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Casey Anthony Trial: Whose side will the jury believe?

12:28 PM, Jun 23, 2011   |    comments
Casey Anthony sits in court during her murder trial.
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Orlando, Florida - It's the question everyone seems to be asking.

The topic is debated in cafes, bars, airports, hair salons, even grocery stores. Wherever you go these days, her face seems to be there, prompting conversation.

WATCH: Live video of the Casey Anthony trial
FULL COVERAGE: The Casey Anthony murder trial

No doubt you've seen it - the blank stare, sunken-in cheekbones, waist-length mane and big brown eyes, marred by dark circles underneath - a facial road map of worry, stress, and no doubt, sleepless nights in a cell.

The eyes belong to Casey Anthony.

Her gaze is recognized all over the country as she peers out over her defense table day after day at the Orange County Courthouse.

The burning question surrounding her - will jurors convict the young Orlando mother of first degree murder or will she walk?

Her high-profile case has been dubbed, "The Social Media Trial of the Century" by TIME Magazine.

"People can't turn away," says longtime Bay area defense attorney, Jay Hebert. "They have to see what happens."

The well-known lawyer has been following the case closely, often appearing as a legal analyst locally on WTSP, in addition to national networks such as CNN's In Session and Headline News.

"She's the star of her own show," Hebert says. "She's the writer, producer and director. She is loving this."

And, so are those following the trial.

"Look on any website. Look on Facebook. People are posting, tweeting, talking. They all have an opinion," Hebert said.

Crime Scene Photos: Pictures from where Caylee Anthony's body was found (Caution: Some pictures may be considered graphic)

More Pictures: Click here to see the photos Casey Anthony doesn't want you to see (Caution: pics contain some adult material: IE: Drinking, partial nudity)

Legal analysts agree that prosecutors put on a methodical, strong and convincing case.

Going back to opening statements, Linda Drane Burdick painted the picture of a sordid timeline for the jury. At the conclusion of nearly every sentence, she hammered her point home in a tone that became louder and more urgent with each phrase - "WHERE was Caylee Marie Anthony?"

Local defense attorney Jon Douglas observed, "The state's case was strong. They came off strong, and the jury paid attention."

The overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Douglas claims, could ultimately be what "sinks" Casey.

"I think from a professional stand point, everyone can have a differing opinion on what theory to move forward with. This theory that the defense is purporting does not have any supporting evidence. We have not seen it yet," Douglas surmised.

Over the past three years, another question was continually asked.

What would lead defense counsel, Jose Baez, say in his opening statements to explain the tale of a murdered little girl and her mother, captured in saucy photos partying around Orlando as she participated in a "hot body" contest when her daughter was missing?

Jaws dropped open and audible gasps palpitated throughout the Orlando courtroom as Baez addressed the jury.

"Everyone wants to know what happened. How in the world can a mother wait 30 days before ever reporting her daughter missing. It's insane. It's bizarre. Something's just not right about that. Well, the answer is actually, relatively simple."

Then, Baez dropped the bombshell.

"She never was missing. Caylee Anthony died on June 16, 2008 when she drowned in her family swimming pool," he said.

The Internet ignited. Legal minds began theorizing with such sheer force that chat rooms exploded, and instant messaging became a test in speed reading.

Then, Baez went on further to say that George Anthony, a former homicide detective, retrieved the toddler's body himself.

But, the story didn't stop there. In fact, it was just beginning, and as people were doing the proverbial "closing of their mouths," their jaws would drop open once again.

Jose Baez claimed that George Anthony sexually molested Casey repeatedly as a child, and she was "taught" to lie, creating an appearance of normalcy when her existence was anything but.

Casey even led her parents to believe she was graduating from high school.  However, she informed them at the eleventh hour, prior to a graduation party, that she was missing some needed credits.

She lied about a job at Universal Studios where she pretended to go to work for several years.  Then, there was the now-infamous "Zanny the Nanny" who was reportedly Caylee's caretaker.

Zanny never existed.

How was the jury to believe Baez's drowning theory? Was it a tall tale or was this simply a troubled family with a checkered past? Defense attorneys made a huge promise during opening statements, but could they back it up in the end?

Was that theory enough to keep their client off death row? Would it be enough to exonerate her completely?

Douglas weighed in on the case with this analogy, "I'd focus on a base hit, rather than a home run. I would hope this would be based on logic and a plan of attack."

But that attack, some say, has failed to be the home run in which the defense was hoping to make.

Instead, the play looked more like a foul ball, Douglas admits.

"It comes to a point where there is only circumstance," Douglas said. "This is beyond happenstance. This is designed. The question is, the jury must figure it out. Has the state been able to prove premeditation? That is heart of the issue."

Utilizing the analogy of America's favorite pastime, some legal analysts say the state hit home run after home run when it came to some "damning" evidence.

After the prosecution rested, there were nuggets that the state clearly hoped jurors would walk away with, unable to forget.

It is every prosecutor's dream to have those lasting moments, unable to shake free from the busy minds deliberating at the close of trial, a mental tug of war of sorts, wrestling with violent images.

- Images like graphic crime scene photos of Caylee's skull with her hair still attached.

- Images like close-ups of the toddler's skeleton that included her eye sockets, teeth, fingers and vertebrae.

- Images that showed the child's lower jaw bound with thick duct tape.

- Images showing pages of heart-shaped stickers, much like the one the state claims was placed on the duct tape over Caylee's mouth. An FBI analyst claims to have seen the outline of a heart-shaped sticker on the tape.

