“Wow.” Prosecutor Jeff Ashton mouthed the word of disbelief as the jury handed down its verdict in the Casey Anthony case last summer. He wasn’t alone at being stunned at hearing “not guilty” on the three felony counts.
I know I was among the many Orlando residents who had followed the case for three years who were left shaking their heads. Maybe Casey Anthony wasn’t guilty of first-degree murder of her toddler daughter Caylee, but surely she was responsible for Caylee’s death? But the jury didn’t connect the dots the way we had. Did we just think we knew more?
I’m still asking myself that after reading Ashton’s new book, Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony, written with Lisa Pulitzer. It’s a detailed account of the case against Casey from the insider’s point of view, and Ashton’s preaching to the choir as far as I’m concerned. Reading it all together in black-and-white — the initial 911 calls and conversations with law enforcement, the transcripts of jail house meetings and calls, the depositions, the expert testimony — reinforces what I had heard previously.
What was new are Ashton’s opinions, although he telegraphed his distaste for defense attorney Jose Baez throughout the trial. So, it’s not surprising to see Baez described as “smarmy” and compared to a character in My Fair Lady, “oozing charm from every pore / he oiled his way across the floor.” Casey’s mother Cindy Anthony comes across as the queen of denial in “a lethally toxic codependent relationship” with her daughter. Father George, whom Casey accused of sexually molesting her and of drowning Caylee in the family pool, appears to be a decent enough guy bewildered by tragedy.
As for Casey herself, she is an accomplished, habitual, fluent liar. She was constantly, boldly reinventing her story as circumstances forced her hand, one lie leading to another and another. Every now and then she would reach “the end of the hall” — as she did when she took investigators to her nonexistent workplace at Universal Studios — and was forced to admit something wasn’t true, but more lies would inevitably follow.
The jury found reasonable doubt with the prosecution’s case. The duct tape didn’t work for them as the smoking gun.
Ashton writes: “Part of interpreting a crime scene is eliminating things that don’t make sense. You hope to convince jurors to use their common sense as well. So is there any reason someone would put duct tape over the nose and mouth of a dead child? … People don’t make accidents look like murder unless they are covering something up.”
Still, he didn’t buy duct tape on Caylee’s nose and mouth as some sort of cover-up. The only reason that made sense to him was that it was placed there to keep her from breathing — “premeditation, plain and simple.”
But very little is plain and simple about the Casey Anthony case except that a beautiful little girl died in unknown circumstances. We may speculate that it was murder or an accident, but we’ll never know. Casey Anthony is a convicted liar, and any scenario she outlines and/or details will always be suspect.
Open Book: I’m still conflicted that I watched the Casey Anthony trial, the biggest reality show in town. Maybe because it was local, because I knew many of the print and broadcast reporters covering the trial, because the judge shops at my Publix, because George Anthony was a security guard at the Sentinel when I worked there. Maybe it’s because I’m still a newsie. The publisher sent me a copy of Imperfect Justice by Jeff Ashton (William Morrow). Now I don’t want to hear or read anymore about this sad story. I think.