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Video: 'Ignore Casey Anthony,' urges ex-prosecutor

  1. Transcript of: 'Ignore Casey Anthony,' urges ex-prosecutor

    MATT LAUER, co-host: All right, let us begin this half-hour though with the trial of Casey Anthony . In a moment, we'll speak exclusively to prosecutor Jeff Ashton . But first, NBC 's Kerry Sanders has the latest. Kerry , good morning.

    KERRY SANDERS reporting: Well, good morning, Matt. The trial of the summer's long over, Casey Anthony remains in Florida on probation on a check fraud conviction, but there are still so many unanswered questions as to what happened when the cameras were not rolling in the murder case. Now, prosecutor Jeff Ashton provides some answers in his book with the title that clearly explains his position. It's called " Imperfect Justice ." After three years of hearings and a six-week-long trial ...

    Judge BELVIN PERRY: Would the defendant rise?

    SANDERS: ...a shocking verdict as Casey Anthony was acquitted in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee ...

    Unidentified Court Spokeswoman: We the jury, find the defendant not guilty.

    SANDERS: ...and walked free. Now, four months later, prosecutor Jeff Ashton , famous for his smirks and his fans, takes us behind the scenes of the investigation into Caylee Anthony 's disappearance and the murder trial that would captivate America . In his new book, "Imperfect Justice," Ashton takes us inside what he describes as a highly dysfunctional Anthony family , a daughter who told lie upon lie upon lie. A mother, he says, was in denial. A granddaughter he strongly believes was murdered.

    Judge PERRY: The legal issue has arisen...

    SANDERS: For the first time , he sheds light on that shocking moment near the end of the trial when Casey 's defense team requested a competency hearing to determine their client's sanity. Ashton reveals that defense attorney Cheney Mason had brought up the subject of a plea deal to Casey , who appeared almost catatonic. " Cheney told us that Casey refused to even listen to the idea of a plea. Every time he approached the subject with her, she would look at him blankly, like she didn't know what a plea was.

    Judge PERRY: The court will find that the defendant is competent to continue.

    SANDERS: Soon after, the case was in the hands of 12 jurors, who Ashton alleges were coddled, pampered and unemotional when it came to Caylee . "This decision," Ashton writes, "was the work of a jury who didn't believe Casey deserved to be punished at all." Jurors would later argue the state just didn't provide enough evidence to prove Casey 's guilt.

    Ms. JENNIFER FORD (Juror, Casey Anthony Trial): There wasn't enough evidence, there wasn't anything strong enough to say exactly -- I don't think anyone in America could tell us exactly how she died.

    SANDERS: Meanwhile, Casey remains in Florida , serving out her year of probation for writing bad checks. Monthly reports indicate she doesn't have a job or an income and is not attending any classes. And although the trial is now a distant memory, a lingering tab. Casey still owes the state $217,000 for the investigation and search for Caylee . Clearly, this is the first time that jurors are hearing of Ashton 's allegations. We reached out to all of them last night and every one declined

    to comment. Matt: All right, Kerry Sanders . Kerry , thank you very much . Jeff Ashton was one of the prosecutors in the Casey Anthony trial . He has a

    LAUER: Prosecuting Casey Anthony ." Jeff , good to have you back. Good morning.

    new book out today called "Imperfect Justice: Thank you for having me back.

    Mr. JEFF ASHTON (Author, "Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony"): Four months since you heard the words "not guilty" on the most serious charges in this case. Do those words still haunt you?

    LAUER: Less so than when I was here before, but I think it still -- it bothers me a bit. You know, writing the book was a good way of getting a lot of that out, but it does.

    Mr. ASHTON: Do you still have the second thoughts? Do you go over what you could have done differently, the should have, would have, could have things?

    LAUER: You know, there's some small things that I talk about in the book that I wish we'd done differently, but honestly I don't think there's anything that we could have done differently that would have made a difference from what, you know, my impression from what the jurors have said. It seems like to them, it was simply the evidence that we had.

