The death of Caylee Anthony — and the murder charges against her own mother, Casey Anthony — made headlines nationwide. Here's a breakdown of the controversial case.
In the summer of 2008, the heartbreaking disappearance of Caylee Anthony captivated the nation and led to a sensational trial and stunning acquittal. The 2-year-old’s mother, Casey Anthony, was quickly identified as a suspect in the case after providing police with a bizarre and fictitious story about Caylee’s babysitter kidnapping her a month earlier.
Years later, the mystery of what happened to the 2-year-old in her final moments still remains.
Here are some of the key moments in the case against Casey Anthony:
July 15, 2008: The case began when Cindy Anthony, Casey’s mother, called 911 to report that her granddaughter, Caylee Anthony, was missing.
“Caylee’s missing,” she told the dispatcher in the frantic call, according to Reuters. “It smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”
The same night of the 911 call, Casey told investigators that a babysitter, who she identified as Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez, a.k.a. Zanny the Nanny, had kidnapped the young girl. The tip sent police on a wild goose chase and Casey’s defense attorney would later admit in court that Casey’s accusations against Fernandez-Gonzalez were untrue .
Between June 16, when Caylee was last seen, and July 15, Casey was photographed at multiple bars and clubs in Orlando, according to the Associated Press, once participating in a “hard body contest” at Fusion.
July 16, 2008: Around the same time, Casey took investigators to Universal Studios Orlando, where she claimed to have worked. However, her former supervisors informed investigators that Casey hadn’t worked there for years.
Oct. 14, 2008: Casey Anthony was arrested for child neglect, giving false statements, and obstruction, according to CNN.
July 17, 2008: A specially trained K-9 named Gerus detected the scent of human decomposition in the back of Casey Anthony’s white Pontiac Sunfire, according to CNN.
“I could tell he was working something,” Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Forgey would later testify, before adding that the dog had lain down in the trunk, a signal to the handler that he had detected the smell of human remains.
Oct. 14, 2008: Casey Anthony is indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, and providing false information to law enforcement. Her father, George Anthony, testified before the grand jury that indicted Casey, ABC News reported that year.
“This is going to be very hard for me to do,” he told reporters before his testimony, adding that his “focus has always been on my granddaughter and always will be.”
Dec. 11, 2008: Caylee’s skeletal remains were found by a utility worker less than a half mile away from her home.
Orange County chief medical examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia would later determine her bones showed no sign of trauma and ruled the death a “homicide of undetermined means,” according to ABC News.
Jan. 23, 2009: George Anthony attempts suicide at a hotel in Daytona Beach. Police reported he was “despondent and possibly under the influence of medication and alcohol” when they found him at the hotel, along with a five-page suicide note, according to the news outlet.
The family’s attorney Brad Conway said George had been “pushed to the brink” after his daughter was accused of killing his granddaughter.
May 24, 2011: The opening statements of the highly-anticipated trial begin. Prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick painted Casey Anthony as a careless mother who spent the days after her daughter went missing partying, hanging out with her boyfriend, and shopping. According to Burdick, she also got a tattoo that read “Bella Vita,” translating to “good life” in Italian.
“No one knows where Caylee is and Casey Anthony is gallivanting around Orlando,” Burdick said in the opening statement. “It is difficult to understand why a mother would kill her child. There’s no other conclusion that can be drawn. At the end of this case, you will have no trouble concluding that Caylee Anthony was murdered by her mother.”
However, Anthony’s attorney, Jose Baez, argued that Caylee had actually died in an accidental drowning at the family’s swimming pool and was discovered by her grandfather, George Anthony — an assertion George himself would later deny.
“We will not say George Anthony killed his granddaughter,” he said. “It was an accident. An accident that snowballed out of control.”
Baez also alleged in his opening statement that George had sexually abused his daughter — creating an environment where she had been forced to keep secrets for years and was willing to cover up the alleged drowning, The Orlando Sentinel reported.
George vehemently denied the claims that he had molested his daughter when he was the first to take the stand that day, Biography reports.
June 23, 2011: Cindy Anthony took the stand and refuted some of the prosecution’s theory of the case, testifying that she had been the one to search chloroform on the family computer — not her daughter, as prosecutors had contended, The Associated Press reported in 2011. She said she had been looking up the term after her dogs had eaten bamboo leaves that contained chlorophyll.
Prosecutors had previously argued that Casey had chloroformed her daughter before suffocating her with duct tape and then dumping the body, according to The New York Times.
July 5, 2011: After nearly six weeks of testimony, it took a jury less than 11 hours to acquit Casey Anthony of murdering her daughter, the New York Times reported. Casey — who never took the stand in her own defense — had faced the death penalty but was convicted only of providing false information to law enforcement officers.
Casey cried silently after the verdict was read.
“The best feeling I have today is I know I can go home and my daughter will ask me, ‘What did you do today?’ and I can say, ‘I saved a life,’” Baez later told reporters of the verdict.
July 7, 2011: Casey was sentenced to four years behind bars for lying to police, but was given credit for time served and released 12 days after the verdict, according to ABC News.
June 12, 2012: Casey Anthony insisted in an interview on CNN that she did not kill her daughter. "I've never been a party girl. I don't drink now. I've probably had a handful of beers since I've been on probation,” she said. “The caricature of me that is out there, it couldn't be further from the truth."
To learn what Casey has to say about her daughter’s death 10 years later, tune in to Peacock’s three-episode docuseries “Casey Anthony: Where The Truth Lies,” premiering Nov. 29.