ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The jury in the first-degree murder trial of Casey Anthony began deliberations on Monday afternoon as the trial entered its seventh week with no break for the Independence Day holiday.
Judge Belvin Perry recessed court at 6 p.m. and sent the jury back to their hotel for the night after the jury received the case just after noon.
The decision to stop the jury’s work was made in order to transport the jurors ahead of the crowds expected to jam streets in Orlando for the evening’s traditional Fourth of July fireworks celebration at Lake Eola, just a couple of blocks from the courthouse, court spokeswoman Karen Levey said.
Jurors are scheduled to resume their work at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and work as late as they choose.
Casey Anthony, 25, faces the death penalty if found guilty of first-degree murder in the June 16, 2008, death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee.
Anthony, who has been in jail for almost three years awaiting trial, chose not to testify in her own behalf.
Casey Anthony also is charged with aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child, and four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer.
Prosecutors say Casey smothered Caylee with duct tape, drove around for several days with Caylee’s body in her car trunk and then dumped the remains in woods near the Anthony family home.
Casey initially told detectives that Caylee had been kidnapped by a nanny, triggering a nationwide search that ended on December 11, 2008. That’s when Caylee’s skeletal remains were found in woods near the Anthony family home with duct tape dangling from her skull.
Defense lawyer Jose Baez provided an alternate theory of Caylee’s death, claiming that Caylee accidentally drowned in the Anthony’s backyard swimming pool on June 16, 2008, and that, for some unspecified reason, her death was not reported.
The trial featured novel scientific evidence concerning the chemical signatures found in the odor of death.
Evidence during the six weeks of testimony showed that Casey lied to friends and family for a month about Caylee’s whereabouts while Casey spent time with her boyfriend, dancing at nightclubs, shopping and getting tattoos.
Casey’s mother Cindy testified that Casey rebuffed her attempts for four weeks to see or talk to Caylee by claiming that she and Caylee were in Tampa, Jacksonville and various other places.
Cindy finally called 911 and reported Caylee missing on July 15, 2008, after finding Casey’s car abandoned at an impound lot smelling of what she and numerous witnesses testified they recognized as a dead body.
During their Monday afternoon deliberations, Levey said the jury had access to all of the evidence presented at trial except for a can of air captured from Casey’s car trunk.
Prosecutors submitted the air sample to a human decomposition expert who claimed the air chemistry was consistent with a dead body in the trunk. The expert also testified that when he opened the can, he jumped back, overcome by what he recognized the odor of death.
The defense challenged the findings and contended the odor was a result of trash left in the car trunk.
Judge Perry ruled jurors would not be allowed to open the can to smell the odor for themselves because that would make them, in effect, witnesses. Perry said Casey had a right to confront all witnesses.
Prosecutors and the defense team each spent about 4 hours Sunday and Monday trying to sway the jury to their viewpoint.
Prosecutor Linda Burdick told the jury on Monday that Casey was “a pathological liar” who behaved more like a guilty person than a grieving mother after Caylee’s death.
“What do guilty people do? They lie. They avoid. They run,” Burdick said.
Prosecutor Jeff Ashton said there is no innocent reason for anyone to ever put duct tape on a child’s face. He ridiculed the defense suggestion that Caylee’s death was an accident.
“People don’t make accidents look like murder. That’s absurd,” Ashton said.
Baez, in his closing argument on Sunday, tried to point the finger at Casey’s father George.
Baez had promised jurors in his opening statement at the beginning of the trial to provide evidence that George sexually molested Casey. Baez suggested the sexual abuse explained Casey’s behavior after Caylee’s death which even Baez acknowledged was “bizarre” and “inappropriate.”
However, Judge Perry ruled on Sunday that no evidence of sexual abuse was presented and prohibited both sides from mentioning the issue in their closing arguments.
Baez argued that the prosecution provided no direct evidence of how, where or when Caylee died. Baez suggested jurors were left with more answers than questions.
“There are no mysteries to solve here ... if you have questions, it was not proven,” Baez said.
Writing and reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Peter Bohan