ORLANDO, Fla. (WKMG) It was one of the most jaw-dropping, heart-rending disclosures in the case against accused child killer Casey Anthony: that someone intentionally placed a heart-shaped sticker on the duct tape that was wrapped around her daughter Caylee's skull.
The claim was based on a fingerprint examiner at the Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory reporting that she saw the shape or outline of a heart on the duct tape.
But Local 6 has learned no one else will ever see what that examiner saw because all traces of it were destroyed by testing at the FBI lab.
The Orange County Sheriff's Office cited that report in obtaining a search warrant for arts and crafts materials in the Anthony family home, swearing the FBI lab "noticed residue in the perfect shape of a heart. The heart was not hand drawn and residue appeared to be consistent with the adhesive side of a heart shaped sticker. It appears the sticker was put on the tape intentionally."
The search warrant was approved, and detectives recovered dozens of heart stickers and the empty backings for heart stickers from the Anthony home during the search on Dec. 20, 2008, nine days after Caylee's body was found dumped in nearby woods.
But Local 6 has obtained a report from the FBI laboratory that reveals all traces of such a shape on the duct tape were destroyed by the FBI lab during a fingerprint-testing process and no photograph of the outline of a heart was taken by the FBI before all traces of it were obliterated.
Some evidence photos have been withheld from public release, so it is not known if any other agency took photos that show an outline of a heart on the tape. But there has been no mention of other such photos in any of the discovery released so far.
Without such an image, a jury will never get to see exactly what was on the duct tape and the size of the outline of the heart cannot be exactly compared to the stickers recovered.
Casey Anthony, 23, is charged with first-degree murder, child abuse and other crimes in connection with the murder of Caylee, who was 2 years old when she was reported missing in July 2008. Caylee's remains were found in December. Casey Anthony faces a possible death penalty if convicted.
The disclosure that potential evidence was destroyed comes in a document turned over to the defense but not yet released by the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office, which has made public 8,000 pages of discovery in the criminal case.
Page 9316 of the discovery, obtained by Local 6 before its official release, is a handwritten FBI Laboratory Activity and Communication Log. In it, FBI lab request coordinator Erin P. Martin makes notes of conversations between FBI agents in the field and the lab in Quantico, Va.
On Dec. 13, two days after the body was found, she describes how Elizabeth K. Fontaine, a forensic examiner in the lab's latent print operations unit, noticed "a heart shape/outline" on the duct tape, but was "unable to see it after powder process." That process is used to lift any fingerprints from materials. No such prints were found on the tape, according to previously released FBI lab reports.
But the presence of a heart shape on the tape begs an obvious question: Did the FBI lab photograph the outline of the heart before it was apparently obliterated by the powder process?
Martin answers the question with her next notation: "No photo of image."
But agents assisting the sheriff's office at the crime scene were clearly intrigued.
Two days later, on Dec. 15, 2008, Martin logs a call from an FBI evidence response team agent working in Orlando: "Agent wanted to know if TEU (the lab's trace evidence unit) saw anything on tape." Martin apparently checks and writes next: "Per TEU: No, didn't see any heart-shaped item."
She then checks again with the latent print unit and writes: "Shape/outline was … near end on non-adh(esive) side."
And that's the last mention of the heart shape in the five-page FBI communication log, which ends on Dec. 22, 2008.
While a jury will apparently never see the image that Fontaine reported seeing, prosecutors could seek to introduce testimony at trial about the shape or outline of a heart on the duct tape.
The warrant shows investigators clearly tried to tie any heart stickers found in the Anthony home to the reported shape on the duct tape and another heart sticker found in the woods near Caylee's body. The warrant notes "in the search area investigators located a small heart-shaped sticker similar in size to the residue found on the duct tape."
But the sticker found in the woods was 30 to 40 feet away from where Caylee's skull was found, and it was affixed to cardboard. Also, Local 6 compared it to the heart stickers and sticker sheets found in the Anthony home and found it was not an exact match to any of those photographed and released so far in discovery to the public.
Local 6 left a message with FBI fingerprint analyst Fontaine, asking why she did not take a photo of the image before conducting the powder test that apparently destroyed any trace of it. The phone call has not been returned.