ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Prosecutors are looking to refocus their case Saturday against an Orlando woman accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter after a judge rebuffed their attempts to allow instant messages to be introduced as evidence that they say go toward her motive.
The prosecution on Friday did present its strongest witness against 25-year-old Casey Anthony, who is charged with first-degree murder in Caylee Anthony's death in the summer of 2008.
The manager of a towing yard where the defendant's car was kept for more than two weeks during that summer testified that he smelled an odor coming from her car consistent with decomposing bodies he'd smelled in the past. The defense argued in its opening statement that the smell was actually from a bag of trash Anthony left in her car.
Birch said he has spent 30 years in the towing business as well as two years in waste management, and had come across deceased bodies at least eight times. He said he first noticed the smell coming from the car on the fourth day her 1998 Pontiac was parked on his yard. The car had been towed after spending four days in an Amscot parking lot. It stayed there from June 30 to July 15, when Anthony's parents retrieved it.
"In my opinion and experience, the smell of decomposition is unique in comparison to rotten food or rotting garbage," Birch said.
His testimony went largely unchallenged by the defense.
However, late in the day, prosecutors failed to survive a defense challenge of their attempt to introduce computer instant messages between Anthony and an ex-boyfriend.
With the jury sent out of the room by Judge Belvin Perry, the state argued the messages, which included sexually laced chatter between Anthony and Tony Lazzaro, help establish the motive for killing her 2-year-old daughter. Judge Belvin Perry was shaky on that premise and initially requested extra time to review all of the content.
"What does that tend to prove or disprove?" Perry asked at one point.
But after a recess the prosecution withdrew its motion to introduce the evidence, though it could try to get it admitted later
Prosecutors contend Anthony suffocated Caylee with duct tape. Anthony's defense team says the child drowned accidently in a family pool. If convicted, she could be sentenced to death.
Her father, George Anthony, testified for the third time in four days Friday and said his mind was racing when he arrived to pick up the car and observed the smell in her car.
"That particular smell, whenever you smell it, is something you'll never forget," he said. "...I don't know if I said it out loud or whispered, but I said `Please God, don't let this be Casey or Caylee."'
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Jose Baez tried to shake the father on some details of the tow yard visit, including why he knew to bring a can of gas with him for the car and whether it was Anthony or Birch who first decided to open the trunk. Anthony and Baez also clashed over if it was a bag of trash in the trunk or the trunk itself that was the source of the odor.
Later state attorney Jeff Ashton became agitated at questions he repeatedly objected to as argumentative. He also took issue with a suggestion to Anthony by Baez that the reason he might not have wanted to touch the bag of trash was because he knew its contents could be evidence of Caylee's death.
Part of the defense's theory is that George Anthony found Caylee drowned and helped dispose of the body.
Mallory Parker, the fiancDee of Casey Anthony's brother Lee, was prosecutors' first witness of the day. She described how she and Lee searched for Casey in Orlando bars in the summer of 2008 when her family hadn't seen her in many days.
But Parker also said that Anthony had a special relationship with her daughter and at one point broke down in tears under cross examination when Baez asked here to describe the interactions between them. Casey also wiped away tears during Parker's testimony.
"It was amazing," Parker said. "Casey and Caylee had a special bond."