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Anthony lawyer raises 'sexual abuse' as potential 'mitigating' factor

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Caylee Anthony murder case captivates
  • Fourth day of jury selection in Casey Anthony trial was Thursday in Clearwater
  • Casey's lawyer asked several jurors if they'd weigh various factors if deciding on death
  • They included sexual, emotional and verbal abuse, as well a "dysfunctional family"

(CNN) -- While questioning prospective jurors, Casey Anthony's defense team hinted Thursday that "a history of sexual abuse" may have explained their client's behavior after she allegedly killed her 2-year-old daughter then failed to alert authorities.

The comments came during the fourth day of jury selection in the case, in which the 25-year-old Anthony is charged with capital murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee. She also faces six other charges, including aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and misleading law enforcement.

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One of Anthony's attorneys, Ann Finnell, did not state in court that her client killed her daughter. Rather, she raised potential "mitigating circumstances" to try to gauge what would-be jurors might consider if they have to decide whether to sentence Anthony to death if she is convicted of murder.

Finnel specifically laid out such factors when broaching the subject with Orange County Superior Court Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr., the presiding judge in the case. She started with age -- Anthony was 23 when her daughter went missing -- then went onto include a "lack of maturity" and "lack of impulse control."

The lawyer, too, said that "a history of sexual abuse" might be one of the mitigating factors, later asking potential jurors individually whether they would take that into account as well as alleged verbal and emotional abuse.

The comments touched again on the Anthony family's rocky relationship with each other, as well as with the prosecution and defense team. Casey Anthony made allegations of sex abuse against her father and brother in a letter from jail last year. In an interview with NBC News afterward, her father, George Anthony, denied the claims and criticized the judgment of Jose Baez, another of his daughter's attorneys, in questioning him about the allegations.

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Police began their investigation in 2008 only after Cindy Anthony -- Casey's mother -- made three 911 calls worried about her granddaughter's disappearance. Her brother, father and mother all testified during pretrial hearings last March, with her father alternately tearing up and sparring with prosecutors.

While she did not lay out specifics Thursday, Finnel asked possible members of the jury pool whether the assertion her client came from a "dysfunctional family" might factor into their penalty decision.

"Lack of parental guidance. Mother and father failed to protect her as a child," said Finnel, reeling off what she described as "mitigating circumstances" to Perry. "The fact she was verbally and emotionally abused as a child. She was taught poor coping and has poor coping skills by normal standards.

"She was taught to project false appearance," the attorney added. "She was used as a decoy or pawn by her parents and a scapegoat for parental misconduct."

Some form of these issues came up before a handful of jurors Thursday in Clearwater in Pinellas County, Florida. Authorities moved the proceedings there from Orange County hoping to draw from a jury pool that was less likely to have seen and been influenced by the intense media coverage surrounding the case. Once the final jury pool is selected, the plan is to sequester them in Orlando for the trial's likely six- to eight-week duration.

Some 200 men and women were initially called, starting Monday, to be part of that mix. Of those, 128 were excused within two days due to hardships or other personal reasons.

That leaves 72 potential jurors remaining. Some of them took the stand Thursday, answering questions not only about their stance on "mitigating circumstances" but also what they already knew about the Anthony case.

The day began with Baez questioning media reports -- including a video clip Video -- "that are being repeated, where I allegedly told my client (she) was acting like a 2-year-old." After making his case, Casey Anthony's attorney asked the judge that all microphones -- except the one at the witness stand -- be turned off.

Perry said that after Baez's request, the microphones at his and the prosecution's table were turned off. But he said he would not do anything more.

"This is a public courtroom, and it could not be a public courtroom if the public did not have the ability to hear," the judge said. "I have no control nor do I want control of what journalists say or print ... but this is America."