Casey Anthony Could Go Free in Days After Jury Clears Her of Killing 2-Year-Old Daughter, Caylee

Published July 06, 2011

| FoxNews.com

Casey Anthony, the Florida mom who Tuesday was cleared of all charges relating to the death of her 2-year-old daughter, could walk free in days after sentencing on lesser charges of lying to authorities.

She was convicted of four counts of lying to investigators and could receive up to a year in jail for each count when Judge Belvin Perry sentences her Thursday. But she likely will get credit for spending much of the past three years in jail waiting for trial, so it's possible she could be released by the end of the week.

Anthony had been charged with first-degree murder, which could have brought the death penalty if she had been convicted, but the jury, after a trial lasting more than a month, found her not guilty of killing her daughter, Caylee Anthony. She also was cleared of aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.

The verdict brings to a close a case that has captivated the American public for more than three years. Anthony, 25, wept after the clerk read the verdict, which jurors reached after less than 11 hours of deliberation over two days.

After the verdict was read, Anthony hugged her attorney Jose Baez and later mouthed the words "thank you" to him.

Prosecutors sat solemnly in their seats, looking stunned. Prosecutor Jeff Ashton shook his head slightly from side to side in apparent disbelief. Across the room, Anthony's father wiped tears from his eyes. Without speaking to Casey, he and his wife left the courtroom escorted by police as the judge thanked the jury.

"We felt very strongly about our case. We always felt that (the prosecution's) case was built on nothing," defense attorney Jose Baez told Fox News' Geraldo Rivera. "The jury saw through all of the fantasy and forensics and saw through a lot of the lies presented before them."

Baez told reporters at a news conference shortly after the verdict that, "while we're happy for Casey, there are no winners in this case."

"Caylee has passed on far, far too soon. And what my driving force has been for the last three years has been always to make sure that there has been justice for Caylee and Casey, because Casey did not murder Caylee. It's that simple," he said. "Our system of justice has not dishonored her memory by a false conviction," he said.

State Attorney Lamar Lawson, meanwhile, called the verdict disappointing.

"We’re disappointed with the verdict today and surprised because we know the facts," Lawson told reporters. 

Lawson, who praised the prosecution's efforts, called the trial a "dry bones" case that was "very difficult to prove" because it relied largely on circumstantial evidence.

Caylee's remains were found six months after she was reported missing, and no cause of death was ever determined -- a fact Lawson said "worked to our considerable disadvantage." 

The lead prosecutor on the case, Jeffrey Ashton, has reportedly retired, effective Thursday. He notified State Attorney Lawson of his decision prior to the verdict being read.

George and Cindy Anthony, Casey Anthony's parents, left the courtroom shortly after the verdict was read.

"While the family may never know what has happened to Caylee Marie Anthony, they now have closure for this chapter of their life," the Anthony family said in a written statement.

Anthony's attorneys claimed during the trial that the toddler drowned accidentally in the family swimming pool, and that her seemingly carefree mother in fact was hiding emotional distress caused by sexual abuse from her father.

Prosecutors contended that Caylee was suffocated with duct tape by a mother who loved to party, tattooed herself with the Italian words for "beautiful life" in the month her daughter was missing and crafted elaborate lies to mislead everyone, from investigators to her own parents.

Captivated observers camped outside the courthouse to jockey for coveted seats in the courtroom gallery, which occasionally led to fights among those desperate to watch the drama unfold.

Prior to the verdict on Tuesday, the judge said: "To those in the gallery, please do not express any signs of approval or disapproval upon the reading of the verdict."

Anthony did not take the stand during the trial, which started in mid-May. Because the case got so much media attention in Orlando, jurors were brought in from the Tampa Bay area and sequestered for the entire trial.

Baez conceded that his client had told elaborate lies and invented imaginary friends and even a fake father for Caylee, but he said that doesn't mean she killed her daughter.

"They throw enough against the wall and see what sticks," Baez said of prosecutors during closing arguments. "That is what they're doing ... right down to the cause of death."

He tried to convince jurors that the toddler accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool and that when Anthony panicked, her father, a former police officer, decided to make the death look like a murder by putting duct tape on the girl's mouth and dumping the body in woods about a quarter-mile away.

Her father firmly denied both the cover-up and abuse claims. The prosecution called those claims "absurd," saying that no one makes an accident look like a murder.

Lead prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick concluded the state's case by showing the jury two side-by-side images. One showed Casey Anthony smiling and partying in a nightclub during the month Caylee was missing.

The other was the tattoo she got a day before her family and law enforcement first learned of the child's disappearance.

"At the end of this case, all you have to ask yourself is whose life was better without Caylee?" Burdick asked. "This is your answer."

Prosecutors hammered on the lies Anthony, then 22, told from June 16, 2008, when her daughter was last seen to a month later when sheriff's investigators were notified. Those include the single mother telling her parents she couldn't produce Caylee because the girl was with a nanny named Zanny -- a woman who doesn't exist. She also said she and her daughter were spending time in Jacksonville, Fla., with a rich boyfriend who didn't exist, and she claimed that Zanny had been hospitalized after an out-of-town traffic crash and that they were spending time with her.

Click here for complete coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial from MyFoxOrlando.com 

TIMELINE: Casey Anthony murder trial

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/07/05/jury-deliberations-resume-for-second-day-in-casey-anthony-murder-trial/