As part of the prosecution team for the most talked about trial in recent memory, attorney Jeff Ashton gained unique insight into Casey Anthony’s personality. On July 5th 2011, Ms. Anthony was found not guilty of all murder charges relating to the death of her daughter Caylee.
Numerous commentators and followers of the trial believed it was a slam dunk that Ms. Anthony would be found guilty. Many individuals posting on the Internet and calling into various talk shows shared their anger and frustration with the jury’s verdict.
Lots of people still have questions about the case, as well as dealing with something of a lack of closure regarding three year old Caylee’s death. Former prosecutor Jeff Ashton works at giving answers in his new book, Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony.
Below are some of the highlights from Mr. Ashton’s CYInterview. We discuss many of the important events surrounding the trial. However, if you really want to learn about the multifaceted Casey Anthony trial and its aftermath, listen to the complete audio.
Listen to the entire Jeff Ashton CYInterview:
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Attorney Jeff Ashton opens up by explaining that he hopes Imperfect Justice will be the closure for everyone who was not happy with the decision of the jury, in addition to providing answers to their questions:
“What I’m trying to say to people is, here’s everything we know about the case, here’s as much truth as I can give you. Here’s an understanding of how the system works and I think that they need to understand that to kind of not accept the result, but at least try to understand it as best as it can be understood and then to get some closure and move on with it, move on with their lives.
And you know, the amount of anger that I was seeing out there after the verdict concerned me ‘cause I mean you know, frustration and all those things are understandable, but the last thing I ever want to see is anybody do anything or respond angrily to a juror or to defense counsel or to the defendant or anything like that. So I’m hoping that this will give people a way of kind of closing on it and dealing with it and moving on.”
After Ms. Anthony was found not guilty, some people voiced hopes that something bad would happen to her, since they believed she was responsible for the death of Caylee. Recently, there were reports of death threats against her. Attorney Ashton says this type of reaction is alarming. He hopes people will move on and resolve to save other children’s lives.
“It’s alarming. It’s not something that I ever want to see come out of a criminal case. And you know, some people I think just at some point got to, they took it too personally, it became too personal. For a lot of people I think Caylee became personal. And that’s a real tribute to the memory of that little girl, but there’s a point where you have to say, well let’s step back from this. The system operated in a certain way, we don’t agree with it, but it’s time to just accept it and move on to find ways you know to protect the next Caylee.”
Why were many people so emotionally invested in a murder trial that had no direct impact on their lives? Jeff Ashton explains:
“I think it probably started out with the fact that the original report was that Caylee was missing. I think if on July the 16th the story had been Caylee Anthony found dead, this would have not been the kind of story it was. But I think the fact that she was missing captured the imagination of so many people in hopes that she would be found. That’s what everybody always thinks…You add that to the mother’s inexplicable attitude toward her disappearance, that the whole 31 days with doing nothing and not reporting it and that sort of adds to everyone’s sort of curiosity. They just want to know how is it possible for a mother to do this kind of thing.
So you put those together, it’s like, it’s the perfect combination, a perfect recipe for people to really get involved in the case. And I think that happened here. And of course you throw in you know, I refer to them as the infotainers who kind of used this case as a way of upping their ratings and inflaming passions and things like that.”
After the trial, one of the jurors spoke out and said the prosecution didn’t show them how Caylee died. Ashton stated in his book, ‘The jurors had to put the pieces together and apply some common sense to the notion of how people do and don’t act. This jury was not willing to do that, so in a sense we lost before we started.’ Jeff explains why the jury couldn’t put the pieces together and find Casey Anthony guilty, when it seemed everything was stacked against her.
“I’m not sure what the jury’s attitude or take was on Casey’s actions during that 31 days. You know, I don’t. To me, I think to most people, pretty persuasive of the fact that this wasn’t an accident. But the jury seemed to only want to look at medical evidence for proof of that issue and that I think was ultimately where why the verdict came out is because they were limiting that view on that issue only to medical evidence. And if we couldn’t prove to them medically how she died than they weren’t really willing to look at other evidence to make that determination and that’s what our case was based on.
It was based on the circumstances and the actions and the concept of common sense. I don’t know how the jury, if the jury actually felt it was reasonable that somebody would respond to an accidental drowning by you know putting duct tape over the face, wrapping them in a garbage bag and throwing them in the swamp. That seemed to me to be unreasonable, but perhaps the jury didn’t think so…I just can’t think of anything we could’ve said that would have gotten the jury to open their minds to the proof of these issues from a variety of sources. “
In his book, the Florida attorney provides a detailed view of Casey’s parents, George and Cindy. Former prosecutor Ashton describes Casey’s mother as someone who was in denial when it came to the actions of her daughter.
“I think Cindy really wanted in a sense, wanted to be lied to. You know, she wanted to accept whatever Casey was saying. I mean, you know, a normal person wouldn’t have gone for thirty days without seeing her granddaughter. You know it wouldn’t have taken a car that smelled like a dead body to get her moving, but that’s what it took for Cindy. Cindy would rather take whatever story Casey told her no matter how ridiculous it was and run with it rather than facing the truth.”
Ashton explains why he believes Caylee Anthony became less of the focal point during the trial as many in the media switched gears and focused on Casey Anthony and the murder charges she faced:
“That’s just a natural thing that happens in trials. It just is. I mean, as much as we as prosecutors try to keep the jury’s focus on the humanity of the individual, you know eventually the case just becomes about the defendant and you hope that whatever images o f the victim that you were able to get before the jury stays with them. We really hoped that Caylee and a concern for her and a concern for the truth about what happened to her would you know, make the journey want to put the work in to try to find the truth and just apparently we didn’t reach them on that level.”
