ORLANDO, Fla. >> After more than 33 days of testimony, 400 pieces of evidence and sweeping promises from attorneys to prove how 2-year-old Caylee Anthony died, neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys have provided concrete evidence showing whether the girl was killed by her mother.
And when closing arguments begin Sunday, jurors won’t forget what they were promised.
During opening statements in May, prosecutors said Caylee was suffocated with duct tape by a mother who loved to party, tattooed herself with the Italian words for "beautiful life" in the month her daughter was missing and crafted elaborate lies to mislead everyone from investigators to her own parents. Defense attorneys countered that the toddler accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool, and that her seemingly carefree mother in fact was hiding emotional distress caused by sexual abuse from her father.
However, a medical examiner never determined precisely how Caylee died, and 25-year-old Casey Anthony’s DNA was not found with her daughter’s skeletal remains when they were found in December 2008 in a wooded area near the Anthony family home. The defense team never offered firm proof of how the girl died, either, and never offered any evidence that Casey Anthony was molested by her father, George, who has firmly denied the claim.
"This is an emotional case and I think they made some promises early in the opening and they have not been able to deliver," said Tim Jansen, a former federal prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Tallahassee. "(The jury is) going to be very skeptical in their closing arguments. When I do my closing arguments, I can tell you right away if they are listening to me, if they are agreeing with me or if they turn the other way and it’s not a good feeling to lose a jury."
The case has played out on national television from the time Caylee was reported missing three years ago to the trial that was broadcast across the country. Captivated observers have camped outside the courthouse to jockey for coveted seats in the courtroom gallery, which has occasionally led to fights among those desperate to watch the drama unfold.
Casey Anthony has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. She could face a possible death sentence or life in prison if convicted of that charge. Anthony also is charged with aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to law enforcement. The child abuse and manslaughter charges each carry a 30-year prison term if convicted.
Judge Belvin Perry gave attorneys Saturday off so they could prepare their final arguments for Sunday. He has said the jury of seven women and five men could start deliberating by Sunday evening.
Prosecutors finished their rebuttal case Friday, after which defense attorney Cheney Mason argued that the judge should grant a request to acquit Anthony. He said in part about the state’s case: "If you separate facts from fiction and inferences stacked on top of inferences … there is no proof."
Indeed, the burden of proof falls to prosecutors. Yet they relied on a highly circumstantial case, focusing on the lies told by Casey Anthony in the 31 days after Caylee was last seen alive. They also heavily focused on an odor in the trunk of Casey Anthony’s car, which the prosecution’s forensics experts said was consistent with the smell of human decomposition.
No physical evidence ever linked Casey Anthony to traces of chloroform found in the trunk, though, and Perry has ruled that the jury won’t get to smell air samples taken from that trunk.
Nonetheless, the defense offered no evidence supporting their theory that Caylee drowned. Nor did they offer proof of the molestation allegations, which the attorneys said explained why Casey continued to party and hang out with friends after her daughter disappeared in summer 2008.
The only explanation of her seemingly bizarre behavior came from a grief expert who testified for the defense that young people often display their emotions in abnormal ways and engage in what she characterized as "magical thinking."
Whatever the attorneys argue, it will have to adhere to a strict set of guidelines distributed Friday by Perry. Among them, attorneys were warned not to ridicule or speak disparagingly about the other side’s case. They were also cautioned to "avoid making arguments not based on facts in evidence or reasonable inferences."
That could mean that lead defense attorney Jose Baez will have to tread carefully when arguing the accidental death. But the majority of the warnings are aimed at the prosecution.
With each side’s case deficient in definitive evidence, Florida A&M professor Karin Moore said jurors might lean on the most glaring thing presented to them.
That could mean judging Casey Anthony’s actions during the month Caylee was missing, Moore said.
"If she knew her child had died or was missing, she was not acting like a grieving mother," Moore said. "It may be enough for a jury."