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Week 4: Emotions high as defense takes wheel in Anthony trial

By Cara Hutt, In Session
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Casey Anthony trial: Week 4
  • Judge rebuked attorneys often as tempers flared in fourth week of Casey Anthony trial
  • Defense began its case Thursday, working to rebut prosecution evidence
  • Defense's forensic expert: I believe duct tape was placed on body after death
  • Anthony charged with first-degree murder in death of daughter Caylee, 2

(CNN) -- As the prosecution rested in the Casey Anthony murder trial and the defense took the helm this week, emotions ran high, both inside and outside the courtroom.

People eager to snag one of the 50 tickets allotted each day to spectators grabbed headlines on Friday with a pre-dawn scuffle. Police were called when a violent brawl erupted after some hopeful spectators cut in line.

And on Thursday, three years to the day that, according to testimony, Caylee Anthony was last seen alive, a group of trial followers released balloons in Caylee's honor. When interviewed by the media, one of the participants, David Wood, cried as he lamented over how -- as he put it -- anyone could hurt a child.

Inside the courtroom, the usually calm Jeff Ashton, assistant state attorney, became less so as the focus shifted to the defense.

On Thursday, the day the defense began to present its case, Ashton objected when defense attorney Jose Baez asked Heather Seubert, a DNA analyst and serologist for the FBI, whether she conducted a DNA paternity test on Casey's brother to determine if he was Caylee's father.

Ashton said Baez's question falsely implied police had requested the test. While Judge Belvin Perry Jr. allowed the question after instructing Baez to ask it in a different manner -- and Seubert answered that DNA samples excluded Lee Anthony as a possible father -- Perry admonished both attorneys for raising their voices.

"I don't have a hearing problem," Perry told the attorneys. "And the amplification of questions, objections, I don't need them."

Prosecutors allege that Casey Anthony, 25, killed Caylee in 2008 by rendering her unconscious with chloroform, putting duct tape over her nose and mouth so she would suffocate, or a combination of the two acts. They allege that Anthony wrapped the girl's body in a blanket and put it in two garbage bags and a laundry bag, stored it in the trunk of her car for a few days, and eventually dumped it in some woods.

Anthony faces seven counts, including first-degree murder, in the death of Caylee, whose remains were discovered in a wooded field in December 2008. If convicted, she could face the death penalty.

Anthony has pleaded not guilty, and her defense team asserts Caylee accidentally drowned in a pool in June 2008 at the Orange County home that Anthony shared with her parents. The defense team has argued that Anthony and her father, George Anthony, panicked on discovering the body and covered up her death, though George Anthony has denied that scenario.

Tempers ran especially high on Friday, when Ashton objected to Baez's questioning of entomology expert Tim Huntington. The defense attorney had asked the witness to testify about alleged decomposition stains -- a subject of importance because the prosecution asserts that a stain in the trunk of Anthony's car came from human decomposition. Ashton argued this was outside the witness's area of expertise.

Following Ashton's objections, Judge Perry dismissed the jury to allow a discussion of the matter. Ashton shook his head in frustration and accused Baez of texting when he noticed the defense attorney checking his phone. Perry allowed testimony on the stain, but did not let the lawyers' exchange go unchallenged.

"I'm not going to say this ever again. ... I do not want to hear editorial comments," Perry said in reference to Ashton's mention of texting. "Let's stick to the facts. I care less what Mr. Baez may be doing or not doing. ... I do not care if Mr. Baez is standing on his head, standing on one leg."

This outlash directed at Ashton was unusual for the judge, as Baez had more often taken the brunt of Perry's frustrations. But Perry's harsh words fell on Baez yet again on Saturday, when the judge threatened to file contempt proceedings at the end of the trial because Baez failed to tell prosecutors about a witness's planned testimony.

"Mr. Baez, to be quite frank, both sides have engaged in what I call game play," Perry said. "But this is not a game."

Saturday's threats followed Baez's questioning of witness William Rodriguez, a forensic anthropologist. After the prosecution objected to the testimony, the jury was temporarily excused.

