ORLANDO — Casey Anthony will be freed next week after spending nearly three years in jail on accusations she murdered her 2-year-old daughter, a case that captured the nation’s attention and divided many over whether a killer had been acquitted.
While cleared of charges of killing and abusing her daughter Caylee, Anthony was convicted of lying to investigators and sentenced today to four years. But she was given credit for the time she has already served and her good behavior, and a court official said she would be released Wednesday.
Inside the courtroom, before her sentenced was announced, Anthony was animated, smiling and occasionally played with her hair, which was let down for the first time since her trial began in late May. Perhaps she thought, like many, that she would be let go as early as Thursday. Her demeanor changed to stone-faced when she heard she would be spending more time in jail.
The scene outside the courthouse highlighted a divide that has had social networking sites abuzz since the not guilty verdict was announced Tuesday. Amid increased police presence, a throng of protesters gathered near the courthouse, holding signs that said “Arrest the Jury!!” and “Jurors 1-12 Guilty of Murder.” Nearby, a handful of supporters also turned out, including a man who held a sign asking Casey Anthony to marry him.
A day after Caylee was reported missing in July 2008, Anthony was interviewed by police and told them several lies. She lied about working at the Universal Studios theme park, about leaving her daughter with a non-existent nanny named Zanny, about leaving the girl with friends and about receiving a phone call from her.
Her defense attorneys argued before sentencing that her convictions should be combined into one, but Judge Belvin Perry disagreed. He also fined her $1,000 on each count.
At the time of the girl’s disappearance, Anthony, a single mother, and Caylee were living with Anthony’s parents, George and Cindy Anthony, in suburban Orlando. Prosecutors contended Anthony, then 22, suffocated Caylee with duct tape because she was interfering with her desire to be with her boyfriend and party with her friends.
Defense attorneys countered that the toddler accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool. They said that when Anthony panicked, her father, a former police officer, decided to make the death look like a murder. They said he put duct tape on the girl’s mouth and then dumped the body in woods about a quarter-mile away.
The defense said Anthony’s apparent carefree life hid emotional distress caused by sexual abuse from her father. Her father firmly denied both the cover-up and abuse claims. The prosecution called those claims absurd, and said no one makes an accident look like a murder.
Anthony stopped staying at the family house after the girl disappeared. She told her mother by phone that she and Caylee were spending time with friends. When Cindy Anthony asked to see Caylee, she said her daughter told her a series of lies: that they were in Jacksonville with a rich boyfriend Anthony concocted; that Caylee was with Zanny; that Zanny had been in a car crash and they were spending time with her in the hospital.
In mid-July 2008, Cindy and George Anthony were contacted by a towing yard that their daughter’s car had been impounded for being abandoned and would be junked if not claimed. When George Anthony picked it up, he and the tow yard manager said it had the overwhelming stench of human decomposition. The defense said the smell was caused by a bag of trash that was in the trunk.
In one of the biggest and most important fights of the six-week trial, a prosecution scientist said the trunk contained air molecules consistent with a human body having decomposed there — but the defense questioned his methods and said they were unproven.
Jurors declined to talk with reporters immediately after Tuesday’s verdict. But juror Jennifer Ford told ABC News in an interview that it was because “we were sick to our stomach to get that verdict.”
“We were crying and not just the women,” Ford said in an interview posted on the network’s website Wednesday night. “It was emotional and we weren’t ready.”
Ford, a 32-year-old nursing student, said the case was a troubling one.
“I did not say she was innocent,” Ford said. “I just said there was not enough evidence. If you cannot prove what the crime was, you cannot determine what the punishment should be.”
The prosecution didn’t paint a clear enough picture of what happened to Caylee, Ford said.
“I have no idea what happened to that child,” Ford said.
As the sentencing was announced, Flora Reece, an Orlando real estate broker, stood outside the courthouse holding a sign that read “Arrest the Jury.”
“At least she won’t get to pop the champagne cork tonight,” Reece said of the judge’s decision to keep Anthony in jail for now.
The crowd of a few dozen emotionally charged protesters occasionally chanted “justice for Caylee.”
There handful of Anthony supporters included Tim Allen of Orlando. The 24-year-old cook at a pizza shop held a sign asking Anthony to marry him.
“Everyone deserves a second chance.” Allen said. “She’s beautiful. Put some makeup on her, she’s gorgeous.”
Authorities in Florida were being mostly quiet about what might take place when Anthony is released. There are obvious complications with her returning to her parents’ home, where she lived before she was jailed, given the stinging accusations her attorneys leveled against them during the trial.
It’s not clear what the future holds when Anthony is released. Threats have been made against her, and online she is being vilified. More than 17,000 people “liked” the “I hate Casey Anthony” page on Facebook, which included comments wishing her the same fate that befell little Caylee.
Ti McCleod, who lives a few doors from Anthony’s parents, said: “Society is a danger to Casey; she’s not a danger to society.”
Her family also has been fractured by her attorneys’ unproved claims that Anthony’s father and brother molested her and the contention that her father participated in a cover-up of Caylee’s death. When the verdict was read, Anthony’s parents rose from their seats without emotion and left the courtroom. They were in the courtroom for sentencing but left without speaking to reporters.
Their attorney, Mark Lippman, has said they haven’t spoken with their daughter since the verdict, and he wouldn’t say whether they believed she was guilty.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys also did not speak to reporters.
Anthony is a high school dropout who, before her arrest, had limited work experience. Her last job was in 2006 as a vendor at Universal Studios theme park. While she once professed an interest in photography, and even found some work in the field, it’s not known whether she has skills that could translate into a career.
In a 2010 jailhouse letter to a friend, Anthony said she would like to adopt a child from Ireland “accent and all.”