‘Gamesmanship’ Leads to Sudden Halt in Casey Anthony Trial

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Red Huber / Reuters / Pool

Lead defense attorney Jose Baez starts his defense of Casey Anthony during day 20 of her first-degree murder trial at the Orange County Courthouse, in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2011.

Hats off to Belvin Perry, the judge in the Casey Anthony trial, for trying to keep things moving along. It’s just too bad he had to grind it to a halt to do so.

As the trial entered day 23 of testimony, things got off to a slow, jerky start that concluded with Perry dismissing the jurors and scolding lawyers on both sides. Prosecutor Jeff Ashton and defense lawyer Jose Baez bickered about legal issues for about 25 minutes when Judge Perry finally asked the two men to look at the clock and tell him the time. Ashton said it was 9:25; Baez, 9:26.

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“That shows that the two of you will never agree on anything,” Perry scolded, “or ever interpret things the same way.” Let’s set aside for the minute that the U.S. legal system is an adversarial system, meaning that by design, prosecutors and defense lawyers aren’t supposed to agree on much, Perry had a solid point. Ashton and Baez, to Judge Perry’s chagrin, have been arguing over issues Perry felt should have been addressed before court, not in front of the jury.

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Perry’s frustration comes after having to dismiss the jury twice on Friday to meet with attorneys from both sides. In between bouts of the jury shuffling in and out of the courtroom, Dr. Tim Huntington, the defense’s bug expert, showed poster-size photos of maggots feeding on a pig in the trunk of a car to refute previous bug testimony for the prosecution. On Saturday, Dr. Werner Spitz, a longtime autopsy expert, testified that the duct tape applied to Caylee Anthony’s skull was, “a later event, not an early event.” He testified that the tape was likely applied after decomposition.

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If the jury believes Spitz’s expertise, it would be a huge blow for the prosecution’s theory, which hinges on the duct tape as the final murder weapon they say Anthony used to smother her daughter. But for now, the defense has problems of its own. Perry warned that further “gamesmanship” could result in a mistrial, requiring the entire case to restart. For now, Perry told the lawyers to prepare for 8:30 starts, full Saturdays and shorter lunch breaks. Perry, and the rest of us, will find out how compliant they will be bright and early Tuesday morning.

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