Jeff Ashton (Rob Lowe) is a hotshot Florida prosecutor with an excellent track record. He believes, like many of us, that Casey Anthony (Virginia Welch) murdered her two-year-old daughter Caylee, whose body was found in a nearby swamp. But what Ashton doesn’t know is that for a jury, finding Anthony guilty is going to be incredibly difficult.
Casey Anthony waited 31 days to report her daughter missing, and only admitted it at the panicked urging of her mother, Cindy Anthony (Marina Stephenson Kerr), who also told 911 that her daughter’s car smelled like a dead body had been in it.
It was those 31 days that Jeff Ashton thought would convince the jury of Casey’s guilt. He believed that the partying, the wild photos and the lying that transpired would make the case. And then there was Casey's "Bella Vita" tattoo, meaning "the beautiful life."
In the movie, a journalist asks Ashton what he would have asked Casey, had she ever taken the stand. He said he’d ask about the tattoo. "Your daughter is missing or dead for three weeks and you get a tattoo that says Bella Vita? I believe that’s the clearest expression of motive and I would have asked her, 'What does Bella Vita mean to you?' I would have loved to have heard her explanation for that,” says Ashton.
Indeed, we’d all like to hear Casey’s twisted reasoning. To further support Ashton’s hubris is the fact that Casey kept her court-appointed defense attorney Jose Baez (The Office’s Oscar Nuñez), who had less than three years' experience in the courts. Ashton was certain Baez would make rookie mistakes, allowing Ashton to successfully get Casey Anthony the death penalty.
While the legal machinations are fascinating, this story continues to be heartbreaking. During an autopsy, Ashton picks up Caylee’s tiny skull that may have been covered with duct tape. The skull fits in the palm of his hand, demonstrating how young the girl was, how fragile her little body and how tragic her death.
The only good news in this story is the enactment of Caylee’s law: On April 6, 2012, Florida made it a felony to give false statements to law enforcement about a missing child who dies or is badly injured. The movie tells us that under the new law, Casey Anthony may have served 20 years.
May Caylee Anthony rest in peace.
Prosecuting Casey Anthony premieres on Lifetime on Saturday, Jan. 19.
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