State attorney says criminal charges against Judge Ashton not supported by evidence

Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge Jeff Ashton will not face charges of child abuse after a review by the state attorney’s office concluded allegations were “unsupported by the facts.”

The abuse allegations came to light in an executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in October accusing Ashton of “lewd and lascivious molestation on a child under 16 and failure to report child abuse.”

In the order, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Andrew Bain advised the governor’s office to transfer any investigation and prosecution of Ashton from the Ninth Judicial Circuit to the 10th Judicial Circuit to avoid a potential conflict of interest. Ashton is a circuit judge in the Ninth and former Orange-Osceola state attorney.

On Friday, State Attorney Brian Haas in the 10th sent a letter to Winter Park police Chief Timothy Volkerson saying his office conducted its own investigation after reviewing material provided by the agency and “determined that the filing of criminal charges is not supported by the evidence.”

According to an investigative report shared with the Orlando Sentinel, allegations against Rita Ashton, for failure to report child abuse, and David Ashton, for lewd conduct on a child under 16, could not be substantiated.

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In the investigative report, State Attorney Chief Investigator Chad McConchie said Jeff Ashton voluntarily submitted to a roughly two-hour interview with Winter Park Police investigators during which he denied knowledge of the incident.

Haas said that the person who came forward with the allegations gave conflicting accounts of events that led to the claims of abuse and no longer wished to pursue criminal charges.

The Winter Park police investigation took from February to April. Findings from that probe and the Department of Children and Families were turned over to the state attorney’s office and reviewed in October, according to the report.

Winter Park police said it did not find probable cause to substantiate criminal charges.

DCF closed its investigation in April, stating it did not find evidence to support any inadequate supervision or sexual abuse. DCF ordered a 60-day safety plan, stating that Jeff Ashton could have supervised contact with the unnamed 12-year-old mentioned in the report who is diagnosed with autism and is nonverbal.

According to the report, at the conclusion of the DCF investigation the 12-year-old was fully reunited with Jeff and Rita Ashton.

Jeff Ashton, who spent decades as a prosecutor in Orlando, was elected Orange-Osceola state attorney in 2012 after serving as the prosecutor in the Casey Anthony trial. The case drew intense national and international attention and ultimately ended with Anthony’s acquittal in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee Anthony, in 2011.

Ashton is also known as being the first prosecutor in the U.S. to use DNA evidence in criminal court in 1987.

He lost his bid for reelection as state attorney in 2016 to Aramis Ayala. His defeat came after online hackers revealed in 2015 he had frequented the Ashley Madison website, an adult dating platform often used by married people looking to have affairs.

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