Law experts: Fla. conviction possible without body

By: AP
By: AP

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Prosecutors have DNA tests and hair samples. They have testimony about "the smell of death" in the trunk of the suspect's car.

What they do not have is a body.

Prosecutors building a case against a single 22-year-old Florida mother accused of killing her young daughter will have to rely on forensic evidence and convince a jury that Casey Anthony lacks credibility and had a motive, legal experts say.

To help build the case, the prosecutor will be using what he described as cutting-edge forensic tests, including air testing for compounds released when a body decomposes.

Prosecutors have not been specific about how the evidence led to charges against Anthony, but experts say it is possible to get a conviction without a body, with several cases, including some in Florida, as examples.

"Sometimes circumstantial evidence is as powerful, or more powerful than the body itself," said Donald Jones, a professor of criminal law at the University of Miami law school.

Since 3-year-old Caylee Anthony's disappearance was reported in July, investigators have taken air samples from her mother's car trunk and tested for the presence of her DNA. Hair samples also have been analyzed. The FBI and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the University of Tennessee performed the tests.

"The investigation contains intricate forensics that are on the cutting edge of science," said Lawson Lamar, State Attorney in Orange County.

It's not known how the forensics will play in court or for a jury.

Charles Rose, a law professor at Stetson University in DeLand, said the defense could contest the FBI findings of not being generally accepted. Also a lack of eyewitnesses and compelling physical evidence that directly links Caylee to a crime could be a problem.

"Any of us who've had a child for any amount of time know there's DNA evidence all over our cars," Rose said.

Still, the use of forensic evidence has an increased credibility with jurors because of what he calls "the CSI effect" from the CBS television series, Rose said.

"Right now, the belief is that the right cop with the right case can convict anything," Rose said.

In the air tests used on Anthony's trunk, air is run into a carbon compound filter, such as activated charcoal, which collects the evidence, said Arpad Vass, a research scientist at Oak Ridge. Air is then reversed through the filter, releasing the compounds.

In this case, they were looking for compounds released when a body decomposes.

"We essentially turn into the dust from which we come," Vass said. "We return to the compounds which break down and blow off into the air."

Donald Jones, a professor of criminal law at the University of Miami law school, said the air tests, though likely admissible, probably won't help make a connection the prosecution is seeking. He said the tests only reveal the presence of the compounds, not their source.

The Anthony case also has other pitfalls, law professors say.

The defense could emphasize a lack of motive and blame others who could have kidnapped or killed Caylee. Prosecutors would need to convince a jury why a mother would kill her child.

Besides first-degree murder, Anthony is charged with aggravated abuse of a child and aggravated manslaughter and with four counts of lying to investigators. Caylee was reported missing in July, but her mother told police she hadn't seen the girl since June.

A judge denied Anthony bond Wednesday. Dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit, Anthony made no comment during the minute-long hearing. Her attorney, Jose Baez, declined comment afterward. She will be arraigned in about a month.

He said on Tuesday before the indictment that she would be vindicated.

"I sincerely believe that when we have finally spoken, everyone, and I mean everyone, will sit back and say, 'Now, I understand. That explains it,'" Baez said.

Rose said the state has done "a very smart thing" in charging Anthony with murder and manslaughter, because it gives the jury a choice.

"You give the jury a place to run," Rose said.

And the defense may have been handed another argument to use.

During the grand jury proceedings on Tuesday, a microphone was inadvertently left open, broadcasting a feed that television trucks were able to pick up. Chief Circuit Court Judge Belvin Perry warned that anyone who relayed the information could be charged with contempt of court. So far no media outlet has.

Experts said defense attorneys could use the audio leak to contest the indictment.

"An inventive defense attorney can make just about anything an obstacle to the prosecution," said George Dekle, a professor at the University of Florida law school.

Jury selection will be crucial, Jones said.

"Forget about reasonable doubt - if there's one mother in the stands she will wonder, 'How did she not know where her daughter was?'" he said.

For neighbors in Anthony's Chickasaw Park neighborhood in east Orlando, the indictment is a relief because it caused the protesters who picketed outside her parents' home to leave.

"Things have been really hard core, especially at night. People come here drinking beer and many of the neighbors get aggravated and start instigating fights," said neighbor Mike Carter, 45.

George Anthony, Casey's father, said he is pleased that things have calmed down for his neighbors. He would not comment on charges against his daughter.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.


Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
powered by Disqus
631 SW Commerce Pl. Topeka, Kansas 66615 phone: 785-272-6397 fax: 785-272-1363 email: feedback@wibw.com
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 31083684 - wibw.com/a?a=31083684