The public certainly couldn't stop staring.

Websites showing the blurred-out images of the crime scene photos hit page views in the thousands within an hour of posting, some larger outlets reported millions.

Then, there were the "other" photos.

They, too, were unforgettable.

They were images of Casey wearing a low-cut, form fitting short blue dress, accessorized with a familiar dazzling smile, bright eyes and tall black boots.

The photos showed the young woman, then just 22-years-old, doing what is commonly referred to as "dirty-dancing."

Within Casey's grasp, another woman. Their bodies were just inches apart.

Photo after photo showed a happy-go-lucky lady, with no Caylee in sight.

Other snapshots that garnered attention included Casey making a sad face as she hung her head over a toilet.

An additional picture shows an American flag draped over Casey's chest, tied in a sarong-style fashion. A beer is seen in her hand.

Were these the photos of a grieving mother who was falling apart after her child went missing? After all, the one thing that both the prosecution and defense agree on is that Caylee Marie Anthony died on June 16, 2008.

But, was the child murdered by her mother or did Caylee drown in her family swimming pool?

The toddler loved to swim, often waking up her grandfather George on the weekends, tugging at his sleeve.

"Swim, Jo Jo, swim," the baby would plead.

The defense would explain Casey's admitted "bizarre" actions as the traits of a sexual abuse victim, someone who would act as though everything was "normal."

Baez said in opening statements, "She would learn to lie throughout her life."

If Caylee did drown in a legitimate accident, why didn't anyone call the police?

Child drownings are sadly common in Florida, as children are in swimming pools and beaches nearly year-round. Legal analysts say if Caylee drowned, the family should have called the cops.

When all is said and done, could the lack of a 911 call in the summer of 2008 sink Casey?

Is it that simple in the end  - 3 digits would have saved the young mother years of heartache, the destruction of her family and ultimately her own life?

"Yes," says Douglas. "We wouldn't be here today doing this if Casey has reported the drowning."

The state has maintained the theory all along that Casey wanted to go out and party. She wanted to live "Bella Vita," the beautiful life, as illustrated on her tattoo, prosecutors say.

So, how could Casey live this "beautiful" and free life with a toddler in tow, asks the state.

Simple.

The prosecution purports that Casey searched the word Chloroform on her computer 84 times, along with words like, "neck-breaking", "death" and "internal bleeding" - all discovered in the Google search engine.

Casey would use the Chloroform to disable the baby, then duct tape her mouth shut, suffocating her, the state says.

Then, in an effort to hide the body, detectives say that Casey threw Caylee in a garbage bag, tossed her in the trunk of her Pontiac Sunfire and drove around with her inside before discarding her like "trash" in a wooded area near her parent's home.

Caylee would be found six months later in December 2008 submerged in thick mud, leaves and roots.

Not so fast, says the defense.

Expert witnesses have testified on Casey's behalf, namely a former medical examiner from Detroit with more than 60,000 autopsies under his belt - a man who assisted in high-profile cases such as the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few.

Dr. Werner Spitz also consulted on such recent cases as OJ Simpson and Jon Benet Ramsey. Dr. Spitz testified that he did a second autopsy after the first one was "shoddy."

The prosecution challenged every one of Dr. Spitz's arguments, even citing his own words in textbooks he wrote. 

His findings included results that supported the defense's drowning theory after he "opened the child's skull" for further examination.

Then, there were the other experts from the FBI who testified for the defense, saying they tested soil samples from 22 pair of Casey's shoes and compared it to soil from the crime scene.

There was no connection, the expert said.

A chemistry professor tested air samples from Casey's car and said he could not conclusively say that human decomposition was found in Casey's car.

The defense has driven the point home that no DNA, fingerprints or blood were ever found on or near Caylee's body.

Nothing ties Casey to her daughter's remains.

No one saw Casey put the child in the trunk.

There's no video.

There's no photos.

It is the key link that the state doesn't have.

However, prosecutors have said over and over again, lack of DNA does not mean lack of murder.

There are seven counts against Casey in this first degree murder trial, including providing false information to a law enforcement officer.

The question now becomes - how strong is the circumstantial case versus hard evidence?

Douglas asks, "Where is the smoking gun? There's no direct evidence." But, does the jury need it? Is the circumstantial evidence enough for a conviction?

"You don't need a murder weapon," Douglas remarked. "You don't need to figure out how the person died. We don't know where she was killed. We don't know what last hours were like."

The answers lie within the big brown eyes and the soul beneath the ill-fitting clothes worn in court.

Some say Casey Anthony has no soul.

The light in the now famous photographs is gone from her eyes. The shine in her hair is now dull, listless and lifeless, much like the gaze she wears during court proceedings.

She was filleted for crying "crocodile tears" in court, as many trial-watchers pointed out that her face was never damp, in sharp contrast to her grieving mother who was slumped over the witness stand, convulsing with a visceral reaction that shook court-watchers.

So, what is Casey Anthony thinking these days as she stares into a packed courtroom, alternating her gaze between her lap, her lawyer and her jury?

And, more importantly, what is the Pinellas County jury thinking, as members sit just feet away from the stoic mother - some days looking at her, some not.

It is anyone's guess at this point.

One thing is for sure, the time for the defense to hit the home run is fading like the sun on a late game day.

And, the people on the sidelines who once cheered for Casey are silent.  Those party days are over.  Her friends are now quiet.

They no longer smile or take snapshots, as the image of a decomposing tiny skull is the only mental picture they have left.

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