Video: Anthony defense pokes holes in forensic evidence

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    >>> trial of casey anthony , entering its third week today. nbc kerry sanders is in orlando with the very latest. good morning to you.

    >> reporter: good morning, meredith. today prosecutors in the court are putting forth their technical case, the crime scene forensic evidence they say proves that casey anthony murdered her 2-year-old daughter, caylee. meantime, outside the courthouse, again today, the public jostling for tickets for seats inside the 23rd floor of this courthouse. almost every day 3 1/2 hours before court begins --

    >> go, g go.

    >> reporter: -- there's a race. no someone is allowed on courthouse property until exactly 5:30 a.m . at that moment from sidewalk and back allies, the curious hoof it for position.

    >> number one in the line.

    >> reporter: there are 62 seats a day set aside for the public, spectators from across the country, traveling here to see for themselves the 25-year-old mother casey anthony , accused of murdering her daughter caylee.

    >> it 's wonderful to be a part of it. and we're really excited the public has an opportunity to be a witness to this and see the action in the courtroom.

    >> you can see the root portion of the hair is distorted.

    >> reporter: on saturday, karen lowe, an fbi expert on trace evidence , began to detail the prosecution's forensic evidence . a single strand of hair taken from the trunk of casey anthony 's car, that the fbi crime lab concluded fell from the scalp of a corpse.

    >> one of the items had a hair that exhibited --

    >> reporter: the defense arg gus not only is the testing inconclusive that the hair was from a dead person but that the single strand was even caylee's.

    >> the best we have at this point is that the hair either belonged to caylee, casey , cindy or even cindy 's mother. any other maternal relative?

    >> correct.

    >> reporter: casey now admits she waited 31 days to tell anyone her daughter was missing. when she did, the store that a nanny had caylee was all made up. prosecutors allege casey stowed her daughter's dead body in the trunk of her car before eventually dumping it in the woods near her home.

    >> this is my label identifying what's inside the can.

    >> reporter: prosecutors claim they captured the stench of death. orange county senior crime scene analyst explained how the odor was extracted from the trunk of casey 's car.

    >> this is the very first time you've ever taken air samples, correct?

    >> yes, it was.

    >> you have no training whatsoever in the collection or preservation of air samples?

    >> this is the first time i've heard it done, that's correct.

    >> reporter: the cans have not been opened in court and the judge may never allow it. if he does, it will be the first time this sort of evidence has ever been presented in a u.s. courtroom. meredith?

    >> kerry sanders , thank you very much.

    >>> pat brown is a criminal profilerauthor of "the profiler," and savannah guthrie , our legal analyst. good morning. as kerry mentioned, the prosecution is now in the scientific phase of its case. how important was the testimony regarding that hair found in the trunk?

    >> it's incredibly important because, of course, for the last few weeks we've been hearing these witnesses talk about the lies that casey anthony told, her behavior, but the bottom line is, we haven't yet seen scientific evidence that ties casey anthony to this crime scene . this single piece of hair, if the prosecution expert is believed, shows that casey -- caylee anthony 's body was in the trunk of the car after death, but there are some problems with the science, as the defense pointed out.

    >> exactly. and she admitted that she can't say for certain -- with certainty that is, in fact, a hair from caylee.

    >> not only can she not say with certainty if it's caylee's hair, she can't say with 100% if this is a hair that fell off the body after death. that's a crucial fact.

    >> also this testimony that the prosecution is expected to present this week about the stench of death, what they say is the odor of caylee anthony 's decomposed body in the trunk of her car. she have admitted they have never collected air samples before, they are not trained to do so. is this a risky piece of evidence to present to a jury?

    >> i think it's very risky. obviously, if it works, this would be a profound piece of evidence for the jurors. on the other hand, the prosecute ares already have lots of testimony from varying witnesses about that powerful foul odor inside the trunk of the car. they say it was unmistakenably human decomposition. to use this novel science, something that potentially, if there were a conviction, could be the basis of being overturned on appeal, i'm not sure why the prosecutors want to go that far.

    >> yeah. pat, prior to this trial casey had said repeatedly that her daughter was kidnapped. then you have that opening argument from the defense that said, no, actually she wasn't kidnapped, she drown in the family pool and casey 's father helped cover it up, in fact, casey was molested by her father george as a trial. what do you make of that defense strategy ?

    >> i think it's a very stupid defense strategy . we thank you, jose baez. he's basically admitted that child died in the home, so we can already get that one out of the way. now we have all this physical testimony coming in about, you know, i think it's pretty good, actually, because what we're doing is showing that not only did that child die in the home, but then casey 's running around with a car with her dead child in the back of it. so, they set up -- the prosecution set up a good thing. they showed her as a really cold-blooded psychopath for the past week. i think anybody sitting there is going, wow, you know, that's a scary woman. and jose baez made another stupid move by throwing the antho anthonys under the bus. only three people in the world that believe in casey and he just tossed them out. i mean, now there's nobody. i think the jury is already looking at her as someone capable of killing and now the physical evidence is showing she's the one that had the body with her.

    >> do you think the defense will have to put casey on the stand?

