Thursday Reviews: Imperfect Justice by Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer

Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony

Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer

I didn’t watch the Casey Anthony trial when it was on television. In fact, I spent most of the media circus almost unaware of it. I was too busy looking for work and watching the History Channel (back when they still showed, yanno, history). But I do remember the night of the verdict when I flipped on Headline News and was treated to a shrill Nancy Grace at her most self-righteous and self-important. So coming into this and getting my introduction to it from a pompous talking head, I became one of maybe six people in America actually sympathetic to Casey Anthony. That lasted about a day. I can’t vouch for the other five.

When I came up to speed on the case, I was left with the impression that this is possibly the stupidest parent to ever walk the face of the Earth. And I’ve known some real winners in that sweepstakes.

Jeff Ashton, one of the three unlucky prosecutors to go after Anthony, details the case in his book, Imperfect Justice. Ashton is a forensics expert who pioneered the use of DNA as evidence. He was not the lead prosecutor on the case but brought in as forensics was all they had to determine what happened to 2-year-old Caley Anthony. Her body had not even been found when her mother was arrested.

What emerges is a portrait in narcissism. Even before the book, Casey Anthony was the most hated woman in America. After anyone reads this, they can rest assured her position is safe. This is a woman so self-absorbed that she was offended her own mother asked about her daughter’s whereabouts for a month before she said Caley was missing. In that time, she got a tattoo with the words “Bella Vida” (“Beautiful Life” in Italian), entered hot body contests, and raided the bank accounts of family and friends. When finally cornered by her parents, she claimed the nanny kidnapped her only to have to police discover no such nanny existed, and that the real person named might have, in passing, met Casey Anthony once. For most people, this is recap. What’s amazing is the level at which Casey Anthony would lie. Even when it was clear the whole house of cards was falling apart, she would stick to a lie until it was no longer possible, then simply switch to a new lie.

Ashton is meticulous in recounting the investigation and prosecution. He even calls out Nancy Grace, among others, for their comments about the jury that acquitted Casey Anthony. While the whole world had access to the media circus, the jury was sequestered. The defense team, which had a disjointed and shoddy case, merely needed to confuse the issue. It was a circumstantial evidence case. Ashton says he’s had defendants convicted in death penalty cases on less evidence, but he also has lost better constructed cases. The fact is that no one knows exactly what happened to Caley Anthony except, maybe, Casey Anthony. All the defense had to do was create reasonable doubt. That is Ashton’s conclusion, as disappointing as he finds it.

He does admit he does not like defense attorney Jose Baez, a flamboyant, neophyte attorney with no experience in criminal defense and a lack of understanding of the rules of evidence. Nonetheless, Baez did attempt to make amends by telling Ashton he was “the toughest sonofabitch I ever came up against.”

It’s an interesting book, and the case they built was solid. It’s a wonder Casey Anthony got off. But it happens. All anyone can do after the fact is tell the truth and keep telling it.