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Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthonyby Jeff Ashton
Jeff Ashton was part of the prosecution team in the Florida homicide trial of Casey Anthony, the single mother accused of murdering her little girl, Caylee. The most sensational courtroom drama since the infamous O.J. Simpson affair, the Casey Anthony trial had people coast-to-coast riveted. In his stunning true crime masterwork, Imperfect Justice, Ashton/b>… See more details below
Jeff Ashton was part of the prosecution team in the Florida homicide trial of Casey Anthony, the single mother accused of murdering her little girl, Caylee. The most sensational courtroom drama since the infamous O.J. Simpson affair, the Casey Anthony trial had people coast-to-coast riveted. In his stunning true crime masterwork, Imperfect Justice, Ashton gives a fascinating and impassioned insider’s account of the investigation, the trial, and the acquittal that shocked the nation, and makes a powerful case as to why allowing Anthony to walk free was a devastating travesty of justice.
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Meet the Author
Jeff Ashton recently retired from a thirty-year career as a prosecutor in Orlando, Florida. He is the most experienced homicide prosecutor in the history of Orange County and a veteran of more than seventy successful homicide prosecutions. He lives in Florida.
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Imperfect JusticeProsecuting Casey Anthony
By Jeff Ashton
William MorrowCopyright © 2011 Jeff Ashton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChapter One
Joining The Team
The Daily News Café in Orlando is your typical lunch spot. Bustling,
people shouting orders, good sandwiches no matter the day, no
matter the season, the counter is always packed and the food is
always exactly what you need. Located on Magnolia Avenue just a block
and a half from the courthouse, the Daily News has long been a staple for
Orlando's lawyers, and so perhaps it was fitting that my good friend and
colleague at the State Attorney's Office Linda Drane Burdick brought me
there one hot day in August 2008 to talk about the case that currently
had the entire legal community abuzz: the disappearance of a two- year- old
girl named Caylee Marie Anthony.
The Daily News Café was always crowded at lunchtime, so Linda and
I ordered at the counter and went to find a table, where we began to talk
about the details discovered to date. She was the chief of the sex crimes/
child abuse unit, and as such, the Caylee Anthony case had been in her lap
since the beginning. I, like everybody else in Orange County, Florida, had
been following the story in the newspaper, and I knew the broad strokes,
but there was a lot going on behind the scenes that I was unaware of.
Linda had been contacted about the case on July 16, 2008, as a result
of the child's grandmother calling 911 to report Caylee missing. When
the call came in, Caylee hadn't been seen in thirty-one days. the child's
mother, Casey Anthony, told investigators that she had been working at
Universal Studios, a local theme park, and Caylee had been staying with
various friends and nannies, in particular a twenty-five-year old woman
named Zenaida Fernandez Gonzalez. According to Casey, she had dropped
Caylee with the nanny on her way to work, but when she came back to get
her, both of them were gone and the phone had been disconnected. She
didn't report her daughter missing, but claimed that she had been searching
for her ever since. However, nothing Casey had told the police since the 911
call had proved true. As if the lies weren't bad enough, there was forensic
evidence from Casey's car that pointed not only to foul play, but to Casey's
In my thirty years as a prosecutor, I'd taken seventy homicide cases to
trial; all but two had returned guilty verdicts. I'd also prosecuted twelve
capital murder cases and won convictions in all of them. My record was
solid, but it was only one of the reasons Linda asked me to lunch that day.
In many of those convictions, the innovative use of forensic evidence was
where I'd distinguished myself. I had renowned expertise in scientific
evidence, and Linda thought my perspective and experience might be helpful.
As a prosecutor, I've always been interested in exploring how new scientific
techniques could be used to convict guilty suspects. In 1987 I successfully
prosecuted the first case in the world in which DNA evidence was used.
A man by the name of Tommy Lee Andrews had climbed through a window
and attacked a woman, slashing her with a box cutter and raping her repeatedly.
