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Prosecution Focusing On Forensic Evidence In Casey Anthony Trial

ORLANDO (CBS4) - It will be another day of going over forensic evidence in the trial of Casey Anthony, the 25-year old Orlando mother accused of killing her daughter Caylee in 2008.

First up on the stand Tuesday morning was Orange County Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Investigator Gerardo Bloise testifying about what he found in the trunk of Anthony's Pontiac Sunfire.

Many of the prosecutions questions focused on a garbage bag found in the trunk; the bag is important since defense attorneys say a foul odor in the car came from the garbage, while prosecutors contend the smell was of decomposition.

Defense attorney Jose Baez then suggested that Bloise altered crucial evidence.

Baez questioned Bloise about why he dried out garbage found in a bag in Anthony's car.

"You had no idea it would alter significant items in this case?" Baez said during cross-examination.

Bloise said he was following protocol, since drying out evidence preserves it and makes it easier to examine.

Next to take the stand was Dr. Michael Rickenbach with the FBI who appeared to contradict another prosecution forensic expert's assertions about the amount of chloroform in the car and said the chemical also is present in common household cleaners.

"It was not the most chloroform I've seen in 20 years," Michael Rickenbach said under cross-examination.

Rickenbach said he detected amounts of chloroform in Anthony's trunk comparable to that of household cleaners. He also noted the substance is present in water. Rickenbach tested carpet samples from the trunk's spare tire cover and from the right and left sides of the trunk.

Rickenbach acknowledged, during later questioning by prosecutor Jeff Ashton, that describing chloroform levels as high or low is subjective.

On Monday a researcher considered a key prosecution witness started off the third week of testimony. Arpad Vass, who has come up with a new technique for detecting decayed bodies, testified that he smelled an "overwhelmingly strong" odor of human decomposition in an air sample taken from Anthony's car.

"I jumped back a foot or two," Vass said of a can that contained air sampled from the Sunfire. "It was shocking that little bitty can could have that much odor."

Prosecutors are trying to prove that Anthony suffocated her daughter, Caylee, with duct tape and that traces of decomposition in the car came from Caylee's body.

Anthony's defense attorney claims the toddler drowned in her grandparents' swimming pool.

The 2-year-old's skeletal remains were found in a wooded area not far from her grandparents' home.

Vass, a scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, says he has pioneered a way of detecting human decomposition from air samples and detailed for jurors his research on the chemical compounds observed when a body breaks down. Until Monday, the tests had never been admitted in a trial in the United States.

He presented charts for jurors showing high levels of those compounds in samples taken from Anthony's car. One of the compounds — chloroform — Vass said was found in "shockingly high" amounts in a sample taken from a stained portion of carpet in Anthony's trunk. Chloroform is a chemical associated with decomposition but also can be used to render a person unconscious.

"I consider it consistent with human decomposition," Vass said of his conclusions testing the carpet sample. "...I can find no other plausible explanation to explain all the results we found."

Vass' forensic testimony followed that of Bloise and FBI examiner Karen Korsberg Lowe last week. Bloise testified that he smelled human decomposition immediately after opening the door to examine Anthony's car. Lowe said a 9-inch hair pulled from Anthony's car was similar to one taken from Caylee's hair brush and showed signs consistent with decomposition as well.

Lead defense attorney Jose Baez objected to Vass' testimony throughout the day, attacking both his scientific credentials and the methodology used to form his final conclusions.

Under cross-examination, Baez pointed out that Vass does not have an emphasis in chemistry or biology, and is not a member of any major scientific organizations.

He also suggested that Vass might have had a financial incentive to have his results validated in a criminal case because the apparatus that was used to collect the air samples is new and could be marketed to law enforcement agencies.

But under re-direct examination by state attorney Jeff Ashton, he pointed out that when asked by
Baez during a deposition about his potential financial earnings that Vass had no idea of what he stood to make. Only after inquiring at the behest of the defense was he told he could possibly earned 15 percent of any revenue.

Baez did get Vass to admit to telling a newspaper reporter in an interview that the smell of decomposition was similar to a rotten potato. But Vass defended himself when Baez peppered him with questions about not collecting the samples the he evaluated himself.

Earlier in the morning Baez briefly was permitted to question Vass' methodology outside the presence of the jury, but was stopped after Judge Belvin Perry said the questions he was asking him were outside the scope of his original objection. His objection was then overruled and the jury was brought back in.

Anthony has pleaded not guilty, and if convicted, she could be sentenced to death.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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