FROM CRIME SCENE TO COURTROOM
EXAMINING THE MYSTERIES BEHIND FAMOUS CASES
By CYRIL H. WECHT DAWNA KAUFMANN
Copyright © 2011 Cyril H. Wecht, MD, JD, and Dawna Kaufmann
All right reserved.
Chapter One CASEY ANTHONY Big trouble Comes in small packages
For years to come, law enforcement students will study this case because it spans a number of forensic disciplines, from pathology, anthropology, entomology, and laboratory work to police investigation, behavioral science, and legal strategies. At its center, the case against Casey Marie Anthony should be about a wrongful death. But the road to justice has proven most circuitous, with the jury's verdict as controversial as the crime itself.
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On June 15, 2008, in Orlando, Florida, it was said that a bitter showdown took place between Casey and her fifty-year-old mother, Cynthia, a nurse better known as "Cindy." Cindy and her husband—Casey's father, George, fifty-seven, a retired Ohio detective working as a security guard—lived with their daughter and granddaughter, Caylee Marie, who was almost three. Cindy was criticizing Casey's parenting skills, and Casey was arguing back loudly. At one point, Cindy said she would fight for custody of the baby and allegedly put her hands around Casey's throat. Out of deference to George, who reminded the women that it was Father's Day, they ended the fracas, but the next day, Casey was still furious. While Cindy was out of the house, Casey told her father goodbye and said she was going to work. As she left, she was holding little Caylee. It would be the last time George would see his precious granddaughter alive.
Over the next few weeks, Casey called her parents but didn't see them. When Cindy would ask to speak to Caylee, Casey would say the child was with her nanny, either traveling or at an amusement park. Casey said she was busy working at a local theme park, which pleased her parents. Casey also spoke with her older brother, Lee, who never detected anything amiss. On July 3, a frustrated Cindy posted on her MySpaceR account a heartfelt message she hoped her daughter would see. It read, in part, "This precious little angel from above gave me strength and unconditional love.... Jealousy has taken her away. Jealousy from the one person who should be thankful for all of the love and support given to her." If she hoped the posting would make Casey relent and bring Caylee to her, she was wrong. On July 7, Casey wrote a post on her own MySpace account. It was titled "Diary of Days" and read, in part, "What is given can be taken away. Everyone lies. Everyone dies. Life will never be easy...." Reportedly, Casey's post was written while she was watching the film American Psycho.
On June 30, Casey's white 1998 Pontiac Sunfire—which was registered to her parents—had been found abandoned in front of a local Amscot, The Money Superstore™, and towed to Johnson's Wrecker Service, an impound yard. On July 15, George Anthony received a certified letter from Johnson's and went with Cindy to pick up the car. Crossing the lot with the facility manager, Simon Birch, George noticed a terrible odor as they approached the car—a smell he recognized from his detective days. He drove the vehicle home with all its windows open and the air conditioning blasting, and parked it in the garage. When Cindy and Lee passed by the car, they also noted the obvious odor, which led Cindy to ask, "What died?" Cindy called Casey, who said she was away on a "mini-vacation" to Jacksonville, Florida. In fact, she was staying in town with a boyfriend, Tony Lazzaro.
After comparing notes with some of Casey's friends, Cindy had had enough. She barged in at Lazzaro's condo and told Casey she was bringing her back to the Anthony home, and if Casey didn't want to come, then Cindy would just take Caylee home. But the tiny tot with the huge brown eyes wasn't at Tony's. Casey got into Cindy's car, and they argued on the way home, with Cindy calling 911, stating she wanted to file a stolen vehicle charge against her daughter. At the Anthony residence, Cindy kept asking where Caylee was. Still not satisfied with Casey's response, Cindy called 911 again, mentioning the missing car and asking for a deputy to come to the home to question Casey about Caylee. A third call, with Cindy in hysterics, kicked the case into high gear:
911 OPERATOR: 911. What's your emergency?
CINDY ANTHONY: I called a little bit ago. The deputy sheriff—I found out my granddaughter has been taken. She has been missing for a month. Her mother finally admitted that she's been missing.
911: OK. What is ...
CINDY: Get someone here now!
911: OK, what is the address that you're calling from?
CINDY: We're talking about a three-year-old little girl! My daughter finally admitted that the babysitter stole her! I need to find her!
911: Your daughter admitted the baby is where?
CINDY: That the babysitter took her a month ago, that my daughter's been looking for her. I told you my daughter was missing for a month. I just found her today, but I can't find my granddaughter. She just admitted to me that she's been trying to find her herself. There's something wrong! I found my daughter's car today, and it smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car!
