Casey Anthony: Judgment day

"48 Hours" takes you inside one of the most dramatic murder trials in recent memory

ORLANDO, Fla. - It began three years ago with a mystery that turned into an unthinkable crime. A community outraged, a family torn apart, and a nation's attention focused on one woman. After 91 witnesses and 30 days of testimony - stunning revelations, a family accused, disturbing evidence and even more disturbing behavior - finally a shocking verdict. "48 Hours" takes you inside one of the most dramatic murder trials in recent memory.

Today's verdict was not what most of the impassioned observers outside the Orlando courthouse were expecting.

"We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty."

On July 5, 2011, Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder, acquitted of manslaughter and acquitted of child abuse.

She was convicted only of four misdemeanors: All of them about lying to investigators.

Casey Anthony found not guilty of killing daughter
Crimesider: Complete trial coverage

Minutes after Casey's fate was read aloud, Jose Baez, the man in charge of her case and who sat beside her for the past six weeks - spoke out: "Casey did not murder Caylee. Our system of justice has not dishonored her memory by a false conviction."

It's been three long years since Baez began fighting an uphill battle to save his most notorious client.

"I admire her greatly," he told "48 Hours." I think she has courage... strength, intelligence..."

The Orlando, Fla., woman first became a national obsession in July 2008, when she claimed that her 2 ½-year-old daughter, Caylee, had been kidnapped a month earlier - but she didn't report it. While her daughter was supposedly missing, Casey partied - and told her family and friends that Caylee was with a nanny. That October, Casey was charged with murder. Two months later, Caylee's skeletal remains were found not far from the family home.

Photos: The search for Caylee

After years of damaging pre-trial publicity, Baez was practically the only person left defending her.

"You can only use flattering terms to describe the true Casey Anthony," he said.

The drama moved to the courtroom in May 2011, when the demure-looking 25-year-old defendant finally faced a jury.

"This isn't just a case about Casey Marie Anthony, it's a story about Caylee Anthony as well," Prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick said in her opening statements.

The prosecutor argued that Casey killed 2 1/2-year-old Caylee and then concocted elaborate lies to conceal it.

"No one else lied to their friends, to their family, to investigators, no one else benefited from the death of Caylee Marie Anthony," Burdick told the court.

The stakes were high: If convicted, Casey Anthony possibly faced the death penalty - a harsh reality that undoubtedly weighed heavily on her parents, George and Cindy Anthony, as they listened to the prosecutor's opening statement:

"Casey Anthony appeared ... to be what her parents thought she was - a loving mother working hard to support her daughter..." Burdick continued.

George and Cindy were key to this highly circumstantial case. Casey was 19 and still living with them when Caylee was born. Casey and her child never moved out.

"I saw her with Caylee every day," Cindy Anthony told "48 Hours" in a 2009 interview. "And I saw the type of mother she is. And she's just like me ... And I could never harm a hair on any of my children's head."

In that interview, the Anthonys told "48 Hours" that Casey left the house with Caylee in June 2008 and, unexpectedly, did not come back home.

"I think it was a couple weeks into it when I started really pushing to talk to Caylee. Because, you know, I really missed her," Cindy said in the interview.

In his opening argument, attorney Baez said Casey had a reason to lie about Caylee's whereabouts. And for the first time in public, he revealed it.

"She never was missing. Caylee Anthony died on June 16, 2008, when she drowned in her family's swimming pool," Baez told the court in his opening statements.

That awful event, Baez said, overwhelmed this deeply disturbed young mother - a woman who had learned to keep secrets because she had been sexually abused by her own father from an early age.

"It all began when Casey was 8 years old and her father came into her room and began to touch her inappropriately. And it escalated. And it escalated," Baez continued.

"Jose Baez's opening statement - it was stunning," "48 Hours" correspondent Troy Roberts remarked to Linda Kenney Baden, a HLN contributor, who was once a member of Casey's defense team.

"Wow, wow, wow," Kenney Baden replied.

"It turned the case on its head?" Roberts asked.

"It turned the case upside down," Kenney Baden said. "As to what the reason was as to why somebody would not report her beautiful daughter missing."

Baez accused George Anthony of being the real villain in this case - a brutal man who intimidated his daughter for years. Baez told jurors that George found Caylee in the pool that day and then Casey found him holding the body of her lifeless child.

"She immediately grabbed Caylee and began to cry. And cry. And cry," Baez continued. "And shortly thereafter, George began to yell at her, 'Look what you've done! Your mother will never forgive you and you will go to jail for child neglect for the rest of your frickin life.'"

Baez contended that Caylee's accidental death became one more ugly family secret... a secret just like George's alleged sexual abuse.

"Casey was raised to lie. ...she could be 13 years old, have her father's penis in her mouth, and then go to school and play with the other kids as if nothing ever happened," Baez told the court.

Throughout Baez' accusations, George Anthony remained stoic. Later, on the witness stand, he would unequivocally deny the allegations against him.

"Certainly the opening statement put pressure on the defense to prove the allegations made against George," Roberts said to Kenney Baden.

"Yeah, but the defense doesn't have to prove those allegations," she explained. "They have to give a hint to the allegations."

"This is not a murder case. This is not a manslaughter case. This is a sad, tragic accident," Baez told jurors.

The state insisted this was no accident - and the physical evidence proves it. But Baez promised he would discredit the state's forensic experts, police investigators, and even Roy Kronk, the man who found Caylee's remains.

"What did Kronk do with her? Why did he place her there that way? And can you trust anything this man has to say? And I would tell you you can't," Baez continued.

After nearly three years of relentless publicity - damaging evidence and scandalous photos - the defense was now on a mission to show that Casey Anthony wasn't the person everyone thought she was after all.

"I think the public still hates Casey Anthony," Kenney Baden told Roberts. "But I think the public also knows that they haven't been given the whole truth."

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