ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - The murder trial of Casey Anthony barreled toward a close on Sunday, with an angry judge reprimanding feuding lawyers and promising to throw them out of the courtroom for any more inappropriate behavior.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors were expected to complete closing arguments on Sunday and the sequestered jury was to hear instructions from Judge Belvin Perry and receive the case on Independence Day.
Tensions in the seven-week trial of the mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee boiled over as defense attorney Jose Baez’s closing arguments drew several objections from prosecutors.
Prosecutors objected to being characterized as “sneaky” and “pulling a fast one” and Baez in mid-sentence pointed at prosecutor Jeff Ashton, calling him “this laughing guy over here.”
Perry halted Baez’s closing argument, sent the jury on a break and after reviewing a videotape said that both attorneys had violated courtroom rules on behavior.
Both attorneys apologized. Ashton conceded that he appeared to be smiling, but said that he was trying to prevent the jury from seeing his response to Baez’s remarks. Baez in turn apologized for “getting caught in the moment.”
Perry promised the attorneys they would be evicted from the courtroom and face a “quite, quite unpleasant” punishment for further behavior in violation of courtroom rules.
The now seven-week long murder trial resumed after about an hour and Baez continued his closing for nearly another hour.
If convicted of the most serious charge, first-degree murder, Casey Anthony could face the death penalty.
In a closing argument lasting about 80 minutes, Ashton argued that Casey Anthony, now 25, killed Caylee on June 16, 2008, to eliminate what she saw as the biggest obstacle to her living the carefree life of her dreams.
“Casey Anthony decided on June 16th that something had to be sacrificed ... . She took (Caylee‘s) life and put her in the trunk (of her car) and forgot about her,” Ashton said.
Baez, banned on Sunday from arguing to the jury that Casey Anthony was sexually abused by either her father or brother, focused his closing argument on reasonable doubt. He argued that Caylee accidently drowned in the Anthony’s backyard pool and suggested Casey’s father George had something to do with the fact that Caylee’s death went unreported.
“This was an accident that snowballed out of control,” Baez told the jury. “Whatever happened afterward has nothing to do with the crimes charged.”
During opening statements, Baez had told the jury evidence would show Casey was abused by her father starting at age 8 and that was why she showed no remorse after her daughter’s death.
Perry ruled that Baez could not raise the sexual abuse claim and blocked prosecutors from telling jurors that the defense had failed to present evidence on it during the trial.
Prosecutors say Casey smothered Caylee with duct tape so she could live a life free of the demands of motherhood, stored the body in her car trunk for several days and then dumped the remains in woods near her family’s home.
Casey lied to friends and family about Caylee’s whereabouts for a month. Then on July 15, Casey’s mother Cindy called the sheriff’s department after finding Casey’s car at an impound lot smelling, to her, like a body had been in the trunk.
Casey told investigators Caylee had been kidnapped by a nanny, triggering a nationwide search for the toddler. Caylee’s skeletal remains were found in the woods on December 11, 2008.
Baez now maintains that Casey and her father, George, lost track of Caylee that morning at the house shared by Casey, Caylee, George and Cindy. Baez said Casey and George searched the house and yard before George found the toddler’s body in the pool.
Baez also told the jury that the reason Casey acted inappropriately after the death -- lying about Caylee’s whereabouts, partying with friends and getting tattoos -- was because she had a history of sexual abuse by her father.
The defense never produced evidence that Casey was sexually abused by George and George denied the allegation in testimony. George also denied Baez’s story about a drowning death.
If the jury finds Casey guilty of premeditated first-degree murder, the trial will enter a second phase in which the jury will make a recommendation on whether Casey should be executed or sentenced to life in prison.
To show premeditation, prosecutors presented evidence of Internet searches conducted three months before Caylee died on the desktop computer at the Anthony home.
Someone -- the prosecution suggests it was Casey -- searched for the keywords chloroform, how to make chloroform, neck-breaking, internal bleeding, ruptured spleen and death, according to experts who examined the computer’s hard drive.
Chloroform is an anesthetic that can knock people out or even kill them. The chemical is also released by decaying bodies. A prosecution expert testified he found a large quantity of chloroform in Casey’s trunk.
In surprise testimony on June 23, Cindy said she was the one who had looked up chloroform while researching whether chlorophyll in bamboo leaves in the yard had sickened her dog. Cindy said she had skipped out on work and made the searches on the home computer.
However, records obtained last week by the prosecution from Cindy’s former employer showed she had been entering data at her office work station at the same time she said she was making the Internet search at home.
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Bailey