Smoke and Mirrors and Alligator Tears
I've often mentioned one of the oldest tricks in the book. It goes something like this. Suppose I need to borrow $20, but I know it might not be easy. I approach you, and instead of asking for that amount, I ask for $100. Why do I need $100, you ask? I have a lot of bills to pay, and some of them are late. You explain that you can't afford to give me that much money. Why not? I really need it. Come on, you have it. Please? I continue to badger you until I finally say, okay, how about $20 instead? Of course, so you pull out your wallet and hand me a crisp Andrew Jackson. Do you see what I just did? I got $20 out of you and that's all I wanted to begin with. It's called trickery, plain and simple, and just like that, it's the same thing Jose Baez pulled off in the courtroom today. How, you may ask? Hold on to that question. Keep it in your pants and look out for pickpockets.
No doubt, it was a fascinating opening day in the courtroom. Right from the start, Linda Drane Burdick did an absolutely brilliant job of painting a panoramic vista of this sad saga, from the beginning of Caylee's life to the bitter end. It was a Cliff's Notes version of everything we've learned during the past three years of scrutinizing this case - only more. Oh, the memories; we've heard almost all of it all before, but this time, Burdick's message seemed to come straight from the heart of Caylee and it was described in greater detail, with much more promised to come. As much as she is a consummate professional in her field, she made it clear it's justice she's seeking; nothing more and nothing less. From just after 9:00 am to 11:38 am, this seemed like something that was slowly and steadily shoring up to be a lesson in humility for the defense. It was, of course, until Casey's lead attorney got up to address the jury just after lunch.
Jose Baez's opening statement began as something innocuous enough, but it quickly mutated into some sort of hideous monster that went against the grain of everything we've ever learned about morals and scruples. Sure, he used a plethora of alliterative language and innuendo. Forensic science would become science fiction by the time he was done with it, but when he shifted into high gear and began explaining what happened to Caylee, just as he promised he would do within the first few minutes, he was right. What he delivered was explosive. BAM! George was home when Caylee innocently drowned in the backyard pool. George plucked her lifeless body out of the water as Casey frantically searched the back yard for her. He cradled her in his arms.
"Look what you've done!" George screamed, as Casey approached. "You'll spend the rest of your life in jail for this!"
That was nothing. The worst was yet to come. From eight years until she was thirteen, George and Lee sexually abused Casey. Do you have any idea what it's like to have your father's penis in your mouth before going to school? No wonder she dropped out.
What Casey's defense did was disgusting, but it was good strategy, and I'll tell you why. It defused the charges against their client. Caylee's death was nothing more than an accident and George was in on the coverup from the start. No wonder Casey lied. George dangled Caylee's death in front of her. Not only that, Baez said, but there's not one single thread of evidence that points directly to Casey.
Of course, he couldn't explain how Caylee got in the trunk of Casey's car, if she was ever in it to begin with. He even hinted that Cindy may have been in on it. And Roy Kronk. They set her up! The duct tape belonged to George. To prove it, that same tape was on his gas can. HIS GAS CAN! George used it to hang "Find Caylee" signs at the command center. There's no direct link of the tape to Casey. The list can go on and on, but there's still the matter of Roy Kronk. Roy had the body. Roy "found" the body to collect a big reward. Roy placed the body in the woods. He told his own son that he found her, but Baez never explained how "Devious Roy" got hold of the toddler's body to begin with, and he never offered any explanation why Casey kept her mouth shut for almost three years. Why?
What happened in that courtroom today was a travesty. You know it, I know it, and almost everyone else involved in this case, from the outside in, completely understands it, but what we must remember is that the main responsibility of a criminal defense attorney is to set their client free. As I've said over and over again, they sometimes represent real criminals, and they'll do everything short of selling their soul to the devil to get the job done. Some, anyway. But while it was a travesty, it was also only a few hairs short of brilliant. How? When the jury left the courthouse late this afternoon, they walked away with one obvious thought - Man, that's one screwed up family. Liars beget liars, and Casey's that way because that's how she was raised. Mess with the credibility of the state's witnesses. Throw them all under the bus, but first and foremost, take as much focus off Casey as possible. Turn it around while offering the jury something else to ponder; something far more important - the possibility that this was a terrible accident that spiraled out of control.
In my opinion, George was not supposed to be the first witness to take the stand for the state, but Baez forced their hand. His bus changed lanes and that changed the rhythm. The state had no choice. They had to counter while George was still fresh in the minds of those jurors. Of course, he denied it, and he garnered a lot more respect from the public by standing up to Casey. You go, George!
When Roy Kronk takes the stand, this defense is going to paint a hideous picture in its attempt to discredit him. All it will take for an acquittal will be to change the faces of those, like him, we grew to admire. We may believe him, but the jury didn't know a hill of beans about him or any of the witnesses until today.
As today unfolded, there's no longer a thread of doubt in my mind about Casey. She will take the stand in her own defense. That's something I thought I'd never say, but that's not all. As we walked out of the courtroom, Beth Karas told me an interesting thing. She was an assistant district attorney in New York City for eight years, in case you don't remember. She said the jury will never find Casey guilty of first-degree murder after today. I'm beginning to understand why. Full speed ahead. A lot of buses are heading our way. I'll bet you twenty bucks.
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