There were a lot of questions during Casey Anthony’s trial regarding her defense attorney Jose Baez. There was discussion of some of his statements, that were defined as accusations and allegations without any concrete facts or evidence to back them up. Mr. Ashton says Mr. Baez was a good salesman with the jury and reviews the defense’s case.
“He’s a good salesman and I think that’s basically what a salesman does. You make, you put a shine on the car you’re trying to sell and hope that no one looks beneath the hood. And that’s very much what this defense was. It was shiny on the outside, but if you asked more than a couple of questions about it, it fell apart. I mean, the whole idea of you know somebody taking a body, a child that died by accident and hiding it from somebody you know on the surface sounds like oh maybe.
But then you go, wait a minute, how would you actually ever do that, you know. And why would you do that. Why would you think that you could do that…It’s that kind of like sound byte mentality, something that sounds good for a 30 second sound byte, but then when you actually subject it to analysis, it falls apart…This jury was sold and wanted to be sold.”
I asked Lawyer Ashton if he thought Ms. Anthony might end up having further legal troubles in her life. This was his prediction on her future:
“I think Casey’s probably bigger danger in her life is ending up on the wrong side of someone that she’s lied to. I think that would be, if I wanted to guess on how she’s gonna end up, it would be that she’s gonna lie to somebody and they’re not gonna take it very well and they’re not gonna go to the police. But yeah it’s hard to predict what will happen with someone else. I mean, really I can say for sure about Casey is that Casey will continue to lie to people. That’s the thing I’m sure about.”
Comparisons between the OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony murder trials are inevitable. Jeff talks about the comparison:
“Both of them in their own way were heavily forensic scientific cases. I think they had very different challenges in that case than our case. And I had the pleasure of meeting Marcia Clark two weeks ago when I was out in L.A. and she actually told me which really surprised me that they didn’t expect to win that case. So I guess that’s a big difference is we really did. We thought we were doing good…
It’s also an interesting comparison between sort of the trial of the television century and the trial of the Internet century. And I think this case really showed how things have changed with the advent of the Internet. I mean, hundreds of thousands of people had the ability to know everything about this case from the Internet. Every single piece of information was right out there and I think that’s a huge difference in the way people address criminal cases.”
Mr. Ashton talked about meeting OJ Simpson prosecutor, Marcia Clark and compares the trials:
“I felt like we were having a meeting of the loser’s club. It was amazing though. It’s you know, the amazing is that the reasons why her case and my case were huge were so completely different. I mean, her case was huge because of the defendant because of his notoriety and who he was and our case was really huge because of the facts and what happened and who the victim was. So it was pretty interesting meeting her.”
In 1987, Jeff Ashton says he was an attorney in the first case in the United States where DNA evidence was used, in State of Florida vs. Tommy Lee Andrews. He said it might be the first trial in the world that used DNA evidence, but he’s not sure. Before the trial of Casey Anthony, then prosecutor Ashton had only had two trials with not guilty verdicts.
“That was in the state of Florida in 1987 in a case called State of Florida vs. Tommy Lee Andrews. It was the first one in the United States and interesting enough, it probably was the first one in the world. Though I’ve never gotten the exact date of it, there was a case in England that was around the same period of time. I think it was a week or so after. So it may be the first in the world, at least surely the first in the U.S.”
A fun fact for everyone out there, Jeff Ashton went to high school with actress Angela Bassett where they acted in a play together. Some will recall my CYInterview with Ms. Bassett back in 2008 [see here]. Ashton recalls the Hollywood veteran.
“Actually I don’t recall what it was we were in. I was a senior. She was a junior. I just recall her as a friend being a very, very nice person. She was a cheerleader, you know homecoming court. One of those people that everybody wanted to be around. But just being very unassuming, very nice. And when I started, she went off to Yale after college I knew that she would be successful. But every time I see her on TV or in the movies or on stage, I’m just proud. You know she’s just – ‘cause she came from very, very modest surroundings. I think she was raised by a single mom in a not great part of St. Petersburg [Florida]. So you know she really is a credit to the fact that with the right support you can overcome anything, but yeah, every time I see her I just smile.”
There were a lot of followers of the Casey Anthony trial who were concerned about any profiting off the death of Caylee. With the writing of his book, Mr. Ashton says he didn’t have many concerns:
“I know there are people that, most people I’ve talked to sort of are angry about the possibility of the defendant or the defense counsel profiting from them because they feel like they’re dancing on Caylee’s grave. I haven’t gotten a whole lot of hostility about my book. But you know if there are people out there that don’t like the fact that I’m telling the story and that people are profiting from it, I understand that, I respect their opinion. That’s their opinion. Publishers don’t print books for free and you know I could not have spent the last four months writing this book if I wasn’t making money for it. So I don’t apologize to people for it. Not at all.”
Finally, some states have proposed Caylee’s Law, which would make it a felony for a parent not to report a missing child after 24 hours. Jeff gives his thoughts on the law and his ideas on a better solution:
“The whole issue of the Caylee’s Law to criminalize, I’m not sure that that’s really that helpful. I mean, this incident is one that is so unusual. I just don’t know that it’s gonna to be a kinda law that’s going to be applied a lot and of course there are also some I think constitutional problems with it. I mean to require someone to report a missing child potentially if that person has done something criminal in relation to that, well that’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment. So there are all those issues.
I do like some laws that I’ve heard of that are being suggested about making it a felony to lie in reference to a missing child. That I think is potentially something that could be good for society to you know to make it a little bit more serious to lie about a missing child than it would be to lie about you know a drunk driving case or a check being stolen. So I think that’s probably a step in the right direction.”
You can purchase a copy and find more information about Jeff Ashton’s book Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony here.
You can email Chris Yandek at ChrisYandek@CYInterview.com