WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Casey Anthony knows that much of the world believes she killed her 2-year-old daughter, despite her acquittal. But nearly nine years later, she insists she doesn't know how the last hours of Caylee's life unfolded.
"Caylee would be 12 right now. And would be a total badass," she told The Associated Press in one of a series of exclusive interviews.
But discussing Caylee's last moments, the 30-year-old Anthony spoke in halting, sober tones: "I'm still not even certain as I stand here today about what happened," she said.
"Based off what was in the media" — the story of a woman who could not account for a month in which her child was missing, whose defense involved an accidental drowning for which there was no eyewitness testimony — "I understand the reasons people feel about me. I understand why people have the opinions that they do."
[Listen above: Casey Anthony interview]
This was the first time Anthony spoke to a news media outlet about her daughter's death or her years since the trial. Her responses were at turns revealing, bizarre and often contradictory, and they ultimately raised more questions than answers about the case that has captivated the nation.
It's been almost nine years since Caylee went missing, and six since the circus-like Orlando trial that ended in her mother's acquittal. The trial was carried live on cable networks and was the focus of daily commentaries by HLN's Nancy Grace, who called her "the most hated mom in America," and, derisively, "tot mom."
The child was supposedly last seen on June 16, 2008; she was first reported missing, by Casey Anthony's mother, on July 15. A day later, Casey Anthony was arrested on charges of child neglect. She told police that Caylee had disappeared with a baby sitter.
A utility worker working in a wooded area near the Anthony home on Dec. 11 found skeletal remains that were later determined to be Caylee's. Experts would testify that air samples indicated that decaying human remains had been present in Casey Anthony's trunk.
In the end, prosecutors proved Casey Anthony was a liar, but convinced the jury of little else. The government failed to establish how Caylee died, and they couldn't find her mother's DNA on the duct tape they said was used to suffocate her. After a trial of a month and a half, the jury took less than 11 hours to find Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.
She was convicted of four counts of lying to police (though two counts were later dropped), and served about three years in prison while awaiting trial.
She admits that she lied to police: about being employed at Universal Studios; about leaving Caylee with a baby-sitter; about telling two people, both of them imaginary, that Caylee was missing; about receiving a phone call from Caylee the day before she was reported missing.
"Even if I would've told them everything that I told to the psychologist, I hate to say this but I firmly believe I would have been in the same place. Because cops believe other cops. Cops tend to victimize the victims. I understand now ... I see why I was treated the way I was even had I been completely truthful."
Former News 6 legal analyst Mark O'Mara, who covered every minute of the trial, said Anthony's statements show she is still lying, still playing the victim, and still out of touch.
"It would be nice if she offered, if not an admission of guilt, maybe an explanation for all of those things that weren't explained at the trial - the 30 days of running around, the obvious lies," O'Mara said. "She can acknowledge making up a couple of people, or acknowledge lying to the cops but we would like to know the why."
At the trial, lead defense attorney Jose Baez suggested that the little girl drowned and that Casey's father, George Anthony, helped cover that up — and sexually abused his daughter. Her father has vehemently denied the accusations.
"We know from the fact that their life was played out on public TV for months and months that this is a dysfunctional family that pre-existed the child's passing," O'Mara said. "And whether or not they got along or didn't get along, Casey decided to blame dad or whatever. It's a slice of insight into the dysfunction of the family."
Asked about the drowning defense, Casey hesitated: "Everyone has their theories, I don't know. As I stand here today I can't tell you one way or another. The last time I saw my daughter I believed she was alive and was going to be OK, and that's what was told to me. "
O'Mara said Anthony had once again changed her story.
"That is a definite inconsistency from the way it was presented at trial, but don't forget that the way the defense itself was presented was somewhat askew," O'Mara said. "There was some outrageous accusations made in the trial so since we don't know whether or not the allegations of the defense at trial were even accurate, who knows if what Casey Anthony said most recently is accurate or not. It could be that there wasn't a drowning, it could be there wasn't a pool incident, it could be any number of other things because she's not giving us any further insight."
Anthony said she sleeps well at night.
"I don't give a s*** about what anyone thinks of me, I don't care, I never will," Anthony said in the interview. "I'm ok with myself, I sleep... pretty good at night."
O'Mara had a strong reaction to that statement.
"A cousin of mine lost her daughter to cancer 15 years ago and she doesn't sleep well because of that memory," O'Mara said. "So I don't believe her. If she sleeps well at night then there's something wrong with her."
Anthony lives in the South Florida home of Patrick McKenna, a private detective who was the lead investigator on her defense team. She also works for him, doing online social media searches and other investigative work. McKenna was also the lead investigator for OJ Simpson, when he was accused of killing his wife and acquitted; Anthony said she's become fascinated with the case, and there are "a lot of parallels" to her own circumstances.
An Associated Press reporter met Anthony as she protested against President Donald Trump at a Palm Beach rally.
It's unclear why Anthony agreed to speak to the AP. She later texted the reporter, asking that the AP not run the story. Among other things, she cited the bankruptcy case in which she has been embroiled since 2013: "During the course of my bankruptcy, the rights to my story were purchased by a third party company for $25k to protect my interests. Without written authorization from the controlling members of this company, I am prohibited from speaking publicly about my case at any time."
In addition, she said she had violated a confidentiality agreement with her employer, and remains under subpoena and subject to deposition in her bankruptcy case.
Yet she had participated in five on-the-record interviews over a one-week period, many of them audiotaped.
She still dreads the supermarket checkout line for fear she'll see photos of her daughter on the cover of tabloid papers. Her bedroom walls are decorated with photos of Caylee and she weeps when she shows off her daughter's colorful, finger-painted artwork.
Occasionally, she goes out with friends to area bars. But news that she there spreads quickly; people whispering and snap photos, and she retreats to her newly purchased SUV so she can return home, alone.
Anthony speaks defiantly of her pariah status.
"I don't give a s--- about what anyone thinks about me, I never will," she said. "I'm OK with myself, I sleep pretty good at night."
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