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Casey Anthony case resembles real-life CSI crime drama

Prosecutors have established that Casey Anthony lied about the disappearance of her daughter Caylee. But physical evidence linking Anthony to her daughter's death has been hard to come by.

By Staff writer / June 5, 2011

Karen Korsberg Lowe, an FBI forensic evidence examiner, testifies about microscopic hair sample analysis during the Casey Anthony trial at the Orange County Courthouse on Saturday, June 4, 2011 in Orlando, Fla.

Red Huber/AP

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As it enters its third week of testimony, the trial of a young Florida woman accused of killing her two-year-old daughter is beginning to resemble a real-life version of the popular television crime drama "CSI."

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Prosecutors in the Orlando trial have succeeded in proving that Casey Anthony repeatedly lied to her friends, to her family, and to the police in the weeks following the disappearance of her daughter, Caylee, in the summer of 2008.

But the state attorney’s office has yet to introduce any direct evidence that Ms. Anthony physically harmed the toddler.

Instead, prosecutors are seeking to build a circumstantial case. At the center of the effort are two key pieces of forensic evidence – a 9-inch strand of hair found in the trunk of Anthony’s car and a strong, lingering odor in the car that prosecutors say is the stench of death.

Anthony’s lawyer, Jose Baez, has attacked the state’s reliance on the forensic evidence, saying prosecutors are using “junk” science to try to win a conviction.

It is unclear how individual jurors will weigh the nuances of such forensic evidence. Given the lack of other physical evidence in the case, it could emerge as a turning point for either side.

This week, prosecutors are expected to call to the stand a research scientist, Dr. Arpad Vass of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, who is working to develop a signature for the smell of a decomposing human body.

His work could be a major benefit to investigators because it would enable them to know that a dead body had been in a certain location by detecting a lingering “odor signature” long after the body had been removed.

Science not yet proven reliable

The science is emerging. Critics say it is not yet peer-tested and proven reliable enough for use in a criminal trial, let alone a first-degree murder trial carrying a potential death sentence.

The Anthony trial will be the first time Dr. Vass’s research is presented to a jury in a trial.

Dr. Vass examined air samples taken from the trunk of Anthony’s car. According to court documents, he identified an odor signature in the car that was consistent with the early stages of human decomposition. But because of the current limits of the science, he is unable to say with absolute certainty that a dead body was in the trunk of the car.

On Saturday an FBI forensic expert testified that a 9-inch strand of hair found in the car trunk showed signs that it might have come from the head of a decomposing body.

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