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Casey Anthony Murder Trial: Witness Said Car Smelled Of Human Decomposition

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CASEY ANTHONY TRIAL
Simon Birch, left, of Johnson Wrecker, on the witness stand Friday is handed tow sheets by Linda Drane Burdick, assistant state attorney. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel) | Orlando Sentinel

Casey Anthony's prosecutors on Friday provided a refreshing relief to the monotony of testimony adduced in the last few days of her capital murder trial when they called a key prosecution witness to the stand.

Simon Birch, the former manager of Johnson’s Wrecker, the Orlando towing company that impounded Anthony's Pontiac Sunfire on June 30, 2008 –- roughly two weeks after her daughter died -– delivered the most explosive testimony to date when he described inspecting the vehicle.

"It was an odor consistent to what I have smelled in the past when it comes to decomposition," said Birch, who noticed the odor while examining Anthony's car four or five days after it was impounded in the secure lot.

The towing veteran testified he has been exposed to about half-a-dozen dozen vehicles during the course of his 30-year career that have had deceased bodies in them and that he was familiar with the odor of decomposition. Having previously worked in the sanitation industry for two years, Birch said he was also familiar with the smell of garbage.

Birch testified that decomposing human remains have a "very unique and distinctive smell" and that there was no mistaking the nature of the odor that was emanating from Anthony's car.

"The instant flash in my mind was, 'Whoa, I know what that smell is,'" Birch said.

Anthony, 25, is on trial for the first-degree murder of her daughter, two-year-old Caylee. The trial continued Saturday with testimony from Casey Anthony's mother, Cindy Anthony, and former boyfriend, Anthony Lazzaro. An emotional Cindy Anthony described the days leading up to the toddler's disappearance and asked prosecutors to remove a photo shown of Caylee. "I can't look at my granddaughter without getting upset," she said.

Caylee was last seen alive on June 16, 2008. Her disappearance was reported on July 15, 2008, the same day Casey Anthony's parents retrieved their daughter's car from Johnson’s Wrecker.

Prior to making her infamous 911 calls, in which she said she found her daughter's car and it "smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car," Cindy Anthony and her husband, George Anthony, went to Johnson's Wrecker and met with Birch to retrieve the car.

During his testimony on Friday, Birch said that when George Anthony opened the door to his daughter's vehicle, they were exposed to a "very potent" smell. When the two men opened the trunk of the vehicle, they discovered a bag of trash, which Birch testified he disposed of. The smell, however, was still present even after the trash was removed, he said.

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The dramatic testimony of the tow lot manager set the stage once again for George Anthony. He was called to the witness stand for the third time in four days -– on this occasion to offer his own ornamental details about retrieving his daughter's vehicle.

Anthony, a former police detective, acknowledged he had smelled a "pretty strong odor" when he picked up the car. He testified that he was afraid of what he might find in the trunk of the vehicle and thought, "Please God, don’t let this be my Casey or my Caylee [in the trunk]," he testified.

During cross examination, Casey Anthony's defense attorney, Jose Baez, asked George Anthony why he drove his daughter's vehicle home from the tow yard, rather than contacting police. The question was an apparent attempt to establish George Anthony’s alleged involvement in a cover-up. That relates to Tuesday's opening statements, in which Baez alleged that Caylee died on June 16, 2008, when she drowned in her family's swimming pool. He had also said that George Anthony was the one who found his granddaughter's body.

"The reason you drove that car home and didn't call police and went to work is because you knew Caylee was dead already," Baez suggested.

"No. I did not," a visibly shaken Anthony replied.

Up until Baez's shocking opening statements about the swimming pool, Casey Anthony had claimed her daughter was abducted by a babysitter. Multiple searches were conducted and, in December 2008, a former Orange County meter reader named Roy Kronk found Caylee's remains near her family home.

Throughout the day Friday, jurors watched nearly a dozen store surveillance videos of Anthony shopping in the weeks after Caylee died, and a number of other witnesses were called to the stand to corroborate testimony of previous witnesses. The only other witness of note was the fiancée of Anthony's older brother, Lee Anthony.

Mallory Parker testified to several mundane events, including a trip to downtown Orlando in July 2008, when she and Lee Anthony were attempting to locate his sister. However, during cross examination, when Baez asked Parker about the relationship between Casey Anthony and Caylee, the witness became emotional and broke down on the stand.

"It was awesome," Parker said. She said the two had a "very special" bond, which she described as "amazing."

Anthony is accused of multiple charges, including capital murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and misleading law enforcement. The prosecution seeks the death penalty.

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