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Casey Anthony murder trial a test of cutting-edge forensic science

Trial of Casey Anthony, charged with murdering her daughter in 2008, is set to begin Tuesday in Florida. The state will try to prove that a foul odor in Anthony's car came from the toddler’s body.

By Staff writer / May 23, 2011

Casey Anthony, center, flanked by attorneys Ann Finnell (l.) and Lisabeth Fryer, listens to prospective jurors during jury selection in her trial at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater, Fla., on May 20.

Gary W. Green/AP

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After years of lurid details in newspapers and tabloid television shows, the trial of a young Florida woman accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter is set to begin Tuesday in Orlando.

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The case is a tragedy, a mystery, and a real-life soap opera rolled into one, and it has attracted intense interest across the country. It may also become an important test of cutting-edge forensic science in the courtroom.

Casey Anthony is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee, who was last seen alive on June 16, 2008.

Caylee's remains were discovered six months later in a wooded area not far from her home. Investigators say there appeared to have been duct tape over her mouth, possibly adorned with a heart-shaped sticker.

If convicted, Ms. Anthony, 25, could be sentenced to death. She insists she is innocent.

Because of extensive pretrial publicity, Chief Judge Belvin Perry selected the 12-member jury and five alternates in Clearwater, Fla., a hundred miles west of the Orlando courtroom where the two-month trial is to take place. The five-man and seven-woman jury will be sequestered throughout the trial to prevent exposure to what is expected to be blanket media attention, including live coverage on TRUtv and daily updates and discussions on talk shows.

CNN crime queen Nancy Grace has made it her mission to cover every twist and turn in the murder case. She rarely refers to Anthony by her name, preferring instead the tabloid-style moniker “Tot Mom.”

The mother emerged as a prime suspect after police were notified in mid-July 2008 that Caylee had been missing for a month. Anthony told deputy sheriffs she suspected a baby sitter had kidnapped her. Asked why she hadn’t contacted law enforcement officials earlier, she told the deputies that she had been conducting her own search and investigation.

A lawyer has also suggested that Anthony was worried that if she went to police the toddler would be harmed.

Police were unable to locate the person Anthony said was the baby sitter. A woman with the same name that Anthony provided to police told authorities she’d never met the mother or her daughter. She has since filed a defamation lawsuit against Anthony for harming her reputation.

Police quickly shifted their focus to Anthony when a number of her initial statements were found to have been false or deceptive. In addition, the young mother’s demeanor raised questions about her state of mind and why she did not seem upset or worried about Caylee.

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