The operator asked to speak with Casey:
911: Can you tell me a little bit what's going on?
CASEY ANTHONY: My daughter's been missing for the last 31 days.
911: And do you know who has her?
CASEY: I know who has her. I tried to contact her. I actually received a phone call today now from a number that is no longer in service. I did get to speak to my daughter for about a moment, about a minute.
Soon the home was swarming with law enforcement officers. The peaceful neighborhood around Hopespring Drive would never be the same. Detective Corporal Yuri Melich of the Orange County Sheriff 's Office Criminal Investigation Division joined his deputies. Briefed at the scene, he became the lead investigator. He took Casey aside to review a four-page written sworn statement she had prepared for one of the responding officers. Melich told Casey her story seemed implausible and that lying to police is a crime. Given the chance to change her statement, Casey insisted she had told the truth. Now, on audiotape, Melich reviewed all the details with her. Casey claimed that on the morning of June 9, she had gone to work at the nearby Universal Studios theme park but had first dropped Caylee off with a babysitter, Zenaida Fernandez- Gonzalez, who lived at Orlando's Sawgrass Apartments. She said she handed off the baby to Zenaida at the stairwell outside unit 210, where Gonzalez lived. Casey claimed she had known Zenaida for four years, since the woman was hired as a seasonal worker at the park, but she said Fernandez-Gonzalez had been Caylee's babysitter only for the past year and a half. After work, Casey maintained, she went back to the apartment to pick up her daughter, but there was no answer at the door and no response when she called Zenaida's cell phone. Casey couldn't produce the phone number, stating it was on a cell phone she had lost at work. Casey explained that she drove to places she knew Zenaida frequented but didn't locate the sitter or the child, so she went to her boyfriend Tony Lazzaro's residence, where she could feel "safe." Since that day, Casey told Melich, she had been conducting her "own investigation" but didn't call law enforcement because she had seen movies about missing people who got hurt when police became involved. Casey said she had shared information about Caylee's disappearance with two co-workers who could confirm her account: Jeffrey Hopkins and Juliette Lewis, both of whose phone numbers were also saved onto Casey's missing cell phone.
At the conclusion of their interview, Melich drove Casey in his unmarked car to various places of interest. One apartment building where Casey said Zenaida stayed during 2006 turned out to be a seniors-only facility. Another address was where Casey said Zenaida's mother, Gloria, lived, and where Casey had dropped off Caylee on previous occasions. As they drove through the complex, Casey said she couldn't recall the unit, and when they knocked at three different doors, the tenants all said they had never heard of Zenaida or Gloria.
After Melich brought Casey back home, George Anthony took the detective aside and said he felt his daughter was holding back information. Both Cindy and George seemed fearful that something had happened to their granddaughter. Thinking perhaps that this could be some sort of family custody dispute, Melich asked the Anthonys about Caylee's biological father. George and Cindy informed him that they had never met or spoken with the man and that Casey had told them he was dead. Casey confirmed that to Melich, saying that Caylee's father was named Eric and that he had died in a car accident in Georgia in 2007. Melich and another officer drove to the Sawgrass Apartments and spoke to the manager and a maintenance man, both of whom asserted that they didn't recognize Caylee from a photo they were shown. Neither the manager nor the maintenance man knew any Zenaida, and both said that the unit Casey claimed Fernandez-Gonzalez lived in had been vacant for 142 days. The manager produced a list of people who had filled out applications for an apartment, and a "Zenaida Gonzalez" had logged in on June 17 but had not rented the unit. Melich obtained a copy of the information, including Gonzalez's cell phone number. When he called her, she said she had never heard of Casey or Caylee. Later, she gave officers a sworn statement and didn't recognize Caylee's photo when it was shown to her. She also said that "Fernandez" was not part of her name.
Melich then drove to Universal Studios and met with a personnel investigator, Leonard Turtora, who informed him that Casey had indeed worked there but had been fired in April 2006. Jeffrey Hopkins had been fired in May 2002, and there was no record of Juliette Lewis or Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez ever having been employed at the park. Melich called Casey and put her on a speakerphone so Turtora could interact, and Casey stated that she worked as an event coordinator and gave an extension for her office; Turtora said there was no such extension. Turtora also said the man Casey claimed was her direct supervisor was not on the employee roster, and when she gave the name of someone who headed her department, that man said Casey was not employed there. Casey couldn't remember the building number or location where she claimed to work, nor was she able to produce a worker identification card. Nonetheless, Melich sent two officers to pick her up and bring her to meet him at Universal. Turtora escorted her onto the property and to where Melich was waiting. Casey said she would show them exactly where she worked and, with purposeful strides, led the group into a building and down a corridor, until she stopped cold, put her hands in her back pockets, and admitted she didn't really work at Universal. Melich took Casey into a small conference room and recorded a new interview. She confided that the apartment she'd pointed out as Zenaida's was across from that of an ex-boyfriend named Ricardo Morales, with whom she had stayed some of the time since Caylee went missing. She again stated that she last saw Caylee on June 9, with Zenaida. Throughout all of Melich's discussions with Casey, she never cried or showed emotion over the loss of her child.