Andrews left a fingerprint on the window screen where he'd entered the
house, but since it was on the outside of the screen it was hard to connect
it to the crime. to positively ID the attacker, DNA was collected from both
semen in the rape kit and a sample of Andrews's blood, and it matched. the
jury accepted the new science and found him guilty, and the judge sentenced
him to prison. It was the kind of forensic evidence that was truly novel in a
criminal case, and that perspective was precisely what Linda needed.
For weeks before our lunch, Linda had been hinting about my joining
the prosecution team. I had mentored her since she'd joined the office
in 1989. We had worked together on many cases in the past, including a
cold case murder of a little girl that was solved by DNA. Linda was tough
and intense, with a big heart. I called her the marshmallow hand grenade.
Frank George, a ten-year veteran of the office, was already on board with
her, but as this shaped up to be a homicide, Linda wanted me on the team,
too. I was still the go-to man in forensics, and because the case against
Casey Anthony was developing with only circumstantial evidence, forensics
were going to be of critical importance.
The forensics at the forefront that day in August had to do with a nasty
odor and a nine-inch hair, both of which had been found in the trunk of
Casey's parents' Pontiac Sunfire, the car Casey had been driving the last
time she was seen with Caylee. A cadaver dog had alerted on the area and
reacted strongly when the trunk had been opened. Despite Casey's early
story that Caylee had been kidnapped, it was beginning to look a lot like a
Linda told me about the work of Dr. Arpad Vass, a forensic anthropologist
who was doing cutting-edge research in decomposition odor analysis.
Dr. Vass had examined some of the evidence from the trunk, and Linda
wanted me to call him to discuss his findings and see if his science could
be admissible. Linda was hoping to bring me into this case, and morsels of
forensics like this surely piqued my interest.
I was thrilled to be on Linda's short list, but before either of us could
begin to plan anything, office politics had to be negotiated. In 2002 I'd
been made a supervisor, leading the juvenile division of the State Attorney's
Office. the assignment was supposed to have been a promotion, but
I'd hated it. I missed trial work, and the following year I asked to return to
the felony trial branch. Even though I had founded the homicide division
in 1990, I was no longer a member of that department and could not move
back. Instead, I was now tucked away in the trial division, even though
I had twenty-eight years of service, an unblemished record, and a near
perfect conviction rate. After some difficulties with my supervisors, I'd
earned an unwarranted reprimand and been informed I was not a team
player. I became an overpaid desk ornament, doing trials I was way
Part of the problem was that there were two distinct camps in our office:
those who wanted every case that came across our desks to go to trial and
those who wanted to be more discriminating. those who thought that whoever
got arrested should get prosecuted didn't like my vociferous objection to
that policy. I was of the belief that we should choose the crimes that
warranted prosecution and prosecute them appropriately, without buckling to
public pressure. We shouldn't just rubber stamp what the people who had the
case before us had done; we needed to look at the merits of every case to determine
if a crime had been committed before we prosecuted it. I honestly think
that State Attorney Lamar Lawson, who headed our whole office, agreed with
me, but the people below him supported the "prosecute all" philosophy.
Maybe I was too abrasive in my conviction and rubbed those on the
other side the wrong way. For whatever reason, my successful record as a
prosecutor seemed to have been overshadowed by my beliefs. the political
players in the office clearly wanted me buried, and so I was. Nevertheless,
the 120 trial lawyers on staff still held me in the highest regard, and most
important, one of those was Linda Drane Burdick.
From the time I was eight years old, I'd had the makings of a lawyer.
When I was in fourth grade my grandmother and my great-aunt Thelma
were visiting us in Saint Petersburg. After a spirited discussion on some
topic, Thelma said to me, "You should be a lawyer."
"I think I'd like that," I responded. there weren't many cowboys in Florida,
and my friends had already cornered the careers of firemen and cops.
