There are lines for tickets, around-the-clock news coverage on TV and the Internet, and seemingly everyone has an opinion of who will win.
No, we are not just a week away from the Super Bowl or the World Series. This is the backdrop for the Casey Anthony murder trial, a real-world “life or death” drama playing out on the 23rd floor of the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando.
In about a week, the jury will be locked away in a private room to consider if they believe the 25-year-old mother is guilty of planning her actions and then murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, as the state argues. Or, as the defense claims, the dark-haired, unmarried Orlando native is “not guilty” of murder, but rather of making ignorant mistakes following her daughter's alleged accidental drowning three years ago.
There is one thing both prosecutors and the defense now agree on: Caylee died on June 16, 2008.
Murder or accident?
For three weeks, Orange County prosecutors have built a strong, circumstantial case suggesting murder, according to legal experts, and they’ve backed it up with powerful scientific evidence. They rested their case on Wednesday.
The jury has heard how Anthony lied to her parents, her brother, friends and to deputies about “the nanny” and the supposed kidnapping.
When the trial began, Anthony’s defense team admitted the story of a “Nanny named Zanny,” who Anthony long claimed had kidnapped her daughter back in 2008, was all one big fabrication.
When that story disappeared, it left the defense with a huge hole in the timeline. Anthony did not tell anyone her daughter was missing for 31 days: Why would a mother, who now claims her daughter accidentally drowned, keep it a secret for so long?
The defense promised in its opening that it will explain how Anthony, since the age of eight, was sexually molested by her father, George Anthony, and that his “power over her” led her to follow his lead to “cover up” Caylee’s death.
But a key prosecution witness, the Orange County Medical Examiner, already has raised questions about that story: Why would Casey Anthony put her daughter's limp body in a bag and dump it in the woods a five-minute walk from her home? And why would there be duct tape on Caylee’s lower jaw, as if it had been across her mouth and nose?
Those “red flags” are what the medical examiner told the jury she used to conclude Caylee’s death was a murder. What the jury may have wanted to hear was the means of death for Caylee, but no one knows. Caylee’s death is listed as: homicide by undetermined means.
Her remains sat in the woods for six months, so the only thing the forensic teams were able to study were her bones. The skeleton revealed no broken bones, no evidence of a gunshot or stabbing. And the toxicology tests were unable to answer the question of how Caylee died.
That leaves the jury to consider circumstantial evidence, those so-called “red flags,” and the technical scientific evidence of the duct tape that experts have testified was attached to Caylee’s lower jaw.
Prosecutors argue there is only one logical conclusion: Casey Anthony is guilty of murder and she should be executed for her actions.
But the defense only needs to have one juror with “reasonable doubt,” and the defense has a plan to raise all sorts of doubts when they start presenting their case on Thursday.
Anthony’s team already told the court that starting as a child she was sexually molested by her father George. That, the defense says, is why she’s such an accomplished liar.
The defense is expected to call George Anthony to the stand. He has denied the abuse allegations and he also denies suggestions that he helped cover up Caylee’s drowning.
The defense team will also call Roy Kronk to the stand. He’s the meter reader who found Caylee’s skeletal remains in the woods. The problem for prosecutors is Kronk had called deputies several time on Aug. 11, 12 and 13th to say he knew where Caylee’s remains were.
But deputies never found Caylee’s body.
Then Kronk went into the woods on Dec. 11, 2008 – he says to relieve himself – and again, he called deputies to say he’s found a skull. This time it was there.
The coincidence that he claimed several times over a five-month period to know where the body was located will be a circumstantial oddity jurors will wrestle with.
Further adding to Kronk’s credibility issue will be the money he made from the case.
Kronk collected a $5,000 reward for finding the body. He had previously accepted $5,000 from a local lawyer who wanted to thank him for his role. Then there was a $15,000 payment from ABC News for an exclusive photo he’d taken in the woods; not of the skull or Caylee’s bones, but rather of a snake he’d seen there. No one in law enforcement or with the prosecution has ever suggested the snake was anything more than a distraction the day Kronk wandered into the woods.
Anthony’s defense team raised Kronk’s credibility as a central theme in their opening statements. Again, “reasonable doubt” is the defense goal. But they have yet to explain how Caylee’s body — after the alleged drowning — wound up in the woods.
It’s expected the defense will argue Kronk moved Caylee’s body. But it’s unclear how Anthony’s lawyers will explain how Kronk, a stranger to the Anthony family, got custody of the little girl’s remains.
Kronk has repeatedly denied he is anything more than someone who stumbled into the discovery.
Which may leave the jurors, and everyone else wondering: Will Casey Anthony explain what happened? Will she take the stand?
If she does takes the stand, it may be among the most riveting testimony to ever grip a courtroom...and television...and the live streams...and twitter...and....you get the idea.
And after the verdict is read, and justice is handed out, we still may never really know what happened to a little girl who would have been starting first grade at the school across the street from where her body was found.