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Baez: Casey Anthony rejected early plea deal

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:49 PM
MIAMI -

Casey Anthony's attorney said he strongly considered early in the case whether she should plead guilty to a lesser charge to avoid the death penalty if convicted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, but Anthony adamantly insisted she had nothing to do with the toddler's death.

In his just-published book "Presumed Guilty, Casey Anthony: The Inside Story," attorney Jose Baez said prosecutors offered in 2008 to allow Anthony to plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter of a child and serve up to 13 years in prison. Baez said in an interview with The Associated Press that in those early days he thought taking it might be in Anthony's best interest.

"There were times, difficult times, when the evidence didn't look good for Casey," Baez said, adding that it was his obligation as a lawyer to convey any such plea offers.

Anthony, he said, "would not entertain it for a second." As he became more familiar with the state's mostly circumstantial case, Baez said he grew convinced she would be acquitted by a jury - as she was a year ago Thursday of all charges except for four misdemeanors of lying to investigators.

"There was nothing in the trial that ever made me think Casey was guilty of anything as related to the murder," Baez said. "Every single piece of evidence favored us."

Prosecutors claimed Anthony suffocated Caylee with duct tape so she could spend time with her boyfriend and be free for Orlando's nightlife. Baez said during the trial - repeated again in his book - that Caylee accidentally drowned in a family swimming pool and that her father, George Anthony, hid the body. Baez also claimed George Anthony sexually abused his daughter.

George Anthony denied both allegations, and there was little brought up about them during the trial. Baez said the defense wasn't required to put on any such evidence because proving the case is the prosecution's burden, not the other way around.

Evidence and testimony showed that Anthony was a habitual liar, even making up fake friends and pretending every day to go to a job she didn't have. Baez was asked whether Anthony's lies surrounding her daughter's disappearance might be indicative that she was guilty.

"I don't think the lies are indicative of innocence or guilt," he said. "The lies were there long before Caylee passed away." In the book, he says Anthony had built a "fantasy world," and her lies weren't evidence of guilt but signs of someone with "serious mental health issues."

Baez said one piece of prosecution evidence he was most concerned about was that police cadaver dogs had indicated a body may have been in the trunk of Anthony's car at one point and also that a body may have been in the backyard. None was discovered in the backyard and there was nothing but rotting bags of trash in the trunk.

But, he said, people - and jurors - believe in dogs.

"That concerned me a little bit. Most people really think dogs can do magic," Baez said.

The prosecution's flaw, he added, was that regarding the car search the dog and handler were focused only on Anthony's vehicle and did not include others in a lineup to give the dog options.

Overall, Baez attributed the strong public backlash against the jury's verdict to a lack of understanding about the judicial system and because "a lot of people bought into the hype" that Anthony must have been guilty. He noted that jurors who gave media interviews after the trial said they waited for weeks for strong evidence that never came.

"We need to talk about whether an actual murder occurred," he said. "That's where the focus should have been, and it never was."

Baez declined to comment on what Anthony is doing these days and on how often he talks to her. He said he promised her confidentiality when she agreed that he could write his book, in which she did not participate. Anthony is living in an undisclosed location in Florida serving probation for an unrelated conviction, which Baez said ends on Aug. 21.

"She's doing a lot better than she was in prison," Baez said, but then added: "She's a prisoner of her own freedom."

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