I am a Florida boy, born and raised in the great Sunshine State. I was
delivered to Barbara and Richard Ashton on October 3, 1957, in Saint Petersburg,
a west coast town on a peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of
Mexico. At the time, Saint Pete was a retirement mecca for Midwesterners,
so my family didn't quite fit the mold. Mom was an active homemaker, and
Dad was working as a CPA. My parents had met at Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base, ten miles north of Dayton, where my mother had an office job
and my father was a lieutenant in the air force.
I grew up in a neighborhood of typical middle class homes, in a modest
three bedroom ranch on a small lake, with my three sisters: Cindy, the
oldest by twenty-one months; Judy, three years younger than I; and Barb,
another three years behind her. I was an underachiever in school, but got
through the public school system reasonably well. I don't think I would have
been classified as a nerd, but I was on the nerd cusp not good at sports
and a member of the drama club. Oddly enough, while in the drama club,
I performed in a play with Angela Bassett that's right, the actress. She
was a year behind me at Boca Ciega High School, and a very sweet girl.
If that wasn't accomplishment enough, I also captained our High-Q team,
which participated in a local TV quiz bowl. Thirty- two teams competed in
single elimination matches over the school year. We won that year Go,
Pirates! Okay, maybe I was a full-on nerd.
In 1975 I graduated from high school in the respectable upper middle
of my class and enrolled at Saint Petersburg Junior College. I started studying
philosophy and logic and found it intriguing. I even made some money
tutoring in those subjects. For my junior year, I transferred to the University
of Florida in Gainesville and graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy in 1978.
My father, the accountant, was always nagging me to take business classes,
but I wouldn't hear of it. I didn't like numbers. I liked rational argument and
thoughtful discourse. I wanted to be an intellectual. As it turned out, I was
the only one in my family who did not go into some aspect of accounting.
I finished my undergraduate degree in three years, going to school summers
and taking tests for college credit without classes. I didn't know I was
allowed to have fun in college. My father never told me that he had been
anything less than studious when he was an undergraduate. It was only later,
too late for me to follow in his footsteps, that I found out he had quite enjoyed
the college life, drank his share, and played poker for spending money. I don't
know why I was in such a rush to complete school, but I kept up the break-neck
pace at the University of Florida Law School, completing my J.D. degree
in two and a half years. I was even fast tracking my personal life. Halfway
through law school, I married my high school friend and college sweetheart,
Amy Brotman. We went on to have two wonderful sons, Adam and Jonathan.
Sadly, the marriage didn't last and we split up after eight years.
right out of law school, I was hired by the State Attorney's Office in
Orlando and assigned to the area from which many successful prosecutors
have been launched the traffic division. My buddy Ted Cullen and I
shared an office in an old building that used to house the Federal District
Court. We were a block from the main office, so we were relatively
unsupervised. We weren't above a good natured prank or two. Our favorite was
waiting until someone was on the phone, and then taping the receiver to his
head. I did do serious work, too. I had a chance to prosecute some drunk
driving cases, and I actually got my first taste of scientific evidence when I
was doing hearings on the admissibility of Breathalyzer machines.
After eleven months, I moved to a misdemeanor branch, which was
out in the western part of the county. Seven months after that I transferred
to the felony prosecution division. My father had been somewhat relieved
when I went to law school, but he absolutely loved it when I became a
prosecutor. My parents were living two hours away, but even then, they would
occasionally make the trip to Orlando to watch me in trial.
In 1983 I prosecuted my first murder case and won. two years later, I
tried my first death penalty case. the victim was a businessman with a wife
and children who took "business trips" to a local gay resort called the Parliament
House. On one visit he hooked up with the wrong young man. When
they got back to the hotel room, the young man slit his throat and robbed
him. the jury convicted the defendant and then recommended the death
penalty, which the judge imposed. Before the state could execute him, he
hung himself in his prison cell.
Excerpted from Imperfect Justice by Jeff Ashton Copyright © 2011 by Jeff Ashton. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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