Is Casey Anthony a “Pathological Liar”?

Tuesday marked day 6 of the Casey Anthony trial.  Casey’s mother Cindy picked up where she had left off on Saturday morning and continued to testify for most of the day.  She testified about Casey’s general pattern of telling lies over a period of years.  For example, Cindy testified about learning, just a couple of days before throwing a high school graduation party for Casey, that Casey was not in fact going to graduate due to insufficient course-completion credits.  Cindy also testified that she hadn’t learned of Casey’s pregnancy until about a month prior to Casey’s due date, having believed that Casey had just been bloated in the weeks prior to admitting the pregnancy.  In an awkward exchange on cross examination thereafter, Cindy was asked to look across the courtroom at Casey, who was standing up and dressed in relatively tight-fitting clothes, and to compare Casey’s appearance back when she was pregnant to her appearance on Tuesday.  Apparently, but rather awkwardly, the defense was trying to cast doubt on Cindy’s testimony that she hadn’t known about the pregnancy prior — i.e. to make the jury wonder how the mother of a daughter who’s normally as thin as Casey could see the daughter near the end of a pregnancy and think that the daughter was just bloated.  Cindy also testified that she never saw Casey mistreat Caylee.

Cindy went on to testify about a complex web of lies that Casey wove to explain Caylee’s whereabouts after Cindy had finally confronted her.  Cindy recounted essentially the same “Zanny the nanny” story that Casey had told to the former boyfriend who testified about it on Saturday morning.  Cindy’s frantic 911 calls reporting her granddaughter missing were played for the jury.  In one of those calls, Cindy had exclaimed that Casey’s car smelled like a dead body had been in it.  As her husband George did in his testimony a few days prior, however, Cindy clarified that back when she  made that call, she actually still believed that Caylee was probably alive and that the putrid smell was probably attributable to trash that had been in the trunk of the vehicle.  Cindy also clarified a statement that she reportedly had made to a couple of media people, one of them a friend of mine, Steph Watts (I’ve been on his radio show several times), and the other former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman (he’s famous for his role in investigating the homicides of which O.J. Simpson was ultimately acquitted).  Cindy reportedly told Steph and Mark that when she came home from work in the middle of the day on which, according to the defense, Caylee supposedly drowned in the backyard pool, the ladder leading up into the pool was deployed, not safely stowed (remember, on Saturday morning, Cindy testified that she had safely stowed the ladder away when she and Caylee were done swimming on the day before, making it impossible for Caylee to have entered the pool without assistance on the day of the supposed downing).  Cindy clarified that when she had come home to let her dogs out, no one else was home, but the ladder was deployed and a gate leading into the fenced backyard was open.  Essentially, Cindy maintained that she had stowed the ladder properly the day before and then discovered that someone had evidently trespassed on the property and used the pool sometime thereafter while none of the Anthonys were home, whereupon she re-secured the yard and pool.

Toward the end of the day on Tuesday, another former friend of Casey’s testified about a series of lies that Casey had told to her about various things, including Caylee’s whereabouts both before and after it was known that the little girl was missing.  This friend also testified that Casey had voiced resentment about having to miss out on some social activities to take care of Caylee.  Interestingly, the friend further testified that, on one occasion, Casey rescinded an offer to drive the friend somewhere by telling the friend that she (Casey) had struck an animal with her (Casey’s) car and that part of a dead animal was stuck to the car (the defense may later claim that this collision was the source of the terrible smell about which George, Cindy, and the impound-lot manager all testified).  Now, this hasn’t been discussed in open court yet, but Casey actually stole this friend’s checkbook and used it to write fraudulent checks for clothing and other purchases.  As you may recall, Casey has six prior felony convictions stemming from that fraudulent shopping spree.  Court ended on Tuesday with an argument between the lawyers, outside of the jury’s presence, about whether the jury should be told of these prior felonies.  Obviously, the defense claimed that the convictions are irrelevant to the current charges against Casey and would be more prejudicial than probative of anything.  The prosecution claimed that the defense had made Casey’s character/veracity an issue and that the convictions are relevant to the jury’s assessment of that issue.  The judge set aside time for the lawyers to continue their argument on Wednesday morning but stated that he is inclined to allow the jury to be told about the convictions but to instruct the jury to consider that information solely in assessing Casey’s character/veracity (i.e. not in assessing whether she’s ultimately responsible for Caylee’s death).

In hearing all of the evidence thus far about Casey’s lying, some have wondered whether there’s really such a thing as a “pathological liar.”  I think most of us have run into someone who seems to lie quite frequently — not only about relatively major things like his/her occupation/education or financial/marital status, but also about relatively minor, even irrelevant, things like what he/she had for breakfast or what movie he/she recently saw — and wondered, “What’s wrong with him/her?”  In my forensic work, I see them all the time — surprise, surprise, they have parallel tendencies to get themselves in trouble.  It never ceases to amuse me when I ask one of them what he had for breakfast, and he begins his answer with, “You know, when I was a kid, my mom made the most wonderful pancakes…” and I have to stop him and say, “Don’t dance around my questions, or we’ll be here all week.  I asked you what you had for breakfast.  This answer starts with, ‘What I had for breakfast was,’ and then you finish it, see?”  Even after that kind of exchange, over the course of a two- or three-day assessment, it’s amazing how many times I have to redirect a guy like that, “You’re dancing again.”  The terms “pathological liar” and “compulsive liar” aren’t real diagnostic terms, though, i.e. there’s no diagnosis/disorder called “Pathological Liar’s Disease” or “Compulsive Lying Disorder.”  They’re mostly just mainstream labels for antisocial (i.e. sociopathic) behavior.  Sadly, there are some adults who truly don’t know the difference between what’s true and what’s not, sometimes because they’re psychotic (e.g. delusional), and sometimes because they’re experiencing some kind of dementia (e.g. early-stage Alzheimer’s) wherein they try to cover and compensate for gaps in memory by confabulating or “filling in” what they think most-likely happened during the gaps.  Then there are some people who are cognitively intact yet confabulate to compensate not for memory deficits but for social-skills deficits, e.g. they don’t think that the truth about what they did on Saturday night is interesting enough to keep someone engaged in conversation, so they jazz it up (I coined the term “confabulous” to describe them).  That’s still really not “compulsive” lying, though, because it’s still volitional.  But the most annoying, the most destructive, and usually, unfortunately, the most skilled, liars are sociopaths.  Their lies are 100% volitional, often well-thought-out and masterfully-delivered, with the intent to either con someone out of something (money, sympathy, sex, etc.) or to avoid responsibility for something (a crime, a debt, work, etc.).  Sometimes, even without realizing any secondary gain, sociopaths simply get thrills out of successfully deceiving others because it gives the deceivers a sense of having exerted power over the deceived.  You may find that motivation disgusting; you may even use the word “sick” to describe it, but as I’m always saying, there’s a difference between thinking of doing something and actually doing it, i.e. the thought of doing something doesn’t compel a person to actually do it.  Bottom line:  there’s really no disease that forces people to consciously tell lies.  So, whatever the reason(s) behind them, the vast majority of lies (including, I’d bet, the ones discussed above) told by the vast majority of liars (including, I’d bet, the one discussed above) are not the products of any mental illness and are completely volitional — no lie.

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