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updated 6/5/2011 10:18:26 AM ET 2011-06-05T14:18:26

Legal experts say prosecutors' meticulous murder case against Casey Anthony so far, along with the woman's sensational claims that her father covered up her daughter's death after the 2-year-old drowned, could make it difficult to avoid a conviction.

Saturday ended the second week of testimony in Anthony's murder trial, and prosecutors say it also marks roughly the halfway point of their case. Prosecutors are trying to prove that the single mother, then 22, suffocated her daughter Caylee by placing duct tape over the girl's mouth and then dumped her body in the woods near her parents' home.

It's a high-profile case that has demanded a methodical approach from a prosecution team with more than 70 years of combined experience — in part because, if convicted, Anthony could become only the fourth woman added to Florida's current roster of 397 death row inmates.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys introduced a wild theory during opening statements, saying that the toddler accidently drowned on June 15, 2008, in her grandparents' swimming pool and that grandfather George Anthony helped dispose of her body. They also claimed he molested Casey when she was a child, leaving her emotionally scarred.

Even without a clear motive established for why Casey Anthony, now 25, might have killed her daughter, some court watchers said those defense arguments may be overshadowing any deficiencies in the prosecution's case.

"I believe they have almost relieved the state of their burden of proof by making such strong assertions in opening statements," said Karin Moore, a professor at Florida A&M University's College of Law. "They are going to have to prove it now. It is going to be a difficult task for them."

Caylee was last seen by her grandparents on June 16, 2008. The state contends Anthony waited 31 days before telling her family the toddler was missing. George Anthony denied abusing his daughter and being involved with Caylee's death on the witness stand, at one point lowering his head and saying, "When I heard that ... it hurt really badly."

So far, prosecutors have mostly ignored all that, meticulously showing jurors the carefree lifestyle Anthony led during the month her child was believed to be missing, and through the repeated lies she told friends, family and law enforcement. They have also presented evidence that a decomposing body — presumably that of Caylee — was in Casey Anthony's car. But the bulk of their forensic evidence is still to come, and it's unclear if it will be enough for a conviction in a highly circumstantial case.

Casey Anthony told detectives she had been trying to find her daughter in the month before the disappearance was reported, but so far prosecutors have shown numerous examples of her going to nightclubs, shopping and hanging out with friends during that time.

It's also undisputed by the defense that once law enforcement was notified, Anthony continued to spin a web of lies centered on an imaginary nanny named "Zanny" that she initially said kidnapped her daughter, taking detectives to a vacant apartment where she claimed the woman lived. She also took them to Universal Studios theme park, where she had told her parents she worked as an events planner, talking her way in despite having no employee identification. She dropped the charade as she walked detectives toward what she said was her office — but still said she had anything to do with Caylee's disappearance. The detectives called her a liar and at one point asked her if Caylee had drowned.

One potential problem for prosecutors is that all their witnesses who knew the two have only used words like "loving" and "special" to describe Casey and Caylee's bond — giving no indication the woman wanted to harm her daughter.

That's why prosecutors have focused on Anthony's lies. They even showed more than five hours of recorded jailhouse visits she had with her parents, in which she continued to insist Caylee was kidnapped. The visits occurred after Anthony was jailed on child neglect and criminal obstruction charges and before she was charged with Caylee's death.

The videos also seem to undercut the defense contention that he helped cover up his granddaughter's death, as he appears to not know where she might be and clings to the hope she might be alive.

Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, said things don't appear to be going well for the defense.

"Given all the question marks about this case and the lack of strong motive evidence for Casey Anthony to kill her own child, there might have been a defense ability to pause at accidental death," Coffey said. "But what happened is that in the opening, the defense went too far, raised other sensational allegations that they don't seem to have any sensational evidence to back up."

Defense attorney Jose Baez has kept the drowning theory alive, getting lead detective Yuri Melich to admit that Anthony's mother, Cindy, mentioned seeing the ladder to the family's above-ground pool up and the gate open in early June.

At the same time, lead prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick and fellow state attorneys Frank George and Jeff Ashton have gotten virtually everyone Casey interacted with in June and July 2008 to say she never mentioned her child wasn't alive during that time.

In the end, Coffey thinks it might force defense attorneys to do something they don't want to do.

"They might not have any choice but to put Casey Anthony on the stand," Coffey said. "And given the clear evidence that she is a compulsive liar, that is the worst kind of choice any defense lawyer would have to make."

___

Associated Press writers Mike Schneider in Orlando and Tony Winton in Miami contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Anthony jurors listen to tapes

  1. Closed captioning of: Anthony jurors listen to tapes

    >>> in the murder trial of casey anthony after a week of revealing jailhouse tapes and emotional testimony from casey 's parents. yesterday it was about forensic evidence . here's nbc's kerry sanders .

    >> reporter: every morning the curious line up outside the orange county courthouse in orlando. there are about 50 seats for the public to watch casey anthony 's murder trial.

    >> i worked with the fbi for over 15 years.

