The top of her tiny skull peeped out from the entwining foliage in a garbage-strewn wooded area just around the block from the only home she'd ever known. Eighteen of her 20 baby teeth were found scattered nearby, as were many of her skeletal, underdeveloped bones.
Not even Hurricane Fay, which rammed through the Orlando, Florida, area in August 2008, could wash away the child's legacy. It was as if Caylee Marie Anthony—or what was left of her—was patiently waiting for someone to find her and seek justice.
A photograph of her remains, revealed here for the first time, was taken by an Orange County crime-scene specialist and is, perhaps, the single most riveting and personal piece of evidence expected to be presented in the murder case against Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, which starts tomorrow with opening arguments. This photo of the skull may, in fact, be included in the prosecution's multimedia introduction to the seven-woman, five-man jury, which has been selected over the past two weeks in a sometimes circus-like atmosphere.
It seems highly unlikely that the court will hear from the defendant herself. So jurors will get a sense of who she is from the evidence. To get a sense of what that will be, The Daily Beast examined thousands of pages of documents—available under Florida's Sunshine Law—and conducted interviews with sources close to the prosecution, as well as independent sources with knowledge about the case.
Based on our research, they'll see racy photographs of Casey dancing, drinking, and partying during the first 31 days her child was missing—or, if you believe the defendant, when a babysitter named Zenaida Fernandez Gonzalez had taken off with her daughter to places unknown.
This photo of the skull may be included in the prosecution's multimedia introduction to the jury.
The jury will certainly hear audio tapes of 911 calls made by the child's grandmother frantically reporting to police that her granddaughter is missing and her daughter's Pontiac "smelled like there's been a damn dead body in the car!"
There will be testimony from both of the toddler's grandparents about the timeline of events and, perhaps, about Casey's attempts to put her daughter up for adoption shortly after her birth, a move grandmother Cindy Anthony reportedly opposed. Grandpa George Anthony will be asked whether Casey's claims that he sexually abused her are true, whether the look-alike brown-eyed Caylee was actually his child and about his attempted suicide during the time the child was missing. Brother Lee Anthony will also be asked questions about possible incestuous sexual misconduct with his sister. Casey Anthony has never revealed who Caylee's father is, perhaps because she doesn't know.
Her defense lawyers have divulged little about their strategy, but during jury selection their dark hints about "emotional, physical, or sexual abuse" signaled they'd be offering a picture of Casey as a victim who grew up in a dysfunctional family and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. A defense psychologist is expected to offer a diagnosis of Casey Anthony that includes "brain development" issues.
A forensic computer expert will likely tell the jury about searches conducted on the family computer for a recipe to make chloroform. To buttress this, fellow Orange County Jail prisoner Maya Derkovic might be called to testify about Casey's alleged admission to her that she was "knocking Caylee out often" so she could go out clubbing with friends.
Tony Lazzaro, one of Casey's last boyfriends, will tell the jurors about her activities while living with him during the time Caylee was missing—the dinners she gladly cooked him and his friends, the many evenings out at a nightclub called Fusion. The corresponding photos Casey posted on her Facebook account—wild dancing and carousing when you don't know where your child is for more than a month?—will likely stun jurors who are parents.
Someone from Universal Studios in Orlando may appear to tell the jury Casey did not hold the job of "events coordinator" as she had originally told police, but had been fired from a Kodak concession at the theme park back in 2006.
And, if all goes as the prosecution plans, a paint-can-size sealed container will be opened in front of the jury box so panelists can smell a piece of carpet taken from the trunk of Casey's car. The prosecution says it smells like human decomposition. In addition, air tests from the trunk showing high levels of chloroform are expected.
Also found in the trunk, according to the state, was a hair that is "microscopically similar" to strands found on Caylee's brush, a hair that showed "characteristics of apparent decomposition." In other words, it wasn't a hair randomly transferred from a live child, the hair is said to have certain banding at the root which indicates it was shed from a dead body.
And, experts on weather, plant growth and bug infestations near the child's remains will likely explain why prosecutors believe Caylee Anthony was never "missing" during the 31 days. She was already dead and laying just a quarter mile from her home, in dense underbrush where her mother used to play as a child.
Caylee had been missing for six months when she was finally found on December 11, 2008. The sad fact is that the 2-year-old's remains could have been found months earlier—and if they had been, they likely would have included muscle and tissue which could have given up forensic clues to her cause of death. (A meter reader had discovered the bag, and called 911, in August 2008, but police bungled the tip, and the body wasn't recovered until December.)
When the wooded area where the toddler was dumped—in a plastic bag with her Winnie the Pooh blanket and her head wrapped in duct tape, a red heart sticker potentially over her mouth—turned to post-hurricane swamp, Caylee's remains floated away and settled across a vast area. The jury will see pictures of that, too. (Though they may not hear evidence about the purported heart-shaped sticker—a FBI forensic examiner wavered about whether the existence of a sticker could be physically proven.) Eerie orange cones captured in an aerial photograph will show each precise spot where a part of this pitiable child came to rest.
Caylee Anthony's skull and other artifacts were carefully gathered up for safekeeping until justice could be found. It was determined that while the duct tape (which apparently matched the type found in the Anthony household) may have been the cause of Caylee's suffocation death, it was also the determinant factor in keeping her skull intact all those months so she could be identified.
With opening statements tomorrow, Diane Dimond is tweeting from the Casey Anthony trial in Orlando, Florida. See her tweets, or ask her questions about the case:
Investigative journalist and syndicated columnist Diane Dimond has covered all manner of celebrity and pop culture stories. Her latest book is Cirque Du Salahi, which uncovered the full story behind Tareq and Michaele Salahi. Dimond has written extensively about the John Edwards sex scandal for The Daily Beast and she first broke the news that King of Pop Michael Jackson was under investigation for child molestation. She is author of the book, Be Careful Who You Love—Inside the Michael Jackson Case. She lives in New York with her husband, broadcast journalist Michael Schoen.