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Prosecutors: Child of fellow Casey Anthony inmate drowned in pool

By Ashley Hayes, CNN
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Botanist on timeline of Caylee remains
  • NEW: Whalen says she has nothing to do with the case
  • Prosecutors say the information could become relevant to the case
  • Anthony is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2008
  • Jurors also hear testimony about DNA and plants at the remains site

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(CNN) -- Prosecutors in the Casey Anthony murder trial said Tuesday they are looking into information regarding a woman who at one point was incarcerated with Anthony, and whose child died in a way similar to the way Anthony's defense says her 2-year-old daughter Caylee died.

The matter was mentioned in a conversation regarding discovery items provided to the defense after the jurors in Anthony's murder trial left the Orlando courtroom for lunch.

April Whalen's child died in a pool and the child's body was discovered by the child's grandfather, prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick told Orange County Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr.

Whalen says she never spoke with Anthony, but did not know whether Anthony may have talked to other inmates, Burdick said. "It's being explored whether there was indirect contact," she said. The information came from a citizen who called the Orange County Sheriff's Office late last week, suggesting the two could have been in contact, Burdick said.

In response to a question from Perry, Burdick said she does not currently plan for Whalen to testify, but the information could become relevant.

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Whalen told CNN's sister network HLN she never met Casey Anthony during the few days she was in jail for driving with a suspended license and has nothing to do with the case.

According to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, Whalen's 15-month-old son, Isaiah Whalen, drowned in a backyard pool on Christmas Day 2007. After finding him in the pool, the boy's grandfather performed CPR and called 911, Burdick said in court Tuesday.

Casey Anthony, 25, is charged with seven counts in her daughter's death, including first-degree murder. If convicted, she could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors allege Anthony used chloroform to render her daughter unconscious, then used duct tape to cover her nose and mouth, suffocating her. Caylee's remains, prosecutors allege, were then put into Anthony's car trunk and eventually disposed of. The girl's skeletal remains were found in a wooded field on December 11, 2008, nearly six months after her family last reported having seen her.

Defense attorneys say Caylee was not murdered, but that she accidentally drowned in the family pool on June 16, 2008, the day she was last reported to have been seen. They argue that Anthony and her father, George Anthony, panicked and covered up the death. George Anthony has rejected that scenario in his testimony.

Caylee was not reported missing to police until July 15, 2008, when Casey Anthony's mother, Cindy, tracked down her daughter and demanded answers regarding Caylee's whereabouts.

Allen Moore, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, said Whalen was in the same dormitory as Anthony for five days, from June 4 through June 8, 2009. There are no jail records, investigations or reports that indicate any contact occurred between the two, he said.

Records show Whalen pleaded guilty to receiving money from a pawnbroker by false verification and was sentenced in August 2009 to six months in jail.

A Dutch forensic scientist also testified Tuesday that given even a small amount of DNA, it would be possible to extract a DNA profile from the duct tape covering the mouth portion of Caylee's skeletal remains.

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But DNA expert Richard Eikelenboom testified that he did not ask to test the duct tape, although he said he offered to investigate. Perry barred defense attorney Jose Baez from asking if the state did not want Eikelenboom to take possession of the duct tape to test it.

Eikelenboom testified about "low copy number" DNA, a technique by which small samples of DNA are amplified and copied in an effort to obtain a full profile.

He said that, when tape is used to cover a person's mouth, it is possible the sticky side of the tape could contain skin cells from the face as well as DNA from the mouth. However, he told Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton, factors such as heat and water have "a very detrimental effect" on DNA and it would be difficult to determine a profile from tape that, as in this case, had been exposed to the elements for as long as six months.

An FBI examiner previously testified that DNA testing on the tape was inconclusive, but a possible indication of DNA there did not appear to match that of Caylee, Casey Anthony or George Anthony.

Eikelenboom told jurors he previously worked on the Tim Masters case in Colorado. Masters was convicted in 1999 of a 1987 murder, but was freed in 2008 after Eikelenboom and his wife discovered new DNA evidence.

Eikelenboom said that the forensics company his wife founded, which he joined in 2005, received international attention after his work in the Masters case.

Also Tuesday, Marcus Wise, an analytical chemist from Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, testified that, while testing on carpet from Anthony's trunk showed the presence of chloroform, a test to determine how much chloroform was present would have been meaningless, as chloroform is a "volatile chemical" that evaporates, much like gasoline,

Asked what effect a closed trunk would have on that, Wise said it would not slow the chemical's volatility but might make it more difficult for the chemical to escape the trunk.

