In Imperfect Justice, the first book by a participant in the Casey Anthony trial, retired prosecutor Jeff Ashton calls the claim that Caylee was abused and drowned a ‘nuclear lie,’ attacks defense attorney Jose Baez as ‘underhanded,’ and says he would have left the death penalty off the table.
Jeff Ashton and defense attorney Jose Baez quarreled frequently in court, and Ashton makes no apologies in his book. “There is an unearned air of arrogance about the man that is incredibly frustrating to witness,” Ashton says of Baez. “The word I used in describing Jose is smarmy: somebody who is slick, underhanded and doesn’t shoot straight.” He goes on to accuse Baez of pulling surprise witnesses and lying to Casey Anthony’s parents in an attempt to turn them against the prosecution.
The Death Penalty, in Retrospect
After Anthony was found not guilty, some criticized State Attorney Lawson Lamar’s decision to pursue the death penalty. Ashton defends Lamar’s decision, saying he decided to give the jury the option to pursue a death sentence only after they saw the baby’s remains and the aggravating circumstances of the painful death the remains indicated. Still, Ashton says he doubted the jury would pursue it. “Personally, I think I would have been happier if the death penalty had not been reintroduced into the case, even though on some level I think Casey may have deserved it. Simply put, I just didn’t think the jury would go there.”
The defense went through several versions of Anthony’s story, and Ashton was more incredulous about each one. Months before the trial, the defense went from saying Caylee had been abducted by a stranger to claiming she had drowned in the pool—and had been drowned by Casey’s father, George. “I thought it was a complete crock of crap,” says Ashton. “What was shocking was not that she had a new lie, but that this lie contained the combination of Caylee drowning and Casey blaming George. We had considered both separately, but we had never thought she’d put them together in the same story.”
The Problematic Abuse Defense
The new story contained the additional twist that George had sexually abused Casey, and that Caylee had drowned while George was abusing her. The defense called two therapists as witnesses to support the story, and they explained Casey’s version in great detail—including her suspicion that she was drugged the night of Caylee’s death, and that George’s upper body was wet when he brought Caylee’s body into her room, leading her to believe he had held Caylee under water. “That was the bombshell,” says Ashton, calling the story “the nuclear lie.” But Casey had told one of the therapists after she was first arrested that George had never molested her, and tests that the therapists performed at the time showed no sign of trauma.
“I thought it was a complete crock of crap.”—Ashton on Caylee supposedly drowning.
Why the Evidence Never Came to Trial
As soon as the judge ruled that the prosecution had the right to have its own expert question Casey as well, the defense withdrew the witnesses. “No sooner had he dropped the 11th-hour witness on our doorstep than he whisked him away,” writes Ashton. Ashton says he suspects Baez’s plan was to get Casey’s story in front of the jury without having her testify.
Shortly after the defense pulled the witnesses, George and Cindy, Casey’s parents, issued a press release saying George had nothing to do with Caylee’s disappearance. Assuming the statement was in response to the allegations of abuse, Ashton visited George and Cindy, only to find that not only had they not been told of Casey’s inflammatory new charges, but that Baez had told them the state was investigating George in connection with Caylee’s death. “It was the cruelest thing I have ever seen an attorney do,” says Ashton. “The only strategy I could see was that he was trying to get them to refuse to cooperate with us, fearing the prosecution of George.”
The Rejected Plea Deal
Cheney Mason, an experienced attorney, had been brought on late in the case, and for the most part left it to Baez to continue running the defense. However, at one point Mason stepped in and tried to persuade Casey to take a plea deal. She could plead to second-degree murder for a sentence of 30 years, the prosecution said—and Ashton writes that Mason’s pushing her to take it showed he felt they were losing the case. But Casey stubbornly refused to take the deal. Mason said that every time he broached the subject she just stared at him blankly, as if she didn’t know what a plea was. So stubborn was she, in fact, that Mason requested she be examined for competency. She was found competent, and the trial went forward.