Back in the police car, an officer pulled up all the Zenaida Gonzalezes in the state's Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID), but Casey said none of the photos matched her babysitter. When shown the photo of the Zenaida who had signed the rental application, Casey said the woman was "too old." Cops would spend weeks interviewing women with various permutations of the name "Zenaida Fernandez- Gonzalez," but in the end, only Casey ever claimed to have known or spoken to such a person. Still, Casey stuck to her guns, suggesting that cops expand the search for Zenaida to Miami, New York City, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
* * *
Police began getting sworn statements from Casey's friends, some of whom called police on their own. All claimed that Casey habitually lied and some said that she had stolen from them. Tony Lazzaro called to say he had learned of Caylee's disappearance only that morning when officers came to his residence. He met Casey in May through Facebook, he said, and they started dating in June. On June 9, Casey moved into his place, alone, and told him Caylee was either with the Anthonys or with the nanny. The last time he saw Caylee was on June 2 at the pool of his apartment complex. He had never met Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez and didn't know where she lived. Lazzaro told detectives he was a college student who worked as a club promoter at Fusion Ultra Lounge, an Orlando sushi restaurant that turned into a disco at night. He got Casey work there as a "shot girl," one of the several young women who would wear sexy outfits and dance with men to sell them pricey drinks. Lazzaro said that he and Casey went to a Blockbuster VideoR store to rent movies on June 16—the first night Casey spent away from her parents' home—and he furnished officers with receipts of his transaction; later, police obtained surveillance video from the store that confirmed his account. The two movies they rented were Untraceable, which happens to have a scene of a human body being put in a car trunk, and Jumper, which is about a mother who abandons her child. It was never clear which of them selected the films. Lazzaro then spoke to Amy Huizenga, who lived with Casey's ex-beau, Ricardo Morales. Tony urged her to contact the detectives, so Amy made the call. Amy spoke of text messages she had received from Casey at the end of June, in which she complained that her father had borrowed her car and run over an animal, causing a foul odor to emanate from the car's engine area. Amy and some friends had been on a week's vacation to Puerto Rico; Casey had been invited to attend, but she declined because she couldn't afford to go. Amy allowed Casey to drive her car while she was away, and Casey used it to pick Amy up at the airport on June 15. Amy soon learned Casey found Amy's checkbook in the car and used it to write and cash hundreds of dollars' worth of Amy's checks; police charges against Casey would follow.
Jesse Grund was an ex-fiance of Casey; he told Melich that Casey had called on June 25 to see if he wanted to get together. Casey mentioned that Caylee was with the nanny at the beach for the weekend. Grund also reported that he had a phone conversation with Casey on June 24 and believed he heard Caylee in the background with Casey; he would later revise that information to police, stating that he might have heard Caylee's voice during some other, earlier, phone call. He also said that Casey's online account had been updated to remove more than two hundred photos of her with Caylee. Kristine Chester called Melich after seeing the "Caylee's Missing" stories on TV. Chester said she was Casey's "best friend," and that she had seen Casey just days before, but Anthony never mentioned that her daughter was missing.
Months later, audiotapes of Melich questioning Casey were released. In one he asked if Caylee is in "a better place," and Casey said, "No.... If she was with her family right now, she'd be in the best place. She's not. She's with someone that I absolutely do not trust." And when the detective asked when Casey stopped trusting the person who had been babysitting her daughter for a year, Anthony replied: "The moment that her phone was cut off and I couldn't get in contact with my daughter." But shortly after making this statement, Casey added that she'd had a phone conversation with Caylee just the day before. The call came from a "private number," Casey claimed, and Caylee greeted her with "Hi Mommy!" Casey described the rest of the call: "She started telling me a story, talking to me about her shoes and books." Casey's phone records failed to list such a call.
Excerpted from FROM CRIME SCENE TO COURTROOM by CYRIL H. WECHT DAWNA KAUFMANN Copyright © 2011 by Cyril H. Wecht, MD, JD, and Dawna Kaufmann. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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