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Casey Anthony: ‘America's Most Hated Mom’

Casey Anthony
Image: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Casey Anthony during her murder trial at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Florida, USA, on 21st June 2011.

In 2011, the world was glued to the Casey Anthony trial, which had become the biggest legal media circus since OJ Simpson. The case focused on the death of young Caylee Anthony and was as complex as it was controversial.

Who was Caylee Anthony?

Caylee Anthony was a two-year-old girl who, until shortly before her disappearance, had been living in Orlando, Florida with her 22-year-old mum, Casey Anthony, and Casey’s parents, George and Cindy Anthony. On 15th July 2008, Cindy made a frantic 911 call to report that the infant had not been seen for over a month. A panic-stricken Cindy also said the family car – which Casey had been using – smelled like there had been a dead body stashed inside it.

Casey had recently moved out, taking little Caylee with her, and she had been repeatedly evasive when asked by Cindy about the whereabouts of the little girl. First frustrated, then outright alarmed, Cindy had decided enough was enough and called 911.

What did Casey Anthony say happened to her daughter?

Casey told the authorities that her daughter had actually been missing for a month. She claimed she’d dropped off Caylee with a babysitter named Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez (dubbed ‘Zanny the Nanny’), who had then absconded with the little girl. When asked why she hadn’t notified police, Casey claimed: ‘I’ve been looking for her and just gone through other resources to find her, which was stupid.’

However, on chasing up this lead, the authorities soon realised that Zanny the Nanny didn’t exist. That wasn’t the only thing Casey had misled them about. While showing detectives around her apparent place of work – the Universal Studios theme park – Casey abruptly stopped in the middle of the corridor and confessed she’d not actually been an employee there for years.

Deeply suspicious and annoyed, the detectives sat Casey down and demanded to know where Caylee really was. But Casey stubbornly maintained her daughter had been kidnapped.

Was Casey Anthony’s daughter ever found?

The tragic truth of Caylee’s whereabouts was revealed in December 2008, when her skeletal remains were found buried close to her grandparents’ house. Duct tape was attached to the skull, but decomposition made it impossible to determine exactly how the little girl had died.

By this point, Casey had already been indicted on suspicion of murder and remained in prison until her trial commenced in May 2011. It became one of the most talked-about media events of the year, with Casey Anthony widely vilified in the media as a negligent, selfish mother who’d been more interested in partying than being a good parent. This was also how the prosecution portrayed her.

Pointing to various red flags – such as the fact that Casey took part in a ‘hot body’ contest at a nightclub during the period that Caylee was missing – the prosecutors argued that Casey had callously suffocated Caylee, stored her for a time in the car, then disposed of her body. All so that she could be free of the responsibility of looking after her.

Meanwhile, the defence made the sensational claim that there had been no murder at all. Their line was that Caylee had accidentally drowned in the family pool and that Casey’s father had helped cover up the death to avoid charges of neglect. They also claimed that Casey had been sexually abused by both her father and brother, and that her bizarre, duplicitous behaviour was due to her long-term trauma.

‘Casey should have called 911,’ her attorney said. ‘That's what she's guilty of, she's not guilty of murder. This is not a murder case.’

Why was Casey Anthony found not guilty?

It’s fair to say the majority of onlookers – whether in the courtroom or following the saga all over the world – were shocked when the jury eventually found Casey Anthony not guilty of murder.

It happened because the prosecution could not prove that Caylee had been murdered, and instead focused on painting her as a ‘lying, no-good s**t’, as Casey Anthony’s attorney put it.

While prosecutors ridiculed the idea that Caylee had accidentally drowned, this was ultimately beside the point. The jurors didn’t have to believe the drowning story, but they did have to be persuaded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Caylee had been deliberately killed. The defence repeatedly hammered this point home, presenting analysts who said there was no real evidence of a corpse being stashed in the car, and a forensic pathologist who outright said he was ‘not comfortable ruling the child’s death a homicide’.

One juror later told the media that she and other jurors felt ‘sick’ about acquitting Casey Anthony, but that there was simply no way to convict her based on the evidence.

What is Casey Anthony doing now?

Casey Anthony was found guilty of lying to law enforcement and sentenced to four years. However, since she’d already been in prison for three years and had credit for good behaviour, she was released from jail ten days after the sentencing.

According to Florida state documents, she has since launched a private investigation business in West Palm Beach.

All episodes of Casey Anthony: Where The Truth Lies will also be available to stream on Crime+Investigation Play from 7th May.