Arpad Vass, another research scientist at the national laboratory, testified earlier in the trial the amount of chloroform found in the trunk was "shockingly high." Wise told Ashton on Tuesday that the "relative abundance" of chloroform was "very unusual to me."

Wise said that, when he tested air samples from the trunk, he found nothing, "but my experience with many gas sampling bags is that chemicals you put in those tend to diffuse out over a few days." He said he was not surprised the testing did not show the presence of chloroform.

Baez attempted through questioning to cast doubt on the lab's protocols and on the testing procedures used, as well as to suggest that Wise was seeking attention and funding for one of his projects.

Earlier in the day, a forensic botanist testified Caylee's remains could have been at the site where they were found -- less than a mile from her grandparents' home -- for as little as two weeks, based on plant evidence found there.

"I don't know exactly when" the remains were placed there, Bock said. "My best guess is what I have presented today."

Ashton introduced into evidence a photo of Caylee's skull, showing leaf matter and debris that had accumulated up to the lower portion of the eye sockets. He asked Bock if that could have occurred in just two weeks.

"If these leaves are, in fact, the level that has fallen since the skull has been there, then clearly the skull has been there for a lot longer than two weeks, wouldn't you agree?" Ashton asked.

"Given your hypothesis that it had lain there undisturbed all that time, the answer would be yes," Bock acknowledged. She told Ashton she could not say for sure if it was possible the skull could have sunk into the leaf litter.

As the photo of the skull was shown in the courtroom, Anthony looked downward with her mouth pressed to the back of her hand.

Bock also told jurors on Tuesday that fragments found on and in Casey Anthony's car did not match the vegetation at the scene where the remains were found.

Meanwhile, wrangling between the prosecution and the defense continued Tuesday outside the presence of the jury.

Eikelenboom submitted an affidavit, but did not write a report outlining the opinions he would testify to, in violation of an order issued in December by Perry. Perry called Eikelenboom to the stand without the jury present Tuesday and questioned him closely about whether he had ever been told such a report was required. Eikelenboom said he had not.

Perry ruled a "willful" and "substantial" violation had taken place by the defense.

Ashton told Perry he took a deposition from Eikelenboom on Monday afternoon and did not object to his testifying, but asked that a portion of his testimony -- his opinion that DNA is recoverable from fluids associated with human decomposition -- not be allowed without a hearing on whether it should be admissible. The opinion, Ashton said, is not based on research, but on Eikelenboom's own anecdotal evidence.

Baez argued against it, but Perry agreed with Ashton, saying that at least until a hearing can be held, Eikelenboom cannot testify about that matter. Perry told the attorneys that "since it looks like we're going to be doing this for the next two weeks," they can schedule a hearing on whether that testimony can be admitted if they want. "I will not permanently shut the door," the judge said.

Baez complained to Perry on Monday that Ashton deliberately refused to take a deposition from Eikelenboom on Saturday. Ashton told the judge that Baez had sent Eikelenboom to his office with a half-page report that "indicated nothing, essentially," leaving him with little for questioning.

Ashton also recommended Tuesday that Perry proceed with contempt of court proceedings against Baez at the conclusion of the trial -- something the judge has threatened to do.

On Monday, the judge abruptly canceled court for the day after scolding both sides for continued "gamesmanship," ruling that neither Eikelenboom nor forensic anthropologist William Rodriguez could testify.

Rodriguez had planned to testify Saturday about duct tape found near Caylee's skeletal remains and a controversial video that prosecutors say proves that a piece of duct tape could have been the murder weapon.

But Rodriguez's opinions were not contained in his report filed with the court and weren't shared with prosecutors, another violation of the December order, according to the judge. Perry ordered him off the stand, calling the omission "quite intentional." Rodriguez has not returned to the witness stand.

Perry warned any further deliberate violations of his orders to reveal evidence and opinions to opposing attorneys could result in the exclusion of that evidence from the trial.

That is an extreme step that has not yet been upheld in Florida courts, but Perry said he would be willing to take the action "at the cost of doing this all over again" should the violations continue.

The trial entered its fifth week Monday. Perry told jurors that the trial will go only until about noon Wednesday, adding that he has a meeting at 1 p.m. concerning state trial court budgeting.

Perry also made good on his Saturday threat to hold court longer; testimony on Tuesday lasted until 6 p.m. instead of the usual 5 p.m.

In Session's Mayra Cuevas, Selin Darkalstanian and Grace Wong contributed to this report.

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