The Florida mom's staggering untruths send shivers through the courtroom

By Michelle Tauber
June 02, 2011 11:55 AM
Credit: Red Huber/Reuters/Landov

Throughout the Casey Anthony murder trial, senior writer Michelle Tauber will be providing exclusive behind-the-scenes impressions and insights from PEOPLE’s up-close courtroom seat

When Casey Anthony wants to speak to her lawyers in the courtroom, she carefully covers her mouth with her hands.

To everyone else in the room, she is mute.

But on Wednesday, jurors heard Casey loud and bracingly clear when prosecutors played an audiotape of an interview conducted by Orange County Det. Yuri Melich on July 16, 2008. The interview took place shortly after Casey’s mother Cindy made her infamous 911 call reporting the disappearance of Casey’s 2-year-old daughter Caylee.

What’s most striking about Casey’s conversation with Det. Melich is the uncanny level of detail she provides as she spins a series of elaborate, disturbing lies – something the defense has admitted as part of their controversial strategy.

As a summer thunderstorm bellowed outside the courtroom, Casey sat with her usual stone-faced demeanor – a sip of water here, a tuck of her hair there – while Det. Melich testified.

Among the falsehoods Casey puts forth in the audiotape and in a handwritten statement admitted into evidence on Wednesday:

CASEY’S LIE: She last saw Caylee a month ago when she took her to nanny Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez’s Orlando apartment. She said Zenaida was 25 years old, from New York, 5’7″ tall and 140 lbs., with dark brown curly hair and brown eyes.
TRUTH: “Zenaida” the nanny does not exist.

CASEY’S LIE: She met Zenaida through a “friend,” Jeffrey Michael Hopkins, who employed Zenaida as a nanny for his son Zachary.
TRUTH: Jeff Hopkins testified that Casey’s contention that he introduced her to his son’s nanny is “one great fiction.”

CASEY’S LIE: She was currently employed at Universal Orlando and had worked there for more than four years.
TRUTH: Casey worked for a Universal subcontractor in 2006, but had definitely not worked on Universal property for two years at the time of the interview.

CASEY’S LIE: She spoke to Caylee on the phone earlier that day: “Today was the first time I have heard her voice in over four weeks. After 31 days, I know that all that matters is getting my daughter back.”
TRUTH: Casey never talked to Caylee that day; according to the defense, Caylee died on June 16, 2008, when she drowned in the Anthony family pool.

CASEY’S LIE: She is unable to give Det. Melich phone numbers for either Zenaida or Jeffrey Hopkins because she lost her phone containing all her contact numbers. Also, “Zenaida’s number has switched a couple times. Jeff’s number changed,” she says calmly.
TRUTH: “Imaginary people,” as lead defense attorney Jose Baez has referred to Zenaida, don’t have phones.

CASEY’S LIE: The only other person Casey told about Zenaida taking Caylee is one of her coworkers at Universal Orlando, Juliette Lewis. She can’t think of Juliette’s phone number either.
TRUTH: Another fabrication.

At one point in the conversation, Det. Melich asks Casey to reflect on whether her story is true: “If you’re trying to fabricate a story, now is your time to [say so].”

“It’s the truth,” Casey replies matter-of-factly. “It’s the story I’m going to stick with.”

At the end of the audiotape, Det. Melich gives Casey one more chance to change or add anything to her statement.

“I just want my daughter back,” she says.

The audio went off. For a moment, Casey’s voice lingered like a cold wind in the silent courtroom. Then she was mute again.

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