Casey Anthony: Molestation allegations

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Molestation allegations

One of the issues that was raised at trial was the allegation that Casey Anthony had been molested by her father George. There was a secondary allegation that her brother had also molested her, but to a lesser degree. This allegation got substantially less media coverage, and many people who casually followed the case didn’t even know about it. Baez dropped the bombshell in his opening statement, then proceeded through the trial without really introducing any substantive evidence of the abuse by George leaving everyone, including the jurors, a bit baffled. It was a widely criticized decision, both from the perspective that most people seemed to think the allegations were false, but also because they believed it to be a poor defense strategy. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The allegations

There seems to be a general assumption that Casey made up the allegations in response to the criminal charges, but that’s not entirely true. The allegations against George emerged sometime between her arrest and her trial, but the allegations against Lee happened much earlier. Two previous boyfriends—Jesse Grund and Tony Lazzaro—said that Casey confided in them that Lee tried touched her breasts while she slept. There aren’t any specific allegations about sexual abuse by George during this time frame, although Lazzaro said she did describe George as abusive, noting that had been “hitting” her.

In late 2010 and early 2011, Casey was examined by two psychologists: Dr. Weitz and Dr. Danziger. She alleged during these interviews that George began molesting her at the age of 8 and continued until the age of 12. This molestation included a number of acts including vaginal intercourse and oral sex. She said that the abuse largely ended at the age of 12, with occasional intercourse after that. George allegedly had sex with her when she was 18 and she questioned whether George was Caylee’s father. The abuse with Lee started at 12 and continued until age 15. It was limited to fondling her breasts. The FBI did paternity tests with both George and Lee and both of them were ruled out.

The psychological analysis

Aside from Casey’s words, the main evidence is the opinion of two psychologists who examined Casey: Dr Weitz and Dr. Danzinger. They did a whole battery of psychological tests and concluded that Casey was genuinely experiencing denial and emotional suppression. Ultimately the denial was the end game rather than simply proving the molestation: the defense needed to explain to the jurors that Casey’s behavior had another explanation aside from hiding criminal behavior.

When it comes to the psychological testing, my feeling is that we should give a lot more credibility to their assessment than the general public did. The thing we need to remember about Casey is that while she may be an extremely prolific liar, she isn’t a particularly good liar. Look at how she reported her daughter’s kidnapping. She’s talking about it with the same level of emotional involvement that you’d report losing your cell phone at the mall (and substantially less than most people would!). Save from people she just met and Cindy Anthony, everyone knew she was a compulsive liar. So the idea that she would be able to snow a bunch of established psychological tests seems a little far fetched. I believe the psychological damage and defense mechanisms Casey is experiencing are very real. Here is an interesting blog post that goes further into the psych evals.

One of the issues that was brought up that I found very compelling was Casey’s emotional detachment from the very real legal situation she was in. We’re all watching these videos of Casey having jailhouse conversations with her family and she’s as cheerful as can be. Regardless of whether she cares about her child or not, facing death row should be a distressing situation. But here she is fussing over mundane things like whether or not she will be able to call her boyfriend. The public obviously saw this as more proof that she’s a callous baby killer, but the psychologists saw it very differently. She’s in denial and her compartmentalization abilities are set on expert mode. This was actually one of the issues mentioned by the jurors. Jennifer Ford said regarding Casey’s nonchalance during the 31 days: ”It looks very bad. The behavior is very bad. But bad behavior is not enough to prove a crime. If you consider the whole family, they didn’t really live in reality. They wanted everything to be happy and everyone to be fine. Even in the jail video, she came up smiling and she looked happy. She’s in jail! Do you think that’s how she really feels? I’m guessing not.”

So does this prove she was molested?

At least two psych experts believe she was. Dr. Weitz, who examined Casey, and psychiatrist Keith Ablow, who didn’t work on the case, but studied the case files and the psychological evals. He wrote a book where he opines that Casey was so psychologically damaged by molestation that she killed her child.

I’m going to disagree with the psychologists. I can see why they would go there; Casey’s defense mechanisms are spot on and extreme, and George’s behavior is very strange. This is a classic example of how sex abuse victims act, so why wouldn’t they think this? But, I think there are issues they’re not fully considering.

One of the main issues is that her parents are already showing all of the psychological issues that are supposedly due to molestation with the same degree of severity. Cindy is demonstrating pathological levels of denial and George is fabricating events. According to George’s ex-wife, he was a pathological liar when they were married well over 30 years ago. He isn’t just lying in relation to the death. So it’s like…why do we need to invoke some separate explanation for Casey’s behavior? Now, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t molested. But I think there’s a pretty obvious reason why Casey acts the way she does and it’s because her parents act that way.

