Is there a human being in the US that wasn't affected by the story of Caylee Anthony, who (sorry but I'm going there) was murdered by her mother Casey? By the end of the trial last summer, the entire nation was watching, wondering how on earth a mother could do such a thing, and wondering how the hell a jury could have found her innocent of everything. It was shocking.
It is hard for me to be impartial or unemotional about the case because the evils inflicted on this two year-old happened IN MY BACK YARD. While the rest of the nation might have gotten occasional updates over the three year period of investigation into Caylee's death, we got it EVERY DAY. I'm not exaggerating. Every day for three years. There was a special time slot carved out in the local news each day for breaking updates. Videos of Casey in prison talking to her family, videos of the swamp where Caylee's body was found, speculation on evidence, photos of Casey partying while her daughter was missing. Central Floridians were more invested in this case than anything I can remember. My mom and son were actually on the news during one of those updates, when they had gone out to the discovery site to leave flowers.
The facts are insane and complicated, but the jist is something like this. Little Caylee was missing for 31 days before her grandmother got suspicious and called 911. Over those past 31 days, Caylee's mother Casey had been shacking up with her boyfriend, grinding at a hot body contest at a bar, getting a tattoo that says "Bella Vita" (beautiful life), and had been telling elaborate lies and making excuses for why Caylee wasn't around.
Once grandma blew the cover, Casey claimed that her daughter had been abducted by a (non-existent) babysitter, and later that she had drowned in the family pool and hidden by grandpa. She was one proficient liar. Her car had been found parked in an abandoned lot, reeking of death in the trunk, and bearing evidence of chloroform and a long brown hair from a dead body. A massive search was launched to find the child, but it was 5 months later, once the summer waters had receded, that her body was found right around the corner from where Casey and her parents lived, in a swampy wooded area.
It seems all cut and dried, at least to me. But unfortunately because the body had lain in the elements for 5 months, much of damning forensic evidence was destroyed. The case against Casey was reduced to something more reliant upon common sense. After the biggest, most sensational trial since OJ Simpson, and after Casey walked away scot-free, the outraged public was left with more questions than answers.
Jeff Ashton, one of the prosecuting attorneys on the case, has come forward to outline all the facts, offer his personal observations and opinions, and provide some important information about the case that was suppressed in the trial for various reasons. It is true crime in its most pure, spectacular form, told from a primary source. It is well-written, never over-wrought (even though there are some aspects that will bring the average human being to their knees), and forthright. The author who assisted Ashton in writing the book, Lisa Pulitzer, did an excellent job of organizing the multitude of facts into a logical order that is easy to understand.
For anyone who watched the trial, especially towards the end, they will remember that Ashton got into a bit of trouble for outwardly sneering at the defense, Jose Baez. Ashton IS a little cocky in his skills, but rightly so I think. His record is impeccable...out of seventy homicide trials, all but two were returned with guilty verdicts. He won convictions in all twelve of his capital murder cases. Ashton apologizes for his behavior, but really REALLY loathes Baez. The man had virtually no experience in criminal trials, and it showed. He was a boob, but a boob with good salesmanship. He never met his deadlines, was unprofessional, and his only defense strategy was to throw everything at the wall and hoped something stuck and caused some doubt. I guess it worked. It was the last case that Ashton worked prior to his retirement as a prosecutor, and while it must be a bitter pill to swallow, he offers words that helped him get past it, and it is his hope that it helps us too.
This novel is utterly gripping from beginning to end, whether you were invested in the case at the time or not. It is a shocking and outlandish tale of injustice, along the lines of "you can't make this shit up". It is chilling and sickening. There were times when I felt like my head would explode. I'm not sure I will ever be right with the outcome, but Ashton has given me words of comfort. Plus, I do believe in Karma.
5 out of 5 stars