I Was There
There are moments in life when we say, "I was there."
When Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, I watched it unfold LIVE, on glorious black and white TV. I remember watching John Glenn orbit the Earth, sitting in my grade school cafeteria in delight. Those were but two glorious moments in time, and I was there.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, we were ushered into the very same cafeteria to be told the news before we were sent home. Visions of the Twin Towers falling from the sky are etched into our hearts and souls, and we will never forget. Tragedies never escape us.
Today was one of those moments in time. No, Caylee Marie Anthony’s death and the discovery of her bones will never reach the magnitude of a national tragedy, but we will never forget her.
I was in the courtroom at Casey Anthony’s trial, and sadly, I saw Caylee’s bones. I will forever remember the vivid images of a little girl who will never grow up. There will be no memories for her to share. And there will be no joy when someone asks me if I was there.
This was the day we heard the audio of Roy Kronk’s supervisor calling 911 to report that a small skull – that of a child – was found near the Anthony home. The recording ended with state witness Edward Turso, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, being dispatched to the scene. He and Kronk went into the woods and walked past the skull and other evidence. When they found it, it was left untouched and Turso asked the meter reader to fill out a report back at the vehicles.
After Judge Perry warned people in the courtroom that graphic and disturbing images were forthcoming, he asked that anyone who might get queasy at the sight to please leave. He then took a short recess. I don’t know how many people did not come back, but George and Cindy were gone from their seats. When court returned to order, Jennifer Welch was called to the stand. Welch works for the OCSO CSI Forensic Unit. Immediately, prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick asked her questions about what transpired when she was called to the 8900 block of Suburban Drive on December 11, 2008.
It was a rainy day when she arrived around 11:25 a.m. Some law enforcement officials were already present. There was dense vegetation everywhere in those woods, which no one had yet breached, and the immediate area was cordoned off with police tape. The mood was somber as Welch broke out her camera and began taking photographs. Her initial images depicted views of Suburban Drive looking at the woods from various angles, including straight-on shots into the path Kronk and Turso took to enter. Some were shot from a short distance, but it didn’t take long to step inside the entry that looked like an uninviting arbor; strangled by kudzu. It looked like a perfect spot to hide something.
To the west of the entry point, there’s a light pole. The coordinates supplied by OCSO were very clear – the skull was 87 feet east of the pole, and due south 19 feet, 8 inches from the south curb of Suburban. At the entrance itself, farther east, the path curves to the right by 15 to 20 feet, give or take. As Welch took carefully choreographed steps into the foreboding woods, her camera did its work. Slowly and diligently she worked until there it was – the skull. Faded. An off-white grayish brown glistening from the rain in what little light there was. Stringy, matted hair strands clung tightly to the tiny, ovate-shaped bone.
As Welch described her journey and the prosecutor added photo after photo into evidence, Casey kept her head down. As images of the skull grew larger, the jury remained silent. The judge had warned the gallery that any sudden outbursts meant an instant ejection, so I could barely hear a sigh.
When Burdick was through, Jose Baez arose to cross-examine Welch. No matter, his words sat silent. No one was in the mood to hear questions about contamination of the crime scene when law enforcement entered the woods. Were the scenes staged? Were they tampered with? He alluded to damaging the evidence. Certainly, as a defense attorney, he was well within his means, but after he finished, many of us thought that was the end of the photos. These images had not been as graphic as I expected. Although they were hideous to think about, I had to look at them from a clinical viewpoint, with as little emotion as possible. It didn’t take long before Baez finished, and Welch was excused, subject to recall.
Steven R. Hanson is a chief medical examiner with the District 9 Medical Examiner’s Office. He also took photographs. This time, Jeff Ashton did the questioning. This time, the pictures would be a lot more graphic, but none of us knew that at the time. His early crime scene shots were innocuous enough, and Ashton asked him some compelling questions about his work and the preliminary images he took. As the clock neared noon, Judge Perry called for a lunch break until 1:30 pm.
When court resumed, Hanson took the stand to pick up where he left off and the judge called the jury back in. This time, the images were extremely graphic.. There were close-up shots of the skull from all directions. Other evidence that was shown in the previous photos was more vivid. It included a black plastic bag, a white fabric bag, a red Disney bag, and a pair of Caylee’s shorts. We got a very good grasp of how the duct tape was wrapped around the skull. Several shots of the tape showed the deteriorated outer coating that had separated from the adhesive fabric, as if peeling the skin off a banana. There were scenes of the rotting log that partially hid the skull.
Ashton continued with Dr. Gary Utz, who practices anatomic and clinical pathology, plus forensic pathology in Orlando and Cincinnati. He is also a deputy medical examiner for Orange and Osceola counties. Dr. Jan Garavaglia (Dr.G) would have begun the autopsy, but she was heading out of town that fateful December day. He photographed evidence pertaining to Caylee’s remains as they came into his lab. Instead of giving you the graphic details, I did some quick sketches as the images flashed before us. This is how the day ended, when Casey fell ill. I will leave you with my sketches. If you have questions, please ask. The drawings are not my best, but they should give you an idea of what we saw. I will answer when I can, but unfortunately, because of iPad logistics, I cannot comment from the courtroom.
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