With the jury out, Rodriguez told Perry he planned to testify that no conclusions can be drawn from duct tape found near Caylee's remains because of decomposition and possible movement of the bones by animals.

Rodriguez also planned to criticize the prosecution's earlier use of a video that superimposed Caylee's living face with a picture of her skull and the outline of a piece of duct tape. Rodriguez's testimony would be used to rebut the prosecution's theory that duct tape found on Caylee's remains was essentially a murder weapon.

Rodriguez's opinions, however, were not shared with prosecutors or contained in the report the defense filed with the court. This violated Perry's rule that expert testimony must be shared with both sides.

"It appears to me that this was quite intentional," Perry said to Baez as Casey and the rest of the defense team sat stone-faced. "This was not some inadvertent slip."

Perry ordered Rodriguez off the stand, but said Rodriguez would be allowed to testify Monday after the prosecution has a chance to interview him. Excluding his testimony would be "totally unfair to Ms. Anthony," Perry said.

The forensic experts

Saturday's testimony also included Dr. Werner Spitz, another forensic anthropologist. Spitz said he believes the tape found on Caylee Anthony's skull was placed there long after the body had decomposed. He believes the tape could have been an effort to keep the jaw bone attached so the body could be moved.

Spitz also criticized the Orange County medical examiner, Dr. Jan Garavaglia, for not opening Caylee's skull when he examined the remains. Failing to do so, he said, resulted in a "shoddy autopsy."

"Based on this examination, the cause of death remains unknown for those who did the first examination and for me to some extent as well," Spitz said.

Spitz closed out three days of forensic testimony from the defense, which worked to rebut the prosecution's key evidence. This evidence includes a shovel that Casey Anthony allegedly borrowed from her neighbor, and carpet samples, hair and bugs found in Anthony's trunk.

DNA expert Seubert testified Thursday no DNA was found on the trunk materials, but during cross-examination added that does not rule out the possible presence of decompositional fluids. She also testified that no blood was found on the trunk materials, but that the lack of blood does not eliminate the possibility of a crime.

Friday's testimony came solely from entomologist Huntington. In addition to his discussion of stains formed by decomposing bodies -- he eventually told jurors that he didn't believe the stain found in Anthony's trunk came from human decomposition -- he discussed the bugs found in Anthony's car.

Jurors previously heard from prosecution witnesses who testified that the discovery of one leg of a blow fly -- a kind of fly commonly found around decomposing bodies -- as well as more numerous examples of a different kind of fly, suggested that a body had been in the trunk for no more than three to five days.

Huntington testified Friday that one blow fly leg was not significant.

"If we assume that there is a body in a car trunk, you would expect to find hundreds, if not thousands of these adult blow flies," Huntington said.

The acquittal motion

After introducing 59 witnesses and submitting 323 pieces of evidence, the prosecution rested Wednesday. This was immediately followed by a motion for acquittal by the defense, presented dramatically by defense attorney Cheney Mason.

Mason, who typically takes a back seat in court proceedings, presented the motion outside the presence of the jury. Giving what could be a preview of closing arguments, he said there was not enough evidence to support the prosecution's allegations of murder, and that the possibility of a drowning had not been successfully rebutted.

"In this case, there is not any evidence of anything other than a caring and loving mother-child relationship," Mason said as he raised his hands in the air. "There is no confession. There is nothing but circumstances that the state is trying to expand into some proof."

Assistant state attorney Linda Drane-Burdick handled the rebuttal in her standard, matter-of-fact style, re-emphasizing the prosecution's key arguments and asserting that premeditation had been established.

"When Ms. Anthony decided to place duct tape on the child's face, not one application, not two but three, ... sufficient time had passed for her to understand the nature and quality of that act and that premeditation has been established as a result," Drane-Burdick said.

After taking 45 minutes to consult case law, Judge Perry denied the motion.

On Monday, Perry told jurors the trial was ahead of schedule. If proceedings remain on track, summations could begin as early as June 25.

The CNN Wire Staff and In Session senior field producer Michael Christian contributed to this report.