Casey Anthony – Battle of the Criminal Justice Experts

As the Casey Anthony trial moves through day 29, jurors have been subjected to the sometimes conflicting, often confusing testimony of scientific experts who are trying to either prove the prosecution’s case or poke holes in it so the defense has grounds for reasonable doubt.  The latest to take the stand was chemistry professor, Dr. Kenneth Furton, who claims that the state’s decomposition expert used a flawed technique to determine time of death.

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Anthony is currently facing a first degree murder charge (and a possible death sentence if convicted) following the discovery of her child’s body on December 11, 2008.  Two year old Caylee was found by meter reader, Roy Kronk, in a wooded area near the family’s Orlando home.  Caylee had been reported missing six months prior to that.  The prosecution is alleging that Anthony suffocated her daughter deliberately; however, defense is trying to prove that the child accidentally drowned in the family pool.

The trial was put on hold this weekend as three psychologists examined Casey Anthony after the defense filed a motion that the defendant was mentally incapable of continuing with the trial.  Following the examination, the judge ruled that Anthony could proceed and the defense resumed presenting its case to the jury.  Defense attorneys have used a number of experts similar to Dr. Furton to raise reasonable doubt and/or completely disprove the theories set forth by the prosecution.

In cases like the Anthony murder trial, it is not uncommon for both the prosecution and the defense to use the services of forensic scientist, chemists, and other experts in which to put forth their theories of the crime.  When the victim has been missing for several weeks or months, most of the case in such a hearing hinges on the testimony of expert witnesses.

Expert witnesses are often called in when there is no eye witness testimony or when there is conflicting theories of a crime.  An expert witness is one that has superior knowledge or skills in a certain area or discipline.  In the Anthony trial, chemistry expert, Dr. Furton, is claiming that the state’s theory of decomposition in the case is flawed.  Furton stated, “It’s my expert opinion that there’s currently no instrumental method that has been scientifically validated to the level that it could be used to identify the presence or absence of human decomposition.”  Therefore, he is challenging the state’s position reference time of death and locations the child’s body may have been stored.

In order to become a forensic chemist, a person must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, or Forensic Science Degre; however, many agencies are requiring a master’s or higher degree.  Additionally, they must have the ability to work under a variety of conditions.  Forensic chemists work for both the public and private sector (either attached to a law enforcement agency or prosecution’s office or as an expert witness for defense attorneys).  The average salary is between $50,000 and $95,000 annually depending on agency and geographic location.