16th June 2011, 11:07 PM
Forensic testimony kicks off Casey Anthony defense
(CNN) -- On the third anniversary of the day 2-year-old Caylee Anthony was last seen alive, attorneys for her suspected killer -- her mother, Casey Anthony -- kicked off their defense Thursday, presenting testimony about DNA and forensic procedures.
Testing found no blood on any of Anthony's clothes, in her car trunk or in the interior of the car, according to FBI examiner Heather Seubert and Orange County, Florida, Sheriff's Office crime scene technician Gerardo Bloise.
The two were the first witnesses called by Anthony's defense on a day that saw several heated exchanges between the prosecution and the defense.
Prosecutors allege that Anthony, 25, killed Caylee in 2008 by using chloroform on her and putting duct tape over her nose and mouth. They allege she then put the little girl's body in black garbage bags and stored it in her trunk before dumping it in woods near her home.
Caylee's skeletal remains were found December 11, 2008. Although she was last seen June 16 of that year, her disappearance was not reported until July 15, after Anthony's mother demanded answers from her daughter about Caylee's whereabouts.
Casey's demeanor 'normal' during tattoo Anthony faces seven counts in Caylee's death, including first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and misleading investigators. If convicted, she could face the death penalty. She has pleaded not guilty, and her defense attorney Jose Baez has said that when all the facts are known, his client's innocence will become clear.
The defense has said Caylee was not killed but rather drowned in the family pool June 16. Baez told jurors in his opening statements that Anthony and her father, George Anthony, panicked when they discovered the body and covered up her death. George Anthony rejected that scenario in his testimony the first week of the trial.
Bloise, who previously testified for the prosecution, discussed the execution of a search warrant at the Anthony home on August 6, 2008, and his duties, which were to examine the clothing in Anthony's closet with an alternative light source for any stains.
Bloise testified that no stains were found on the pants Anthony wore June 16, 2008, the day Caylee was last seen. However, he acknowledged to prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick on cross-examination that Anthony's mother, Cindy, told authorities she had washed the pants after that day.
Seubert, who was a forensic DNA examiner for the FBI in 2008, told jurors in the Orlando courtroom that testing showed an indication of possible female DNA on a shovel. Previously, the Anthonys' next-door neighbor, Brian Burner, testified that Anthony asked to borrow the shovel from him June 18, 2008, saying she wanted to dig up a bamboo root. Burner said she returned the shovel shortly afterward.
However, Seubert said the amount on the shovel was so small she could draw no scientific conclusions from it. Baez's questioning of her on the matter was hotly contested by the prosecution, prompting Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. to send jurors out of the courtroom briefly while it was sorted out.
Testing showed no blood present in Casey Anthony's trunk, she said.
"If a method is used to kill someone that doesn't involve bloodshed, then the absence of blood doesn't really say it didn't happen, correct?" prosecutor Jeff Ashton asked Seubert.
"Correct," she replied. "I can't speak to whether it happened or not."
But she told Baez that as fluids leave the body during decomposition, it is likely that blood could be among them -- if there is a hole in the plastic bag holding a body, for instance.
Seubert also tested three pieces of duct tape found at the scene where Caylee's remains were recovered, two of them covering the mouth portion of her remains. She testified that a DNA profile generated on the outside of the tape matched another FBI forensic examiner, Lorie Gottesman.
Testing on the inside of the tape was inconclusive, but a possible indication of DNA there did not appear to match Caylee, Casey Anthony or George Anthony, she said.
Outdoor elements such as sunshine and water can degrade DNA, she said. Asked by Baez whether DNA can be obtained from an item after it has been underwater, Seubert said it depends on several factors, including how long an item was submerged.
Seubert additionally tested items found with Caylee's remains, including a pair of shorts, remnants of a T-shirt, a blanket and a canvas laundry bag. A chemical test for the possible presence of blood was positive on the T-shirt remnants and laundry bag, but there were insufficient quantities to enable further testing, she said. A similar test for the possible presence of blood on the blanket was positive, she testified, but no DNA profile was obtained. Testing on the shorts was negative.
In response to questioning by Baez, Seubert said she determined that Lee Anthony, Casey Anthony's brother, could not have been Caylee's father through comparison of DNA profiles.
That line of questioning also touched off a heated exchange between Ashton and Baez. "I don't have a hearing problem," Perry cautioned them after voices were raised. "And the amplification of questions, objections, I don't need them."
Also testifying Thursday was Ronald Murdock, a supervisor in the Orange County Sheriff's Office forensics unit. Murdock testified that a piece of cardboard with a heart-shaped sticker on it was found about 30 feet from where Caylee's skull was discovered.
An FBI technician previously testified that heart-shaped adhesive was seen on the duct tape covering the mouth portion of the remains. Sheets of heart-shaped stickers have been introduced into evidence after being found at the Anthony home, but FBI analysis showed that the sticker found near the remains did not match those taken from the home.
Jennifer Welch, a crime scene technician for the sheriff's office, testified that no bones were found past that location but identified a number of miscellaneous items collected in the area.
Asked by Burdick whether the area where Caylee was found was a "trash dump," Welch said, "Yes, that's what I would classify it as."
Gottesman, a document examiner for the FBI, testified that she examined the duct tape for any heart-shaped sticker residue but was unable to see it, even using specialized tools. She said she had no idea how her DNA wound up on the duct tape.
Gottesman also said she was unable to match the garbage bags found with the remains to those at the Anthony home.
There was no mention Thursday of an amended witness list filed Tuesday by defense attorneys. In the document, Anthony's defense said it wants to question Vasco Thompson, 52, a convicted felon who served prison time for kidnapping, claiming that he is linked to Anthony's father through cell phone records. Perry has not ruled on whether Thompson can be deposed or testify in the trial.
George Anthony, in a statement released by his attorney, Mark Lippman, Wednesday, denied knowing Thompson or ever speaking to him.
Thompson's attorney, Matt Morgan, said Thursday that his kidnapping conviction stemmed from a brief domestic violence situation with his girlfriend and that Thompson pleaded no contest to kidnapping under the best plea deal he was able to obtain at the time. Morgan said Thompson will file a civil suit later.
"Mr. Thompson is a recently discovered witness through the ongoing efforts of defense investigators," according to the court documents filed Tuesday. "This witness was connected to George Anthony through his cell phone records."
"Because of the recently discovered and unexplained relationship between George Anthony and Vasco Thompson, their finite contact which, based on cell records, existed only during the relevant time period, and Mr. Thompson's violent criminal history, good cause is shown for the late disclosure of this witness," the defense says in the filing.
The records, they allege, show four contacts between the men on July 14, 2008 -- the day before Caylee was reported missing.
Thompson refused to speak with defense investigators and called police when he was questioned, the documents said.
"This simply appears to be another attempt by the defense to attack my client," Lippman said. "Mr. Anthony has and will continue to maintain the position that he had nothing to do with the death of Caylee Marie Anthony or any of the events that occurred afterward regarding the actions of the defendant Casey Anthony established by the state of Florida in the presentation of their case."
On Wednesday, prosecutors rested their case, and Perry rejected a defense motion for a judgment of acquittal.
Four spectators were ejected from the balcony Thursday because they fell asleep. Spectators have lined up outside the courthouse each morning, waiting for hours to get a seat inside the courtroom. At times, scuffles have broken out among those waiting.
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