    Mr. ASHTON: Well, let's talk about the jury. You say they were coddled, that they were pampered. You write that "This decision was the work of a jury who believed she didn't deserve to be punished at all."

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. ASHTON: Was it the jury's fault?

    LAUER: Well, I don't know that you can say fault. I mean, the jurors heard the instructions that the judge gave them, and those instructions give jurors a lot of latitude in deciding what's a reasonable doubt or what isn't. And this jury decided that there were reasonable doubts. Obviously I don't agree, but that was their decision.

    Mr. ASHTON: One of the main criticisms I've heard about you and your team, Jeff , was that you reached too far, that this was a high-profile death penalty case, and as a result, those 12 jurors needed a " CSI " moment, and from my generation, a " Perry Mason " moment.

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. ASHTON: They needed a smoking gun that said she killed this little girl and here's how she did it, and you didn't come close to providing that.

    LAUER: Well, we couldn't provide the jury with sort of clear evidence on a silver platter of exactly how Caylee died. What we felt we had done though, was to have excluded everything but homicide and really, you know, the burden of proof on the state isn't necessarily to prove exactly how the homicide was committed but simply that it was committed. But again, you know, the jury set the burden where they wanted to, and that's the verdict that they came up with.

    Mr. ASHTON: This possible plea deal that eventually Casey had no reaction to...

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. ASHTON: ...you would not agree to that unless you were told as part of that what happened to Caylee , correct?

    LAUER: Well, there were two aspects to it. One was that she could plead to second-degree murder without allocution and receive a sentence of like 30 years in prison, I believe it was. The other offer was to allow her to plead to the lesser crime, the aggravated manslaughter, if the truth about how Caylee died, you know, justified that offense. So that was where we would have required her to make an allocution that was truthful that we would believe before we would consider that.

    Mr. ASHTON: She never took the stand in her own defense , so nobody from the prosecution team ever got a chance to cross-examine her.

    LAUER: No.

    Mr. ASHTON: If I am Casey Anthony and you are the guy who got to do that cross-examination, what would be the one most important question you'd want to ask me?

    LAUER: I think if I only had one, it would be what does Bella Vita mean to you? The one of the great issues that was never explained, and to me, was the clearest expression of the reason for this murder was the tattoo. Now, your daughter is missing or dead for three weeks and you get a tattoo that says "Bella Vita." I would love to hear the explanation of that. I know we heard one from the psychiatrist that seemed pretty laughable, but I'd love to hear her say it.

    Mr. ASHTON: She was found not guilty and yet she's been convicted in the court of public opinion, she's been vilified, she is living in hiding, for the most part. It's hard to imagine that she'll be able to hold down a job or live a normal life. Is that justice?

    LAUER: You know, there's justice in the court and then there's a larger sense of justice, you know. I would hope that people leave Casey Anthony alone. I don't want anyone to do anything to Casey or to have anything to do with her. My advice to people who are angry about this is to ignore Casey . And I hope that's what they do. I hope that someday, and I know this probably won't happen, the name Casey Anthony will invoke a "who's that?" But I doubt that will ever happen.

    Mr. ASHTON: Jeff Ashton . Jeff , thank you for coming out. I appreciate it.

    LAUER: Thank you very much .

    Mr. ASHTON: The book is called " Imperfect Justice ."

    LAUER:

By
TODAY contributor
updated 11/15/2011 9:42:17 AM ET 2011-11-15T14:42:17

Found not guilty of murdering her daughter Caylee, Casey Anthony now serves out a year’s probation on an unrelated charge in Florida. But an Anthony prosecutor who remains convinced of her guilt says in a perfect world, Anthony’s real sentence will be fading into obscurity.

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Speaking with Matt Lauer on TODAY Tuesday, retired prosecutor Jeff Ashton said his wish is for the public to turn a blind eye to the woman front in center in what was called “The Trial of the Century.”

“You know, there’s justice in the court, and then there’s a larger sense of justice,” Ashton told Lauer. “I would hope that people leave Casey Anthony alone; I don’t want anyone to do anything to Casey or to have anything to do with her.

