ORLANDO, Fla. — The rancor among attorneys heated up Friday as the prosecution introduced key testimony and evidence during the fourth day of testimony in the murder trial of a Florida woman accused of killing her daughter.
The manager of a towing yard where Casey Anthony’s car was kept for more than two weeks during the summer of 2008 testified that he smelled an odor coming from her car consistent with decomposing bodies he’d smelled in the past.
Simon Birch was easily the strongest prosecution witness to date and went largely unchallenged under defense cross-examination.
The state also showed a series of videos of Anthony going on a shopping spree over several days in late June and early July 2008.
Prosecutors are portraying Anthony as carefree and cheerful in the weeks after the child, Caylee, was last seen in June 2008, hanging out with friends and hitting the clubs. Caylee Anthony was reported missing a month later and her remains were found that December.
Anthony, 25, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. Prosecutors contend she suffocated Caylee with duct tape. Anthony’s defense team says the child drowned accidently in a family pool. If convicted, she could be sentenced to death.
Birch said he has spent 30 years in the towing business as well as two years in waste management, and had come across deceased bodies at least eight times. He said he first noticed the smell coming from Anthony’s’ car on the fourth day her 1998 Pontiac was parked on his yard. The car had been towed after spending four days in an Amscot parking lot. It stayed there from June 30 to July 15, when Anthony’s parents retrieved it.
“In my opinion and experience, the smell of decomposition is unique in comparison to rotten food or rotting garbage,” Birch said.
The defense argued in its opening statement that the smell was actually from a bag of trash Anthony left in her car.
“The instant flash in my mind was ‘Oh, I know what that smells like,’” Birch said about noticing the odor.
George Anthony, Casey’s father, testified for the third time in four days Friday and said his mind was racing when he arrived to pick up the car and observed the smell.
“That particular smell, whenever you smell it, is something you’ll never forget,” he said. “...I don’t know if I said it out loud or whispered, but I said ‘Please God, don’t let this be Casey or Caylee.’”
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Jose Baez tried to shake the father on some details of the tow yard visit, including why he knew to bring a can of gas with him for the car and whether it was Anthony or Birch who first decided to open the trunk. Anthony and Baez also clashed over if it was a bag of trash in the trunk or the trunk itself that was the source of the odor.
Later state attorney Jeff Ashton became agitated at questions he repeatedly objected to as argumentative. He also took issue with a suggestion to Anthony by Baez that the reason he might not have wanted to touch the bag of trash was because he knew its contents could be evidence of Caylee’s death.
Part of the defense’s theory is that George Anthony found Caylee drowned and helped dispose of the body.
Mallory Parker, the fiancée of Casey Anthony’s brother Lee, was prosecutors’ first witness of the day. She described how she and Lee searched for Casey in Orlando bars in the summer of 2008 when her family hadn’t seen her in many days.
But Parker also said that Anthony had a special relationship with her daughter and at one point broke down in tears under cross examination when Baez asked here to describe the interactions between them. Casey also wiped away tears during Parker’s testimony.
“It was amazing,” Parker said. “Casey and Caylee had a special bond.”
Prosecutors failed late in the day to survive a defense challenge of their attempt to introduce computer instant messages between Anthony and an ex-boyfriend.
With the jury sent out of the room by Judge Belvin Perry, the state argued the messages, which included sexually laced chatter between Anthony and Tony Lazzaro, help establish the motive for killing her 2-year-old daughter. Judge Belvin Perry was shaky on that premise and initially requested extra time to review all of the content.
“What does that tend to prove or disprove?” Perry asked at one point.
But after a recess the prosecution withdrew its motion to introduce the evidence, though it could try to get it admitted later.