ORLANDO, Fla. – Defense attorneys again challenged the prosecution's forensic evidence Tuesday in the Florida murder trial of Casey Anthony, who is accused of killing her toddler daughter nearly three years ago.
Forensic botanist Jane Bock testified that 2-year-old Caylee Anthony's remains could have been in the woods for as little as two weeks when they were discovered in December 2008. Prosecutors contend the body was in the woods for more than six months, since the time she disappeared that summer.
The defense suffered a setback when Judge Belvin Perry ruled that its DNA expert Richard Eikelenboom could not testify about decomposition evidence found in Anthony's trunk until a hearing is held.
Anthony, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in Caylee's death in summer 2008. She faces a possible death sentence if convicted and has pleaded not guilty. The state contends she used pieces of duct tape to suffocate her child. The defense says the toddler drowned in her grandparents' swimming pool.
Bock told jurors she believed the roots could have grown through the bones, skull and a laundry bag containing the skeletal remains in just two weeks.
She said her estimate was "because of the pattern of leaf litter" she observed on photos of the scene in the woods where the remains were found. But Bock said she couldn't tell just by looking at the photos how long the plants had been there.
Prosecutor Jeff Ashton seized on that uncertainty in his cross-examination and noted that photos Bock relied on to make her assessment weren't taken until February 2009, more than seven weeks after the area was cleared of vegetation. He also showed Bock photos taken at the time of recovery and challenged her with more questions.
"Clearly some of those leaves have been off the trees for longer than two weeks, were they not?" Ashton said.
Bock replied it was possible, but also said they could have been there longer.
Perry restricted Eikelenboom's testimony because he said the defense violated his pretrial order that all expert witnesses present detailed reports about what the subject of their testimony. Perry agreed with the prosecution's argument that the report he provided was only a summary.
"That should give each side ample opportunity to do what they need to do," Perry said. "And it is a remedy short of exclusion."
The judge, however, did accept Eikelenboom as an expert in general DNA analysis.
In that limited capacity, Eikelenboom testified that by using the "low-copy number" methods he's trained to interpret he would have expected to find DNA on the duct tape the state believes covered the mouth of Caylee Anthony. He said the wet and hot conditions of the area the remains were found would make it difficult, but not impossible.
"If it's in bad conditions, DNA can break down ... but you could expect to still find DNA," Eikelenboom said.
Ashton suggested under cross-examination that Eikelenboom was trying to use this case to earn publicity for a new DNA laboratory he and his wife recently opened. He also pointed out that Eikelenboom didn't have his doctorate in forensic DNA.
But under re-direct Baez highlighted a Colorado case in 2005 in which Eikelenboom had already gained media attention by getting a man exonerated on DNA evidence he analyzed.
During lunch, Baez accused the prosecution of a discovery violation, for what he said was late disclosure of computer evidence from the hard drive of the Anthony's family desktop.
Prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick said a notice of what they planned to possibly introduce in their rebuttal case was just submitted, but that the defense had possessed copies of the hard drive information for two years. Specifically, the state said it may highlight evidence of computer traffic on June 16, 2008 — the day Baez said in his opening statement that Caylee Anthony drowned.
Baez admitted he initially received the information in 2009, but said the state never narrowed down what specific information they'd use. Perry ruled there had been no disclosure violation.
"It became quite evident from (the opening statements), that for the defense June 16 was a day of great importance," Perry said. "...You all knew what dates would be of particular importance."
The final witness of the day was analytical chemist Marcus Wise, a colleague of Oak Ridge National Laboratory forensic analyst Arpad Vass. Vass testified during the prosecution's case that he detected an unusually high level of chloroform in a carpet sample from Casey Anthony's car and that a chemical analysis found its presence consistent with the process of human decomposition.
Wise said that it was impossible to know what actual vapor existed in Anthony's trunk from the sample. But he said under cross-examination that his test did show a "relative abundance of chloroform."
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