ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Casey Anthony’s eyes welled with tears and her lips trembled as the verdict was read once, twice and then a third time: “Not guilty” of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.
Outside the courthouse, many in the crowd of 500 reacted with anger, chanting, “Justice for Caylee!” One man yelled, “Baby killer!”
In perhaps the most disputed and dissected verdict since O.J. Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of murdering his wife, Anthony was cleared of murder, manslaughter and child-abuse charges after weeks of wall-to-wall TV coverage and armchair-lawyer punditry.
Anthony, 25, was convicted only of four misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators who were looking into the child’s June 2008 disappearance.
After a trial of a month and a half, the Florida Ninth Judicial Circuit Court jury took less than 11 hours to reach a verdict in a case that had become a national cable TV sensation, with its CSI-style testimony about the smell of death inside a car trunk and its storyline about a seemingly self-centered, hard-partying young mother.
Anthony could get up to a year behind bars on each count when she is sentenced Thursday. But since she has been in jail for nearly three years already, she could walk free. Had she been convicted of murder, she could have gotten the death penalty.
The jurors — seven women, five men — would not talk to the media, and their identities were kept secret by the court.
Anthony failed to report Caylee’s disappearance for a month. The child’s decomposed body was eventually found in the woods near her grandparents’ home six months after she was last seen. A medical examiner was never able to establish how she died, and prosecutors had only circumstantial evidence Caylee had been killed.
Prosecutors contended Anthony — a single mother living with her parents — suffocated Caylee with duct tape because she wanted to be free to hit the nightclubs and spend time with her boyfriend.
Defense attorneys argued the little girl accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool, and that Anthony panicked and hid the body because of the traumatic effects of sexual abuse by her father.
Given the relative speed with which the jury came back with a verdict, many court-watchers were expecting Anthony to be convicted in the killing, and they were stunned by the outcome.
Anthony’s parents left court quickly after the verdict without hugging or saying anything to Anthony. As court broke up, she smiled broadly and tightly hugged her lawyers.