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Casey Anthony murder trial focuses on 'trash' versus 'garbage'

Prosecutors and defense counsel in the Casey Anthony murder trial argue over how to describe a plastic bag of refuse found in the trunk of her car. Does it link to the body of Caylee Anthony?

By Staff writer / June 12, 2011

Dr. Neal Haskell, an expert in forensic entomology, testifies during the trial of Casey Anthony, Saturday, June 11, at the Orange County Courthouse, in Orlando, Fla. Anthony is charged with murder in the 2008 death of her daughter Caylee.

Joe Burbank/AP

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Prosecutors and defense counsel in the trial of a Florida woman accused of killing her two-year-old daughter are waging a running battle over how best to describe a plastic bag of refuse found in the trunk of the mother’s car.

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The state attorneys office insists that it be referred to as “trash.” Defense lawyers counter that the contents of the white plastic bag were “garbage.”

The issue arose anew on Saturday during a special weekend session of the Casey Anthony murder trial in Orlando.

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Prosecutors had called Dr. Neal Haskell, a forensic entomologist, to testify about maggots found on a wad of paper towels in the white plastic bag that had been left in the trunk of Ms. Anthony’s car. Dr. Haskell’s expertise is helping the authorities identify the time of death based on which kinds of insects are breeding and feeding on the decomposing remains of a victim.

He told the jury that as the chemical composition of a decomposing body changes, the cadre of insects attracted to the corpse changes as well. By knowing when those changes take place, an entomologist can establish a timeline that can help investigators solve a crime.

The state’s theory in the case is that Ms. Anthony killed her daughter, Caylee, and then hid her body in the trunk of the car before dumping the body in a wooded area not far from the family home.

Caylee was last seen alive on June 16, 2008. Her remains were discovered six months later on December 11.

Prosecutors build circumstantial case

Prosecutors have no direct evidence that Anthony harmed her daughter. Instead, they are working to build a circumstantial case linking the toddler’s decomposing body to her mother’s car.

Several witnesses have testified that in the summer of 2008 Casey Anthony’s car contained a strong odor that resembled the stench of a decomposing body.

This is where the distinction between trash and garbage becomes crucial. Defense lawyers say the stench in Anthony’s car was a result of her mistakenly leaving that plastic bag of “garbage” in her car trunk for several days in Florida’s hot summer sun.

Prosecutors counter that the stench is the lingering evidence of the mother’s crime against her daughter. A plastic bag of “trash” is incapable of producing such a strong and distinctive smell, they say.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that investigators found maggots and other insect activity on a wad of paper towels in the white plastic bag. Prosecutors have suggested that the paper towels may have been used to clean up fluid that had flowed from Caylee’s decomposing body while it was still in the car trunk.

Dr. Haskell was asked a hypothetical question that directly tracks the state’s theory in the case. If the body of a young child was stored in the trunk of a car for some time and then moved, would that fit with the insect activity he had found?

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