“My advice to people who are angry about (her acquittal) is to ignore Casey, and I hope that’s what they do. I hope that someday — and I know this probably won’t happen — that Casey Anthony will invoke a “who’s that?’"

Story: The man who tried to convict Casey Anthony tells his story

The former Florida assistant state attorney Ashton talked to Lauer about his new book “Imperfect Justice,” out in bookstores today, in which he gives a prosecutor’s perspective on the case, and minces no words in blasting Anthony and her defense team. In the book, he calls the defense’s trial arguments “a complete crock of crap” and said he believes Anthony blatantly lied in telling psychiatrists that her father George had molested her and that he had killed Caylee by drowning her.

Anthony was found not guilty of murder, aggravated child abuse and manslaughter July 5 at the close of a sensational, six-week trial that saw more than 100 witnesses — but never Anthony herself — take the stand. The verdict came some 1,085 days after Casey’s mother Cindy called 911 to report her nearly 3-year-old granddaughter Caylee missing in July 2008.

While jurors, who deliberated just 11 hours before returning the not guilty verdict, have said the prosecution failed to build a compelling case on exactly how Caylee Anthony died, Ashton told TODAY he believes he and his fellow prosecutors “excluded everything but homicide.”

Video: 'Ignore Casey Anthony,' urges ex-prosecutor (on this page)

“We couldn’t provide the jury with clear evidence on a silver platter of exactly how Caylee died,” he said. “Really, the burden of proof on the state isn’t necessarily to prove exactly how the homicide was committed but simply that it was committed.”

Ashton said he would have relished having Anthony take the stand and having the opportunity to ask her about the “Bella Vita” tattoo she had inked on her shoulder only weeks after she said Caylee had gone missing. “Bella Vita” means “beautiful life” in Italian.

“I think if I only had one (question), it would be, ‘What does Bella Vita mean to you?’ “Ashton said. “One of the great issues that was never explained and to me, (and) was the clearest expression of the reason for the murder, was the tattoo.

Casey Anthony prosecutor Jeff Ashton told TODAY he would like to hear Anthony explain this shoulder tattoo, which means "Beautiful Life." She got it weeks after she said her daughter disappeared.

“You know, your daughter is missing or dead for three weeks and you get a tattoo that says Bella Vita? I would love to hear the explanation for that.”

Story: Retired prosecutor calls Casey Anthony attorney 'smarmy'

In his 322-page book, Ashton writes that late in the trial, Anthony’s attorneys approached the prosecution about a plea deal, and they, believing the jury would not convict Anthony on a death penalty, offered two options: A second degree murder plea without allocution into how Caylee actually died, or a possible manslaughter charge with Anthony fully coming clean on what she knew. While her lawyers approached Anthony about pleading guilty to a lesser charge, she refused to even listen to a deal.

In his interview with Lauer, Ashton said he has largely come to terms with the not guilty verdict, even while he remains convinced of Anthony’s guilt. He conceded that “there (are) some small things…that I wish we had done differently,” but “the jury decided that there was reasonable doubt. Obviously, I don’t agree, but that was their decision.”

Story: Anthony jurors lay low after names released

In his book, Ashton directs most of his vitriol toward Anthony’s defense team, calling Anthony a liar and saying “in many ways, I think the defense came to mirror the client they represented.”

Of Anthony’s attorney Jose Baez, Ashton writes, “There is an unearned air of arrogance about the man that is incredibly frustrating to witness. The word I used in describing Jose is smarmy; somebody who is slick, underhanded and doesn’t shoot straight.”

He also writes he hoped attorney Cheney Mason being later added to Anthony’s defense team “would class up the defense team tactics,” but instead, “Baez seemed to bring Cheney down to his (level).”

In a statement published by the London Daily Mail, Baez responded to Ashton’s characterization of him, saying, “I am both surprised and somewhat disappointed he has chosen to attack me on a personal level.”

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