The second questionable issue is the fact that a number of things she told the psychologists were demonstrably false. According to Casey, the death happened while she was asleep and George woke her up at 9am. The computer and cell records, however, put her waking around 7:45 and lazily messaging people. There’s nothing about this electronic information that suggests that George woke her up to search for her missing child. Ironically, the defense argued this timeline at trial and the prosecution didn’t even try to dispute it. Yet more evidence for my theory that the prosecution was actively trying to distance themselves from the electronic data. It’s clear that even the prosecution had some idea of the time of death because Burdick asked “Did you get the impression that George wakes her up at 9:00 in the morning but these events don’t happen until 2:00 in the afternoon?” in one of the depositions.

I very much get the sense that Baez made up a story and coached Casey to say it. And the reason I say this is that she hit on all the major points that Baez wanted to make at trial. What she told the psychologists was the same story Baez gave in his opening statements. She brought up the pool. She brought up the shorts. She claimed she didn’t know how Caylee died or how she got to Suburban drive—issues that could make or break the case depending on what evidence the jury finds credible. Obviously the alternative explanation is that Baez is just recalling what Casey told him, but it just seems a little too perfect.

Even before I viewed the computer and cell records, I very much got the sense that Baez intentionally argued a death in the morning because it would be most sympathetic to the jury. I wholeheartedly believe that the child died accidentally. But arguing that the child died by accident because Casey was chatting on the phone and surfing the web isn’t something that a jury is likely to look favorably at. Many people still view that as neglect. I think they argued it happened before Casey woke up because that’s the one time frame when there is no expectation that Casey would be paying attention. The fact that the electronic records dispute this firms up any doubts about this for me: This story was engineered for the jury.

The last issue is how the allegation was brought up in the first place. Now, the story about Lee had existed for at least a couple years, so there’s no real information there. But the allegation against George came up much later. Casey first mentioned the issue in a letter to a fellow inmate who she had befriended. She wrote that Lee had molested her and “she was starting to feel that maybe her father did too”. So in other words, she doesn’t have any clear memories of the abuse when she first brings it up. At the point in time when she does the interviews with the shrinks, she can remember the abuse with perfect clarity and knew when it started and when it stopped. For one thing, I’m dubious of all claims of recovered memories, but I also think it’s unlikely that any repressed events can be recovered with such ease. The best explanation I can come up with is that she was coached.


Protecting Caylee from George

I’ve already spoken a good bit about this in previous posts: I don’t think she was doing this as much as it was argued at trial. The prosecution made it out to be that Casey left the house every day to go to work and instead of disputing it, the defense tried to capitalize on it. They argued that she did this to keep George away from Caylee. Now, this doesn’t really prove whether or not there was molestation: plenty of abuse victims stay with their abusers. But I think this particular argument is baseless. On the day Caylee died, she hung out at the house with George all day as she’d probably done countless times before. Casey claimed that she locked the door every night to protect Caylee from molestation by George, although that is self reported. I happen to believe her on this one; I think she probably locked the door at night. But it probably had more to do with Cindy’s controlling nature than any protection from George. After all, she claimed to be just remembering the molestation by George, so why would she worry about it prior to that memory surfacing?

George acting “creepy”

This is one of the clues that is the most commonly cited. Ablow certainly puts great stock in this one. Weitz also mentioned some of these. The main creepiness I’ve heard referenced was that George was in the delivery room and watched Casey give birth, George said he missed the smell of Caylee’s sweat at the memorial service, and he said his favorite memories of Caylee were looking at the ultrasound and seeing the “hamburger” or “pancake” (he used both terms in different scenarios). There seems to be pretty good consensus that these things are abnormal, but I’m not sure there’s a direct line from here to molestation. You can do what you want with them, but I’ll give my own reading of this evidence:

First of all, I think deciding guilt on the basis of subtle word choices is a risky move. We’re getting into Amanda Knox territory here: sometimes people just act weird. Is it gross to say you were excited to see Caylee’s vagina? Yes it is. But the alternative way to state that is “We saw it was a girl and were so excited!”, which is a completely normal thing to say. Is it gross and weird that he watched Casey give birth? Yes it is. But I think there’s a simple explanation for all of this: he didn’t want to do any of it but Cindy made him. This smacks of boundary issues by Cindy. She’s the one who would be clueless that it may make Casey uncomfortable for George to be in the delivery room.

I also want to propose an idea that might be controversial, and that is that George probably failed to bond with Caylee. It’s really not that abnormal for grandparents to fail to form strong emotional bonds with their grandchildren. And if you look at the way Caylee entered this family, it seems likely. First, Casey gets pregnant in her teens and it’s too upsetting for the family to deal with it so they deny it’s happening. George must’ve been extraordinarily stressed worrying about Cindy’s reaction to the pregnancy. We saw from George’s prior statements how much of a threat to his marriage Casey’s screw ups are. Getting pregnant in her teens is a big one. The family is then thrown into preparing for the birth and experiencing it in very short order. Baez described a photo taken at the birth in his book. Everyone looks happy except George, who looks pissed. Of course, Baez argued it was because the child was his, but I think it’s more likely he’s just pissed at Casey for screwing up his marriage. Shortly after, George is kicked out of the house. Eventually they reconciled, but for the three years that Caylee was alive, Casey and Cindy constantly fought over the child, leaving Cindy upset a great deal of the time.

Then the child dies, Casey is arrested and is facing the death penalty, and Cindy experiences more grief than most of us can even fathom. George has spent the past 30 years trying to keep Cindy from experiencing any discomfort so she won’t leave him and through no fault of her own, Caylee brought an unbelievable amount of upheaval and anxiety to George. It’s not unreasonable to think that at the very least he had some ambivalence towards her.

So when he’s describing these moments, he’s probably trying to pretend to be the person who feels these things and that’s why they’re coming out all wrong. If Cindy says “George, give the eulogy”, he does it, but it’s sounds weird because it’s the words of someone who’s faking their way through it. If George never gets the order to leave the delivery room, he’s not budging, not because he wants to, but because he doesn’t want to upset his wife. I think this is a much more reasonable explanation than George sitting around fantasizing about Caylee’s sweat and Casey’s afterbirth.

One additional clue that points to this is that he wrote the same type of gushy letters to Casey in jail during this time frame. There’s no question that Casey and George had a terrible relationship and he was actively trying to help police build their case against her. But when Cindy said “Okay George, time to write our letters to Casey!” he did what he was told. Maybe I’m making a mistake dismissing these things when professional psychologists thought they were significant, but this is how they struck me.

(As an aside, can you imagine what a mindfuck that must’ve been getting those letters from George? Here he is telling police false timelines and saying really terrible things about Casey to the FBI and then he writes her these letter telling her how beautiful she is and how he just wants to hug her. Certainly an odd dynamic)

George’s sex life

(First of all, I’d like to apologize for bringing all this up. It feels very intrusive to delve into someone’s sex life when they haven’t done anything criminal, but this has all made its way through the media and I think it brings some closure to this issue.)

The last and most convincing piece of evidence in this case are the clues we have about George’s sex life. It appears that George has a healthy sex drive; he has had a few affairs over the years. Casey has spoken frequently with her friends over George having affairs and he had one with an equisearch volunteer during the six month period when Caylee was missing. (He denies it, but the security guard at her apartment said he spent a significant amount of time there and he texted her things like “I need you in my life”) George also spends a significant amount of time looking for sex online at escort sites and hook up sites like Adult Friend Finder. There has been some speculation that the debt he racked up which led Cindy to kick him out was spent on escorts instead of gambling and a Nigerian scam like he claims. I haven’t reviewed this claim, but based on the trial testimony it makes me think he has given different answers at different times so perhaps he really was covering this up.

Another issue that seemed to strike a chord with Ablow was a story told by George’s family that he stole panties from a girl in high school and had to switch schools.

So it sounds to me like George probably does have some degree of sexual addiction or compulsion. We have one example of criminal sexual behavior and a whole lot of extramarital sex. In and of itself that doesn’t mean addiction, but the degree to which he wants to keep his marriage together makes me think he doesn’t have a lot of control over the behaviors.

The thing we’re not seeing in all of this is any evidence that he’s looking at child pornography or any attempts to meet up with underage girls. There are plenty of search terms looking for adult sex, but the only thing involving underage girls in this history is when he himself was underage. According to Baez, his favorite escort site was called “forty plus”, in other words, prostitutes over the age of 40. This is far from scientific, of course. Plenty of pedophiles also seek out sex with adult women, but it seems odd to me that George would have what appears to be a sexual addiction and spend so much time looking to fulfill one sexual interest online, but zero time fulfilling the other. I think the most likely scenario is that George is interested solely in adult women who are in a similar age range and has no real sexual interest in children.

