March 25, 2011
Posted: 01:54 PM ET
Orlando, FL – Casey Anthony may be back in Court as soon as next Thursday morning. She’ll be there for a full day next Friday and again on Saturday morning. Those hearings are to continue arguments over motions from the defense. They include:
On Thursday, Judge Belvin Perry may also hear motions related to two witnesses the Defense added to their list last week. Casey Anthony’s attorneys want Dr. Jeffrey Danzinger and William Weitz, Ph.D to testify about Casey’s state of mind and her consciousness of guilt. That testimony may be via video conference.
Judge Perry has also set aside the week of April 18 to handle anything else that comes up before the murder trial begins jury selection on May 9.
This week, hearings have focused on whether the jury will get to hear certain evidence as they try to decide whether Casey Anthony killed her two-year-old daughter Caylee. A research scientist from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee testified about the smell from Casey Anthony’s car. Arpad Vass is a forensic anthropologist who has published articles on human decomposition. He says Orange County Sheriff’s Detective Yuri Melich asked him to try to determine the source of the odor in the car.
He says when he opened a sealed can containing air and carpet samples from Casey Anthony’s car trunk, the smell was so strong that it made him jump back about two feet. “It was the smell of human decomposition,” Vass testified. Vass analyzed the contents of the sealed can and says he identified 30 chemical compounds that are consistent with decomposition. Vass also said he found an unusually high level of chloroform compared to the other chemicals in the sample. “The actual amount of chloroform that is typically present in remains is about eight times greater than what you see in the control sample. The trunk sample was about 10,000 times greater than what we'd typically see.”
He also said he found “a volatile fatty acid” in the carpet sample and in a paper towel sample from the trunk. Vass says the acid is consistent with a key decomposition product of fat and muscle which appears very early in the decomposition process.
Casey Anthony’s defense team is trying to convince the Judge Perry that those conclusions should not be allowed at trial. They say Vass’s data collection process could result in false positives or errors and his tests aren’t validated. A pizza box and other trash were also found in the car. And on cross-examination, Vass conceded that samples that were near trash “could confuse the issue.” And that some of the compounds he found on the paper towel are consistent with meat products and marijuana as much as they are consistent with human decomposition.
Vass says there are 478 chemical compounds associated with human decomposition. He said he based his conclusion on the top 30 compounds but resisted saying how many of those 30 he found in the samples he analyzed. Baez repeatedly questioned Vass saying the analysis only found four chemicals of decomposition that did not overlap with other items in the trunk. Vass would not confirm that.
Things got heated during Vass’s testimony as Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton objected to defense attorney Jose Baez’s cross-examination of Vass several times. He said many of Baez’s questions weren’t relevant to the Frye hearings where validity and general acceptance by a scientific community are discussed. Ashton lashed out when Baez requested Vass’s bench notes about his use of the gas chromatograph. Ashton accused Baez of going back on his word and referenced a handwritten note from Baez a few weeks ago.
The note said, “We’re not going to question the validity of the gas chromatograph or the laser induced breakdown spectroscope, those two instruments as to their ability and their findings. Now as to the interpretation of their findings and how they’re applied that is being challenged.” Ashton said, “Now counsel [Baez] is trying to rescind this very clear document that shows that they were not challenging anything but the interpretation of the findings of the instrumental examinations and how they're applied to this case. It's crystal clear.”
Baez responded, with his voice quivering at times, “I agreed to that and I have several e-mails to Mr. Ashton where I explain to him the methodologies that we were challenging on this process… Now, I don't want to use the words coercion or forcing my hand or anything of the kind, but I think if we're going to limit somebody's cross examination on a specific witness on a critical point when I have specifically explained it time and time again to Mr. Ashton that we were questioning the methodologies.”
As he had on other relevance objections by Ashton, Judge Perry agreed, “What you're talking about doing is perfectly do-able when dealing with weight and credibility for the trial fact. What does that have to do with the Frye issue? The question is whether or not this is new or novel science. If the instrument of the science is good but the outcome is bad that has to do with issues other than Frye.”
Debating the Dog Evidence
Earlier Thursday, the lawyers completed arguments on a defense motion to keep canine search testimony and evidence out of the trial. Orange County Sheriff’s Office canine handler Jason Forgey, said his dog Gerus “alerted” to the scent of human remains at the trunk of Casey Anthony’s car. He said the dog also alerted in her parents’ backyard on July 17, 2008. Forgey testified that Gerus was a full service dog who had taken advanced courses in cadavers.
The defense, however, says those alerts could be false positives because human remains were never found in the locations where the dog signaled. Forgey acknowledged there is no way for him to determine whether a false positive could be confirmed for the alerts in the Anthonys’ back yard since no remains were found. However, he was unwilling to say the same for the car alert because he said he smelled the scent of human remains with his own nose.
The defense questioned the reliability of the dog alerts, suggesting they are a matter of handler interpretation. The defense asked Forgey what the dog says to him when it alerts. Forgey replied, “He doesn’t say anything to me. I give him commands… it’s a one way verbal communication.” Forgey explained he reads dogs by observing their “Stance, prance, hair, breathing.” When the defense asked if the dog prances a different way and his hair sticks up, Forgey said, “His hair on his tail usually puffs up. Kind of like when you see dog goes into defense mode and its hackles come up.”
New Defense Motion Questions Judge
Thursday, the defense filed a motion requesting that Judge Perry reconsider the rulings he made last Friday or hold another hearing to not suppress statements Casey Anthony allegedly made to law enforcement officers, her parents, her brother, Maya Derkovic, Robyn Adams and Sylvia Hernandez.
Defense attorney Cheney Mason, who was not in court Thursday, stated in the motion that there were several “factual inaccuracies” in the judge’s order, challenged the judge’s interpretations of legal standards, and accused the judge of having not looked at the “evidence at the hearing objectively” and instead displayed a “clear bias in explaining law enforcement conduct.”
-Nancy Leung, In Session Field Producer
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