Rarely has losing a big legal case been such a good career move.
Jeff Ashton, the former prosecutor turned author, has become a celebrity in the wake of the Casey Anthony murder trial.
On Monday night, a standing-room crowd of more than 300 fans showed up at the Orlando Public Library's main branch downtown to cheer Ashton and listen to a brief talk, followed by a question-and-answer session.
Many of them clutched copies of Ashton's book, "Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony," which went on sale last week. The shop at the library sold all 98 copies it received and had to turn people away.
After Ashton spoke for about 40 minutes, dozens of well-wishers stood in line for up an hour to have him sign their books and shake their hands.
"Oh, my God, I'm shaking," said Vicki Haley, 43, of Palm Coast as she took her signed copy. "I'm his No. 1 fan."
Diane Clark of Orlando bought her mother, Dolores Vanderbrook, 92, a copy of the book as an early Christmas gift. Like many in the audience, Vanderbrook was glued to her TV while Ashton and his fellow prosecutors tried to convict Anthony, 25, of first-degree murder in the killing of her daughter, 2-year-old Caylee.
"We're 100 percent behind the prosecution," Clark said.
The Anthony case was Ashton's last — and largest — before he retired from a 30-year career as an Orange-Osceola assistant state attorney and joined a Maitland law firm part time.
Although a jury acquitted Anthony of the more serious charges — murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter of a child — the crowd didn't blame Ashton. When a representative of HarperCollins Publishers introduced him, people sprang to their feet, whooped, cheered and applauded.
"He as a person put his life aside for this case," said Brittania Klinker, 21, of Longwood. "To do that to get justice for a little girl is amazing."
Cameras snapped everywhere as admirers tried to capture the man and the moment.
"I think he's an awesome attorney," said Lauren Steele, 43, an office administrator in the State Attorney's Office who worked with Ashton for nearly two decades and brought a book for him to sign. "I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him."
Ashton used his characteristic humor and bite to answer several questions, including one about whether Anthony could be held accountable if she confessed to killing Caylee. No, he replied, because of the double-jeopardy rule.
"But she's not going to do that," he said. "Don't even think about it. She couldn't lie straight in bed."
Monday night's event was the first in a series of promotions for Ashton's book. He is scheduled to be interviewed on CNN on Wednesday and will be at public libraries in New Smyrna Beach and DeLand next week before heading to Vero Beach and Clearwater later in the week.
A jury July 5 convicted Anthony of four counts of lying to law officers. Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry sentenced her to four years in jail. With credit for time served, she was released July 17.
The case attracted media attention from around the globe, turning an downtown empty lot into a tent city for journalists during the 36-day trial. Caylee was missing for about month before her grandmother reported her disappearance in July 2008. A meter reader in December 2008 found her remains near the east Orange County home where she had been living with her mother and grandparents.
Many observers, convinced of Anthony's guilt, expressed outrage at the verdict. Because of threats against Anthony and her attorneys, Perry sealed the jurors' names for several months.
"Imperfect Justice" was co-written by Lisa Pulitzer, a former New York Times correspondent who has written other true-crime books, including "Portrait of a Monster," about Joran van der Sloot, a suspect in the 2005 disappearance of American Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
Fox Television Studios has optioned the rights to Ashton's book. If a movie is made, it will be shown on the Lifetime TV channel, a Fox spokeswoman said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun