By Mike Schneider Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. — A retired prosecutor from the Casey Anthony murder trial calls her lead attorney “smarmy” in a new book and says he didn’t think a jury would ever agree to the death penalty for the Florida mother, who was ultimately acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter.
Jeff Ashton writes in Tuesday’s “Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony” that he would have been happier if the prosecution team had left the death penalty off the table. He also confirmed that toward the end of the trial, Anthony’s attorneys tried to persuade the 25-year-old to accept a plea deal but she refused to listen.
“Personally, I think I would have been happier if the death penalty had not been reintroduced into the case, even though I think on some level I think Casey may have deserved it,” Ashton said in the 324-page book. “Simply put, I just didn’t think the jury would go there.”
As it turns out, Anthony refusal to accept a deal paid off. Jurors in July acquitted her in the killing of her daughter, Caylee, and she was released from prison, though she is in hiding somewhere in Florida, serving probation for an unrelated check fraud case.
Ashton’s book is the first account written by one of the key players in the trial that captured the attention of the nation last summer. The 54-year-old career prosecutor retired as planned after the trial, following 30 years of trying cases.
The film and television rights for the book have already been bought by Fox Television Studios, studio spokeswoman Leslie Oren said. The project is being developed for the Lifetime cable network.
In the book, Ashton takes direct aim at Anthony’s defense attorneys, specifically Jose Baez, whom he says he genuinely dislikes. He said Baez was careless with the facts, unmindful of deadlines and encouraged Anthony to be uncooperative with detectives searching for her daughter.
“There is an unearned air of arrogance about the man that is incredibly frustrating to witness,” Ashton writes. “The word I used in describing Jose is smarmy: somebody who is slick, underhanded and doesn’t shoot straight.”
Baez said in a statement that Ashton’s characterizations were false.
“Having read several of the comments Mr. Ashton makes in his new book, I am both surprised and somewhat disappointed he has chosen to attack me on a personal level,” Baez said. “Without going into specific detail, I will say only that many of his accusations are absolutely false.”
Ashton also displays an unflattering view of the jurors. He wrote they seemed to give a lot of thought and discussion to which movies they wanted to watch or which restaurants to go to while they were sequestered. Yet no juror asked a single question about the evidence during deliberation.
“From the moment our jury had been fielded … we’d had concerns over their apparent absence of strong opinions as well as over the amount of effort they seemed willing to expend on this,” Ashton writes. “In retrospect, I think those concerns were justified.”
Three jurors gave television interviews immediately after the verdict, but they have since refused to talk to reporters about the case.
Ashton said people who disagreed with the acquittal and still think Anthony was guilty should leave her alone and ignore her, in hopes she’ll fade from the public memory.
“My advice to people who are angry about this is to ignore Casey, and I hope that’s what they do,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday.
“I hope that someday, and I know this probably won’t happen, the name Casey Anthony will invoke a ‘who’s that?”’
The book, for the first time, also discloses the results of two psychological evaluations taken of Anthony.
Two defense psychologists who did the evaluations never testified. But Anthony told the psychologists that she was sexually abused by her father, Ashton wrote.
As part of their defense, Anthony’s attorneys said Caylee drowned in the family swimming pool, and that her father, a former police officer, helped cover it up.
Anthony’s partying and shopping during the month before her daughter was reported missing was caused in part by her father’s sexual abuse, according to the defense theory. Her father, George Anthony, repeatedly denied those claims in court and afterward.
One psychologist expressed apprehension about his evaluation being used to support that defense theory, Ashton writes, especially since Anthony had scored in a normal range on a test designed to discover mental disorders. The other psychologist gave Anthony a battery of tests to diagnose stress from trauma such as sexual molestation. The tests didn’t support the theory that she had been molested, Ashton writes.
A few weeks before trial, prosecutors met with George Anthony, and his wife, Cindy, to give them a heads-up about the molestation accusations that the defense planned to use at trial.
“George looked like he had been crying, like someone had just killed Caylee all over again,” Ashton writes. “He was just devastated.”
More than six months after she disappeared, a meter reader found Caylee’s remains in a swampy, wooded area near where she lived with her mother and granDeutsche Presse-Agenturrents. Ashton said in the book that law enforcement and volunteers never examined that area until Roy Kronk reported seeing the remains there in December 2008.
“In the end, Murphy’s Law prevailed: everyone assumed that someone else had searched there, but in fact no one actually had,” Ashton writes. “Everyone, including law enforcement, assumed that the most obvious place had to have been combed and given the all clear — which just proves the adage about what happens when you assume. Everybody ends up looking like and ass and a nation spent an extra four months searching around the country for a lost little girl who was a quarter mile from home.”
A spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the lead agency investigating Caylee’s disappearance and death, said Monday that pinpointing a place to search for the toddler was challenging.
“Mr. Ashton, as part of the prosecution team, was well aware of the difficulties in establishing a starting point,” Capt. Angelo Nieves said. “Casey Anthony told numerous lies to law enforcement throughout the investigation concerning her daughter’s whereabouts.”