ORLANDO, Fla (Reuters) - Prosecutors have buried Casey Anthony's defense team under such a mountain of circumstantial evidence that at least one legal observer thinks the Florida mother might take the stand to deny killing her 2-year-old daughter.
"I wouldn't be shocked if Casey Anthony testified," former Los Angeles federal prosecutor Marcellus McRae told Reuters. Although the strategy would be risky for the defense, McRae said, "it may be the only option they have."
McRae is one of hundreds of thousands of people glued nationwide to the sensational first-degree murder trial of Casey Anthony, a 25-year-old single mother from the Orlando area whose daughter Caylee was reported missing in July 2008 and found dead five months later.
The trial, now in its fourth week, began with prosecutors asserting Casey smothered Caylee with duct tape on June 16, 2008, drove around with the body in her car trunk for several days, then dumped the remains in woods near her family's home.
Prosecution witnesses have detailed for jurors Casey's web of lies -- including blaming a fictitious nanny for kidnapping her daughter -- and introduced novel scientific evidence such as an air sample from Casey's trunk that an expert said signaled human decomposition.
David Grauman, an Orlando lawyer who provides daily radio commentary on the trial, described the prosecution's case as methodical and overwhelming.
"They've been so thorough that any attempts by (defense attorney) Jose Baez or the defense team to discredit their witnesses, impeach their witnesses, has been for the most part ineffective," Grauman said.
Several court observers told Reuters they felt prosecutors had successfully undermined the defense's theory of the case.
DEFENSE CLAIMS COULD BACKFIRE
In his opening statement, Baez told the jury Caylee accidentally drowned in the backyard pool at the home she and her mother shared with Casey's parents, George and Cindy Anthony. Baez said no one reported the death.
He also claimed Casey had been sexually abused at a young age by her father and suggested George was somehow involved with the disposal of his granddaughter's body -- allegations George denied under oath.
Legal experts said Baez's version of events was effectively refuted by videotapes of Cindy and George Anthony visiting Casey in jail at a time when most people thought Caylee was missing, not dead.
During one visit, Casey reassured George that he had been the best father and grandfather to her and Caylee.
"I think when you saw George Anthony on the tapes in the jailhouse, that didn't look like a guy who knew what was going on," said Leslie Garfield, a professor of criminal law at Pace Law School in White Plains, New York.
During another visit, Cindy told Casey there was a rumor that Caylee had drowned. Casey dismissed the idea, saying, "Surprise, surprise."
Her statement "completely contradicts some of these potential lifelines that they were trying to cast out to salvage the defense," said McRae.
With prosecutors indicating they expect to wrap up their presentation this week, the defense will finally get its turn to try and rebut the testimony so far.
But McRae said unless the defense has a surprise witness, Casey seems to be the one person who could explain her attorney's claims about the drowning and sexual abuse.
"If Casey Anthony is the only hope that Casey Anthony has to get an acquittal, you have to look and see that the deck is heavily stacked in favor of the prosecution at this point," McRae said.
Susan Constantine agrees. The body language expert and jury consultant has watched the trial in person, carefully studying facial expressions and body movements by Casey and jurors.
When prosecutors displayed a close-up photograph of Caylee's skull, Constantine said Casey breathed high in her chest and balled her fist so tight her knuckles turned white.
"I saw fear and worry. She was having a panic attack," Constantine told Reuters. Casey's nose also crinkled up several times "which is recalling an odor, recalling something that was disgusting to her."
Though there are likely weeks to go in the trial, Constantine thinks the verdict is already in.
"In my opinion, they've already decided guilt," Constantine said. "They've got her number. They're just tying up all the forensic details."