The judge in the Casey Anthony murder case said he was “surprised, shocked” and in “disbelief” when he read the jury's not-guilty verdict two years ago.
Speaking to NBC's “Today on Monday, Judge Belvin Perry Jr. said there was enough evidence to convict Anthony, compared her lead defense attorney to a used-car salesman and said Anthony was a “manipulative” person who showed a different personality to jurors than to others.
It was the first time Perry has spoken publicly about the high-profile case, which ended July 5, 2011, with Anthony's acquittal on murder charges in the death of her toddler.
Perry said he had to study the jury form twice before asking it to be read aloud.
“I just wanted to be sure I was reading what I was reading,” the judge said.
Anthony was accused of killing her daughter, Caylee, in 2008, and lying to authorities to throw them off the track. The girl's skeletal remains were found several months later in a wooded area near the family's house in an Orlando suburb.
Perry said the state “proved a great case.”
“There was sufficient evidence to sustain a verdict of first-degree murder in this case,” he said.
“But you got realize to understand this was a circumstantial evidence case. And all the defense had to do was create a reasonable doubt, and that's what they did.”
A key, he said, was the likability of defense attorney Jose Baez.
“The state had better lawyers,” Perry said, “but Mr. Baez was very personable, and he came across as someone you would like. It's like someone trying to sell a used car. Who you going to buy it from? The most likable salesperson.”
Although Perry offered no opinion as to Anthony's guilt, he did notice the Orlando mother showed two personas during the trial: a grieving mother and a “very manipulative” defendant.
“There were two sides to Casey,” he said. “There was the side that was before the jury, where she portrayed the role of a mother who had lost a child, someone who was wrongfully accused. And then you could notice the change and transformation in her when the jury went out. She was very commanding. She took charge of different things and you could see sometimes her scolding her attorneys.”
To illustrate, Perry recalled a day during the trial “he will never forget.”
“One Saturday morning, before we were about to begin our session, the lawyers wanted some time to discuss a possible plea to aggravated manslaughter with Casey,” he said. “They went back in the holding cell (with Anthony), and of course, the waiting area for me was by the holding cell.
“All of a sudden you heard shouting coming from the holding cell, some four-letter words coming from the holding cell. And she was quite upset, so upset that one counsel suggested she was incompetent to proceed.”
Cable news channels made daily testimony a fixture, going back to jury selection in Clearwater. Lines formed to be admitted to the few seats available in the courtroom.
Perry became as much of a TV star as the attorneys and Anthony.
"I had no earthly idea that it would command the attention it did worldwide,” said Perry. Baez refused to say anything to The Associated Press about Perry's comments when reached by phone. He said he would comment after a request had gone through his Los Angeles-based spokesman. A spokeswoman for the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees Florida judges, didn't immediately return a phone call to the AP.
The trial has spawned books and movies from the attorneys and several civil suits involving Anthony, who was found guilty on two counts of lying to authorities (two other lying convictions were thrown out on appeal). This year, Anthony filed for bankruptcy in Tampa.
Anthony, who served probation in an unrelated fraud case, is living in hiding while her bankruptcy case proceeds in Tampa. She made a rare public appearance during a hearing in the case this year. Another hearing is slated for Wednesday.
"Justice has been served in the sense that the jury has spoken,” Perry told NBC. “But justice will finally be served one day by the judge of judges. And she's going to have to live with and deal with this for the rest of her life.”