Why believe convicted liar Casey Anthony? Documentary director addresses 'understandable' outrage
What if everything you knew about Casey Anthony – the woman once branded "America's most hated mom" amid suspicions she killed her 2-year-old daughter – was wrong?
That's the swing-for-the-fences thesis of a three-part docuseries, "Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies," streaming now on Peacock. In it, Anthony, now 36, gives her first on-camera interview since her 2011 acquittal.
Anthony being found not guilty in daughter Caylee's death shocked those who had convicted Casey in the court of public opinion. After all, she never reported her child missing in the summer of 2008, though she hadn't seen her for 31 days. She got a tattoo reading "Bella Vita," Italian for "beautiful life," and was convicted on four counts of providing false information to law enforcement, though two were later overturned.
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"So far, everyone has heard one side of the story," says docuseries director Alexandra Dean ("This Is Paris," "Secrets of Playboy"). "So of course they believe that's the only truth, and the outrage is understandable. I think when they watch the documentary and they hear the other side of the story, they’ll realize there are a lot of questions that haven't been answered."
Casey asserts that she began lying as a coping mechanism to cover up sexual abuse at the hands of her father, George Anthony, and her brother, Lee. George has denied abusing his daughter and declined to talk to filmmakers. Lee, who testified during Casey's trial, did not speak for the documentary. Neither could be located by USA TODAY for comment.
Casey says, "I lied a lot more than I ever told the truth because the truth was too painful."
She believes her dad was abusing Caylee, and might've accidentally killed her while smothering her with a pillow so she couldn't fight him off – as Casey says George did with her. She claims he brought her Caylee's wet body and assured her the child "would be OK" before taking her to an unknown location.
"Just keep doing what I'm telling you to do," he supposedly told Casey, which included lying to police. "You guys will be reunited soon."
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"I was convinced that she was OK, until December of 2008," when Caylee's remains were found, Casey says.
Dean reveals why she believes Anthony is telling the truth now, Casey's reason for sharing her side of the story, and what she hopes viewers take away from the series.
Edited for length and clarity.
Question: What is Casey's motivation for wanting to get her side of events out now?
Alexandra Dean: Casey's been through 10 years of therapy, and she felt she had started to realize a lot of things about what had happened to her and what had happened to Caylee that she hadn't been able to understand before, and she wanted to tell the world.
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You say Casey's case wasn't properly investigated. In what way?
Where the documentary lands is that the police did not look at George as a suspect, and so they did not look at his phone records for geolocations, did not compare his story with Casey's phone records.
You mentioned approaching this as an investigative journalist. How did you decide who you would interview to tell a truthful story?
One of the most important sources for me was the transcripts of conversations that Casey had had with psychiatrists and psychologists in jail. And what I got was that the story she's telling me now is completely consistent with the story she was telling them back then. The fact that she told other people about the abuse was important.
Dozens of other documentaries say Casey was probably guilty. What (viewers) haven't heard is why so many of those pieces of evidence were dismissed in court, and I think we explained that pretty well.
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People in the docuseries talk about Casey's habitual lying and manipulation, which Casey herself has acknowledged. How can you be confident that what she was telling you was the truth?
That wasn't easy. I talked to her employer, Pat McKenna (an investigator Casey met when he worked as part of Casey's defense team). He tells me she's been honest with him.
I talked to a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists about whether it's possible for someone who was a pathological liar 10 years ago to go through therapy and to come to a point where they're not a liar anymore. And I was told by multiple experts that is very possible.
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In the docuseries, Casey says she didn't want to leave her daughter alone with her father, out of fear her daughter would be abused. If she so feared this man, why wouldn't she have called the police when he allegedly took her?
Trauma is complicated and difficult to understand. Casey is trying to explain that when you're traumatized from a very young age by somebody who abused you, you can still love them and want to believe they're not trying to harm you, even though they obviously have harmed you and can harm other people. But both realities can be true. I don't think any of us can understand that fully unless we too have been abused by people that we also love, like a parent.
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After spending time with Casey and speaking to former friends who described her as a good mom, experts, members of her defense team – what is your opinion?
My opinion is that the police should have looked at George as suspect.
What was the biggest challenge in making this docuseries?
The biggest challenge for me was understanding the trauma brain. It's very complicated to understand how child abuse can alter the brain. And I talked to a lot of experts who did try to explain to me that you can end up with a child who, like Casey, seems like a pathological liar because of the way child abuse affects the brain, and you can also end up with a person who can hold two realities in their mind.
What do you want viewers to take away from the docuseries?
I want people to judge a little less quickly when they hear a complicated story like this one. I want people to realize that the media can create a circus around a person or try to create a reality television villain or a hero out of somebody because it's good television. But it doesn't necessarily mean that you've heard the whole story of their life.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Casey Anthony documentary: Director confronts 'understandable' outrage