The Lee allegations

There really just isn’t enough information here to make any judgments. On the one hand, Casey lies a lot. On the other, part of me feels like if you’re going to make up a story to get sympathy, you’d make it a little more dramatic than Lee touching her boobs. You’d also think she’d make it about George since she actively hated him. Lee and her actually have a good relationship. I hate even discussing the allegation because I really like the guy, but I can’t rule it out. According to Baez, when Lee was asked about the abuse by the FBI, he responded “We'll talk about it when the time is right.” Unfortunately, I can’t find his FBI interview online anywhere to confirm this. It’s possible there’s even some alternative scenario such as a consensual sexual relationship. I don’t believe George molested Casey, but I don’t think we can conclusively say either way with this one.

So why didn’t the defense present the psych evals?

According to Baez, both psychologists were set to testify to what Casey told them as well as to the psych profile that shows Casey was legitimately in denial following the death. But by the time the deposition rolled around, Danzinger started to flake. The excerpts from Danziger’s report that were printed in Baez’s book certainly support this. He’s using phrases like “pathological level of denial” and noting what a “doting, loving, devoted” mother Casey was (although I can’t find his report anywhere online to verify), but when he got to the deposition, he was unwilling to take any stance on anything.

So Baez is claiming that the prosecutors office got to him. Obviously, I can’t prove that this happened, but the defense went to the trouble of scheduling the deposition. It was spread over two days. But then the defense halted it after the first day and announced they were removing him from the witness list. The prosecution attempted to continue the second day until the defense got the judge to order that the prosecution was not allowed to interview Danzinger or use his testimony. When you look at all the other witness tampering the prosecution engaged in, it seems to be the likeliest explanation. First the defense had 2 equisearch volunteers who believed the body had been moved because they already searched the area where Casey’s body was found. The prosecution threatened them with felony prosecution until they “remembered” they actually searched a different area. Then Ashton tried to get an expert witness disqualified who was planning to testify about the duct tape. When he failed, he called the guy’s boss the day before his testimony and got him to threaten to fire him if he got up on the stand. So when the defense halts a depo right in the middle and says there was witness intimidation, I tend to believe them.

Either way, even with just Weitz’s testimony, they could have presented the evidence that Casey had been molested (even though I believe it was false) and pretty good psychological data that she wasn’t faking her defense mechanisms. The problem was, now that the defense was having psychologists examine her, the prosecution could do the same and they could have those psychologists ask her whatever questions they want and then use that evidence against her. It was definitely a problem for the prosecution that they had so little evidence of what actually happened on June 16th, , and the defense had blocked all contact with her until that point. So here Baez schedules these interviews and she’s giving more statements about what happened that day. Who knows what damning statements she would’ve made had the prosecution’s people interviewed her.

The other issue is that she told Weitz and Danzinger that she believed George murdered Caylee. According to Casey, George ran in the house holding this dead child and she didn’t know what had happened to her. After George testified against her in front of the grand jury and refused to tell police what happened, she felt there must be some reason he was trying to pin a murder on her. And that reason may be that he himself had done something to Caylee. The defense really had no idea how the jury would view George or whether they’d believe he was there, so the safest bet was to argue that it was 100% accidental. Presenting this statement where Casey claims it was a murder complicates their defense considerably. Also, according to Baez, Weitz seemed convinced that George murdered Caylee. He was afraid the jury would perceive that he was biased, and again, that’s not where they wanted to go with their case.

How did the accusations impact the case?

It’s my opinion that the molestation allegations had the single biggest impact on the verdict. This is by far not a universal opinion. After all, the defense offered zero evidence at trial and almost no one—including the jurors—actually believed it. But the impact it had on George’s testimony was immeasurable. If you remember back to the Family Dysfunction posts, I mentioned how George was waffling based on who he was with. He was going to the police, giving them incriminating evidence, and acting like he was very pro-prosecution. But then whenever his wife was around, he was proclaiming Casey’s innocence and on this quest to find Zanny the nanny. It came out at trial that he had instructed the police not to tell his wife about some of the interviews he was doing. Despite George being the prosecution’s key witness, it’s not at all clear what side he would be on when he got to trial. If it was just George, I have no question that he would be a prosecution friendly witness. But Cindy was going to be at the trial too and her presence seems to trump everything.

This was a problem for the defense. With all of George’s lies, exaggerations, and inconsistent statements, the defense actually had a very strong case. But if he balks, it makes it impossible to cross examine him. A parent who made incriminating statements about their child to the police, but is now reluctant to testify to them in court looks very different to a jury. The jury is going to believe the initial statement and any inconsistent statements are going to look like a parent protecting their child. For the defense strategy to work, they needed George to testify against his daughter.

But again, there’s the issue of Cindy. And she’s definitely going to be at the trial. When I was first reviewing the case, I thought that the anger of being accused of molestation overcame his fear of Cindy. But rewatching the testimony, I noticed something interesting:

Cindy was pretty steadfast in her belief that Zanny was real for basically the entire 3 years. Her belief that Caylee was alive seemed to fluctuate a bit (according to Weitz, this is typical of denial behaviors), but she definitely tracked down leads of a living Caylee and expressed that she still believed Caylee was alive at various times. By trial, however, she seemed pretty grounded in reality for the most part. She testified for the prosecution at that she continued her searches until “6 weeks ago”. She also testified that she “just recently” found out all these people Casey was talking about were fictitious—something the rest of us knew back in 2008. So somehow these deep denial behaviors miraculously resolved right before the trial.

The trial started on May 24th, 2011. She gave this testimony on day 5-6 of the trial. If we look at a calendar, six weeks takes us back to the week that the depositions were taken for Weitz and Danzinger. Danzinger did his deposition April 7 and Weitz did his on the 13th. It certainly sounds like the depositions somehow made Cindy snap out of it.

It’s unclear what it was specifically that impacted Cindy so much. On the one hand, Baez did say that Cindy largely took George’s side after the molestation allegations came out, but the letter that started the whole thing came out in early 2010. So she continued to believe the Zanny story for another year after hearing about this. Also, this is entirely my own perception, but I’ve always felt that Cindy loved Casey more than George, so simply accusing George of these things…I question if she would’ve turned so completely. In her depo, though, Casey said some pretty negative things about Cindy and there was also a pretty serious allegation: According to Casey, she told her mother about the abuse by Lee and asked for her help. Instead of dealing with the situation, Cindy responded “So that’s why you’re a whore!”

It’s also possible that just hearing Casey say that the child wasn’t kidnapped and instead died on June 16th snapped her back to reality. Either way, what Casey told the psychologists seems to have had the biggest impact on Cindy. She came back down to earth and no longer blindly supported Casey, which freed up George to testify the way he wanted to against her. The defense could then impeach George and raise doubts about his involvement. And boy did it work. Not only did it get George to testify against his daughter, it also made him unbelievably angry. George ended up swinging so far over to the prosecution side that it demolished the state’s case.

The one question I have is: did Baez do all of this intentionally? His move to have psychologists interview Casey, tell the prosecution their strategy six weeks prior to the trial, and open Casey up to the possibility of being interviewed by prosecution experts was considered by many to be an incredibly dumb move. This article which details the fight between the sides over this information. Ashton wrote, "We were surprised that Baez had not anticipated the request for our own expert evaluation and considered that before showing his hand like he had."

Of course, the defense withdrew the psychologists from the witness list before that took place and the judge ordered the files sealed, meaning no one could reveal what was in them. But instead of obeying the court, Ashton immediately told George and Cindy. Then get this: he claimed he did nothing wrong because he didn’t leak the actual depositions—just his memories of the depositions. (How great would that be to have a job where court orders are more like suggestions and there are no consequences for disobeying them?) So Baez claims Ashton leaked it with the intentions of turning George and Cindy against Casey so they would be better prosecution witnesses. And I’m quite certain he did. But based on the fact that the prosecution had Nancy Grace on speed dial and was leaking every other goddamn thing, it sort of makes me wonder if Baez wasn’t secretly banking on Ashton leaking this evidence. Ashton talks about Baez as if he’s such an idiot, but it sort of seems like Ashton inadvertently set in motion a chain of events that directly led to Casey’s acquittal. Obviously, Baez brought the allegation up at trial in his opening, but would it have had full impact on the family bringing it up so late? None of the allegations regarding Cindy came out at trial, so the leak of the deposition material definitely struck her harder than the trial allegations would. Six weeks is just enough time for the family to be fully prepped by the prosecution.

Was all of this dumb luck or genius legal strategy? Baez set a number of traps for the prosecution and I suspect that Baez understood the family dynamics and the complicated figure that was George Anthony a lot better than Ashton ever did. But Baez is, of course, claiming he firmly believes the molestation allegations and put those forth in good faith. He did admit in his book to doing other things to make George angry like making George stand up and sit down over and over to write things on a whiteboard. So it stands to reason that he knew the molestation allegations would make George similarly angry. Either way I think it was the single most impactful event in the entire case.

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