ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - Accused child killer Casey Anthony insisted that her daughter Caylee was kidnapped by a nanny, even after admitting to detectives that everything else she had told them was a lie, according to a taped interview played for jurors Thursday.
“I dropped her off at the (nanny’s) apartment,” Casey told detectives on July 16, 2008 in a tense exchange about her 2-year-old daughter.
“No you didn’t,” a detective responded.
“That’s exactly where I dropped her off,” Casey said.
“No you didn’t. And who did you drop her off with?” the detective asked.
“I dropped her off with Zenaida,” Casey said.
“No you didn’t,” the detective said.
By then, Detective Yuri Melich testified, he knew the apartment identified by Casey had been vacant for months and no one named Zenaida Fernandez-Gonzalez had ever lived in the apartment complex. Many other details provided by Casey about Caylee’s disappearance had not panned out, he said.
The 25-year-old Florida mother is on trial for first-degree murder and faces the death penalty if convicted of killing Caylee on June 16, 2008 and dumping her body in nearby woods.
Caylee’s skeletal remains were found in December 2008 with duct tape wrapped three times around her skull, nose and mouth, the only evidence indicating her cause of death, according to prosecutors.
Casey’s defense lawyer, Jose Baez, acknowledged to jurors in his opening statement that Casey’s behavior could be considered bizarre. But he contended that Caylee drowned in the Anthonys’ backyard pool, and no one had reported her death.
Caylee was first reported missing July 15, 2008 in a 911 call by her grandmother Cindy Anthony after she and her husband George found Casey’s car in an Orlando impound lot at a time Casey claimed to be in Jacksonville with the toddler.
Cindy had not seen Caylee for a month. The grandmother and several others have testified that they smelled an odor like that of human decomposition coming from the car.
Detectives testified this week that Casey voluntarily made statements about Caylee’s disappearance and showed them the way to the apartment where she claimed to have last seen her daughter.
Melich testified he went to Universal Studios in Orlando on July 16, 2008 to try to verify Casey’s claim that she worked there along with the nanny and two friends whom she said she had confided in about Caylee’s disappearance.
One of the friends was Jeff Hopkins, who Casey told her mother, was a wealthy former boyfriend whose son Zachary sometimes stayed with Zenaida. Cindy previously testified that Casey had claimed to be with Hopkins and both of their children in Jacksonville, rekindling their romance.
A man named Jeff Hopkins testified on Thursday that he was an acquaintance of Casey’s back in middle school but that, otherwise, “It’s not me.”
Melich determined that Hopkins worked at Universal from 2001-2002, and Casey had once worked for a Universal subcontractor but not since 2006. Neither Zenaida nor the other friend named by Casey had ever worked at the theme park.
Melich testified that two other detectives brought Casey to Universal’s employee entrance. Melich said Casey acted as if she worked there and led the detectives to a building where she claimed she worked.
“She was very persuasive,” Melich testified. “Even at this time, I could not imagine this was a ruse.”
Once inside the building, Melich said, “She stops, turns and looks at us and says, ‘I don’t work here.’”
A Universal security manager allowed the detectives to use a small conference room where Melich said he tape recorded an hour-long interview with Casey.
For the first half of the interview, the detectives spoke forcefully to Casey, telling her to stop lying and using various tactics to try to elicit the truth.
“Everything you’ve told me has been a lie,” Melich said to Casey. “This is going to be your escape hatch, so to speak.”
“By hiding this, by burying this, you are not going to get yourself in a better place...it always comes out,” one of the detectives said.
“We already know you know what happened to Caylee and where Caylee is,” a detective said.
Casey deflected most of their questions. When asked how lying about her Universal employment and wasting detectives time at the theme park helped with the task of finding Caylee, Casey said, “Honestly, I wanted to come up to (Universal) security, maybe pass around a picture of Caylee.”
Casey was arrested that day and charged with providing false information to law enforcement officers, obstruction of justice and child neglect, Melich said.
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune