it “left a deep hurt inside.” He said it was “a breakdown inside me, and seeing what my wife and son went through.”

He added: “I just decided that it was time for me to get away from all this to spend time with Caylee.”

Ashton entered Anthony’s suicide note into evidence. Prosecutors say the contents of the note demonstrate that Mr. Anthony did not know how Caylee died and was not aware of the location of his granddaughter’s body until after it was discovered on Dec. 11.

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