    >> i think they're up against the wall right now. there's not much left they can do. i think they actually might take the chance of putting her on the stand hoping, because they have a little interesting thing going on with cindy anthony . cindy anthony was not well liked until cindy anthony took the stand. now there are people out there saying, we really feel sorry for cindy . now, i guess they might be hoping casey can pull off the same thing. put her on the stand, have her start sobbing and crying and looking pitiful and maybe one person on the jury will say, that's one messed up girl. maybe she really didn't kill her daughter on purpose. i think that's what the defense is going to hope for.

    >> pat brown , savannah guthrie , thank you both.

msnbc.com news services
updated 6/6/2011 4:07:40 PM ET 2011-06-06T20:07:40

An expert in human decomposition testified on Monday that air and fiber samples from Casey Anthony's car trunk contained chemical compounds emitted by decaying human remains.

Arpad Vass of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee said the test results confirmed what his nose had already told him.

"The odor was extremely overwhelming ... I recognized it as human decomposition," said Vass, a pioneer in the biochemistry of human decomposition.

Casey Anthony, 25, is standing trial for a first-degree murder charge stemming from the June 16, 2008, death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee.

Prosecutors are trying to prove that Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape and contend that traces of decomposition were found in her car.

Anthony has pleaded not guilty. Her defense attorney says the toddler drowned in her grandparents' swimming pool. If convicted, the 25-year-old Anthony could be sentenced to death.

Legal experts say the air analysis could be used as grounds for an appeal if Casey is convicted.

Defense lawyer Jose Baez objected repeatedly to Vass' testimony on Monday. He argued Vass was testifying out of his field of expertise or about lab work performed by another scientist at Oak Ridge.

At one point, Baez questioned Vass out of the jury's presence so the trial judge could hear what questions the defense attorney wanted to ask.

During that exchange, Vass told Baez, "I don't think you quite understand what's happening here."

Vass testified that he has worked for 20 years in the Oak Ridge lab's outdoor body farm, where human remains are studied in various stages of decomposition. He said he has worked with 50 bodies from the time of death until they were skeletonized, plus hundreds of other bodies in various stages of decay.

In the air analysis of the car trunk sample, Vass said he and other scientists detected 51 compounds including an unusual quantity of chloroform. Chloroform is released by decaying bodies, Vass testified.

"We were shocked. We had never seen chloroform at that level," Vass testified.

In their opening statement, prosecutors told jurors someone had researched chloroform, once a popular anesthetic, on the Anthony family computer in the months before Caylee's death.

Vass testified the lab also conducted laser tests on a sample of the carpet from Casey's car trunk to look for inorganic elements such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron and carbon. Vass said calcium was found in the greatest quantity.

"They showed the inorganic elements associated with human decomposition were significantly elevated," Vass said.

Further chemical tests of the carpet were performed to look for compounds that had not been converted to a gas but were stuck in the fibers. Vass said the tests uncovered butyric acid.

"It is the first (fatty acid) compound liberated during human decomposition," Vass said.

Vass said all the results were compared to tests of samples of carpet from the trunks of two cars pulled from a junkyard in Knoxville which showed no significant levels of any of the compounds or elements.

Judge Belvin Perry previously issued a pretrial order denying a defense request to exclude the air tests.

Until now, the tests had never been admitted in a trial in the United States.

Setting the stage for Vass' testimony, Orange County Sheriff's Office crime scene supervisor Michael Vincent testified on Saturday that he helped obtain several air samples from the car trunk and a forensics bay where the sheriff's office stored the car.

Vincent said air samples also were taken from a bag of trash that had been in the car trunk.

The samples were sent to Vass. The Oak Ridge lab deems his work "groundbreaking," but defense lawyer Jose Baez has dismissed it as "junk science."

Over the weekend, the jury heard that a single 9-inch-long brown hair found in Anthony's car trunk could have been ripped from the dead body of her daughter.

'Consistent with apparent decomposition'
Karen Korsberg Lowe, who specializes in microscopic examination of hair samples at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., testified she found "root-banding" on the hair, something she said scientists have never seen other than on hairs from decomposing bodies.

"It has darkened bands at the root portion ... . This is consistent with apparent decomposition," Lowe testified. Shealso testified the hair appeared under a microscope to be similar to one recovered from Caylee's hairbrush.

The hair evidence, which an FBI expert testified about on Saturday, is among the most contentious in the case. Baez contends the science behind some of the hair analysis is new and unreliable.

Prosecutors contend Anthony killed her daughter on June 16, 2008, and dumped her body in woods near the Anthony home.

Baez has told jurors Caylee drowned accidentally in the backyard pool but that her death went unreported.

Caylee was first reported missing July 15, 2008, by her grandmother Cindy Anthony after finding Casey's car at an impound lot. Cindy and a series of witnesses have testified that the car was permeated by a strong stench that they likened to the odor of a body.

Casey told detectives Caylee was kidnapped by a nanny. But after a nationwide search, Caylee's skeletal remains were found in December 2008 in woods a 10-minute walk from the Anthony family home.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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