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Pinellas jurors begin deliberating in Casey Anthony murder trial

ORLANDO — The fate of Casey Anthony is now being decided by five men and seven women from Pinellas County.

Their moment finally arrived just after noon Monday when they began deliberations in the intensely watched case of the young Orlando mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter in the summer of 2008.

"We spent two weeks in Clearwater looking for people who would see the forest for the trees," Assistant State Attorney Linda Drane Burdick told the jury.

Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. believed it would be easier to pick an impartial jury from outside Central Florida — where the death of toddler Caylee Anthony had become a local obsession — and then bring them back to Orlando for the trial.

The jury was picked in Pinellas six weeks ago. Jurors haven't been home since. They've been sequestered together in an undisclosed Orlando hotel, living together and listening together as the state and defense argued their cases.

They had not yet reached a decision when the judge sent them back to the hotel at shortly after 6 p.m.

Monday was the first time since jury selection started May 9 — 56 days ago — that the Pinellas dozen could finally talk about the case among themselves.

And earlier that morning, the prosecution gave them plenty to talk about.

Prosecutors began closing arguments Sunday morning. Then, attorney Jose Baez wrapped up the defense's case before court broke for the evening.

He reiterated points he made in his opening back in May: that the little girl's death was an accidental drowning that "snowballed out of control" as her dysfunctional family panicked and tried to cover it up.

His client wasn't being just being prosecuted with scant physical evidence, Baez argued, but persecuted.

"They want you to fill in the gaps with your anger," Baez said on Sunday.

When the state gave its rebuttal Monday morning, one of the prosecution's first points was this: Who doesn't call 911 for help after finding a child in the pool? The first call to police actually came a month after Caylee's disappearance from a distraught grandmother.

Then the state hammered home its theory: Casey Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape and dumped her body in a swamp because being a mother had become a burden. She just wanted to party with her new boyfriend, the state argued, which is exactly what she did after Caylee's disappearance (both sides now agree she was actually dead) in July 2008. Then the mother repeatedly lied to investigators.

"When you hear Casey Anthony, two words come to mind," Burdick said. "Pathological liar."

Then, to emphasize how Casey Anthony spent her days after Caylee's death, the prosecutor placed two images on the courtroom screen.

"Why was Caylee Anthony left dead on the side of a road?" Burdick asked the jury.

One photo was of a tattoo the state says Casey Anthony got on the back of her left shoulder after her daughter's death: "Bella Vita," — Italian for "life is beautiful."

The other photo showed the mother out dancing with friends in a blue dress.

Anthony faces several felony charges, including aggravated child abuse and giving false information about a missing person. But the most serious charge is first-degree murder, which can carry a death sentence.

If she is found guilty of that charge, the court will take a 48-hour break before beginning the penalty phase. Then these same jurors must decide whether a 25-year-old mother should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Five alternate jurors from Pinellas County aren't taking part in jury deliberations. They were separated from the deciding group but have not yet been released from jury duty.

Prosecutor Jeff Ashton told the jurors that even if they believed that the mother didn't intend to kill her daughter — perhaps she just used the duct tape to silence the girl; perhaps she just used chloroform to put the child to sleep — they can still find her guilty of aggravated child abuse.

But if the jury finds the mother guilty of that, the prosecutor argued, then they must also convict her of murder under the felony murder statute. Under that law, a person can be held responsible for a death that occurs during the commission of another crime.

"Regardless of how you put the facts together, the result should be the same," Ashton said. "Casey Anthony is guilty of first-degree murder."

Jury deliberations will resume at 8:30 a.m. today.

Pinellas jurors begin deliberating in Casey Anthony murder trial 07/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 4, 2011 11:30pm]
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