    >> reporter: during saturday's hearing -- prosecution experts presented highly technical forensic evidence arguing caylee's 2-year-old dead body was in the trunk of her mother's car. a single strand of hair left there, prosecutors say, that was caylee's. their experts claim it fell from a corpse not a live child.

    >> this is consistent.

    >> reporter: 2-year-old caylee died june 16th , 2008 , but her mother, casey , didn't tell anyone for 31 days and then prosecutors say fabricate add story that caylee had been abducted and when deputies found casey 's car they said it had the smell of death. the forensics follows a week of highly emotional evidence including casey 's father, mother, and brother all testifying for the prosecution.

    >> good morning, beautiful. i love you.

    >> hi.

    >> reporter: despite defense objections, jurors listened to five hours of videotaped jailhouse visits. casey , along with everyone else in the court watched tape after tape. here she is talking with her parents.

    >> can someone let me -- come on!

    >> casey , hold on, sweetheart. settle down.

    >> nobody's letting me speak. you want me to talk --

    >> all right. i'll listen to you.

    >> give me three seconds to say something. i'm not in control over any of this. i don't know what the hell is going on. i don't know what's going on. my entire life has been taken from me.

    >> reporter: while casey was not asked if she murdered her daughter, what has become her defense that caylee accidentally drowned, was discussed.

    >> someone just said that caylee was dead this morning, that she drowned in the pool. that's the news story out there.

    >> surprise, surprise.

    >> reporter: prosecutors say they have about two more weeks of evidence to present before the defense can begin to tell its version of what they say really happened to caylee marie anthony . for "today," kerry sanders , nbc news, orlando.

    >> beth karas is a correspondent for "in session" on trutv. great to see you. the last clip almost dismissed the idea that caylee drowned in the pool. that's the defense , isn't it?

    >> that is the defense . and her reaction was so quick, surprise, surprise, it was so dismissive of that theory of drowning that one has to wonder if it's not made up now.

    >> i want to talk about the scientific evidence because yesterday was a big day in terms of the forensic evidence . concentrating on the single hair that the researcher said could only come from a dead person. defense didn't even want that testimony in.

    >> no. and the defense did a good job cross-examining this expert. you see, it's not conclusive that it's absolutely caylee's hair. it's consistent with caylee and not casey because casey had color treated hair but root banding is what it's called, that appears when there's decomposition that falls out of a deadhead, is not necessarily indicative only of somebody having been dead. hair can fall out of the head that doesn't have banding and you're already dead because there were 12 hairs. 11 didn't have it. one did. but this is a little piece for the prosecution. because they will say that, coupled with the odor in the trunk of decomposition that many say is unique and they're familiar with it and other evidence they're going to present, will demonstrate that caylee informs that drunk.

    >> given the fact there's so much evidence what it smelled like, what was found in it, why wouldn't the defense stipulate, yeah, she was in the car because, remember, we told you she drowned and there was panic over what to do?

    >> that's a good quo. they're absolutely denying she was in the trunk but don't given an explanation where she went after little dead caylee is dripping wet in her grand father's arms. if grandpa, george, had keys to the car, they could have taken that angle saying he put the body in there unbeknownst to casey . she thought she hit a dead animal. that's what she tells a girlfriend. they have taken the position the body was never in the car. the odor evidence that's coming up is new science and so this is going to be the first time it's introduced in a courtroom in the united states . there's a lot for the defense to work with. it's pretty powerful.

    >> has it been decided whether the smell evidence will come into testimony?

    >> the judge is letting it in if the prosecution lays the proper foundation. we expect they will.

    >> three jailhouse videos between casey , her parents and brother show a complicated relationship. what do they tell us about what she knew about the whereabouts of her daughter?

    >> well, based on the defense opening statement when she's in jail, the jury has seen witness after witness talk about casey 's behavior in that 31-day period where she doesn't report her daughter missing and doesn't have the care in the world, my daughter is with the nanny, she's partying, in a hot body contest. once she is busted she is, my main concern is finding my baby. that's all i care about. she knows she is being recorded. that tells the jury there is something going on here and she lied to her friends. she is lying now on tape is what the jury may very well believe.

    >> beth, let's talk about the credibility. the question of her guilt or innocence of the murder is still an open one but her credibility already is shot. are they going to actually put her on the stand at some point?

    >> i don't see how the defense can prove their case without putting her on the stand. the statements made by jose baez in opening about caylee being held in her grandpa's arms, grandpa denied it. the george denied it. who else can testify to that? he promised that there would be etched of this introduced at the trial. it can't come in through anyone else because it's helpful to her, called self-serving statements, only they can come in through the defendants. she has to take the stand.

    >> they're going to play every one of those tapes.

    >> they're going to have a field day with her. a prosecutor's dream. they're going to say she lied to people. maybe they're a little bit ahead of schedule. the prosecution has two more weeks and the defense maybe a week, maybe a rebuttal and a penalty phase so another three, four, five weeks away.

    >> we appreciate you stopping by and giving us an update.

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