By: Candice Strickland
ORLANDO, Fla. (UTC/AP) — The not guilty verdict that could free Casey Anthony by this weekend stunned spectators, legal pundits and the prosecutors who failed to prove she killed her toddler daughter. A day later, jurors were declining to say how they came to their quick decision, and even murkier was Anthony’srelationship with parents who haven’t talked to her since the trial ended.
A case that involved years of forensic investigation, weeks of testimony and untold hours of media analysis was ultimately decided by jurors in less than 11 hours. Early in their second day of deliberations, the 12 men and women concluded Tuesday that Anthony lied to investigators but wasn’t guilty in the death of her 2-year-old daughter.
Now Anthony waits to learn if she could spend her first night out of jail in almost three years. She was only convicted of four misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators, and it’s possible that the judge could sentence her Thursday to time already served. The lying counts each carry a maximum sentence of one year.
It’s not clear whether Anthony would be welcomed back to the house the 25-year-old single mother once shared with her daughter and parents. George and Cindy Anthony left court quickly without hugging or saying anything to their daughter after the verdict was read. Their attorney, Mark Lippman, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that they hadn’t spoken with their daughter since the verdict.
Anthony has been in jail since her October 2008 arrest on first-degree murder charges. The case began in July of that year when Caylee Anthony was reported missing.
“I’m very happy for Casey, ecstatic for her and I want her to be able to grieve and grow and somehow get her life back together,” defense attorney Jose Baez said Tuesday. “I think this case is a perfect example of why the death penalty does not work … Murder is not right, no matter who does it.”
Tears welled in Anthony’s eyes, her face reddened, her lips trembled, and she began breathing heavily as she listened to the verdict. She was found not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.
Prosecutor Jeff Ashton told NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday that the verdict left him and other prosecutors in shock.
“I think I mouthed the word ‘wow’ about five times,” he said.
Ashton said he respects the way the jury handled the case, and that he believes they applied the law as they understood it.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard,” he said.
The jurors — seven women and five men — would not talk to the media, and their identities were kept secret by the court.
But alternate juror Russell Huekler said he feels compassion for Casey Anthony and hopes she gets help because she can “no longer live a life of lies.”
Huekler told The Associated Press that he was shocked to learn of the public’s anger over the jury’s acquittal of Anthony on a murder charge.
“Those 12 jurors, they worked really, really hard,” said Huekler, who wasn’t involved in deliberations but sat through more than 33 days of testimony as an alternate. “I’m sure they looked at the law and the evidence that was presented and unfortunately, the prosecution didn’t meet their burden of proof.”
Prosecutors contended that Anthony suffocated Caylee with duct tape because she wanted to be free to hit the nightclubs and spend time with her boyfriend.
Defense attorneys argued that the little girl accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool and thatAnthony panicked and hid the body because of the traumatic effects of being sexually abused by her father. George Anthony denied the defense’s allegations that he abused Casey and helped her cover up Caylee’s death.
Many in the crowd of about 500 people outside the courthouse Tuesday reacted with anger after the verdictwas read, chanting, “Justice for Caylee!” One man yelled, “Baby killer!” Many court-watchers were stunned by the outcome.
The case played out on national television almost from the moment Caylee was reported missing. CNN’s Nancy Grace dissected the case at every turn with the zeal of the prosecutor she once was, arguing that Anthony was responsible for her daughter’s death. The TV host turned the term “tot mom” into shorthand for Anthony.
Anthony’s attorney Cheney Mason blasted the media after the verdict.
“Well, I hope that this is a lesson to those of you having indulged in media assassination for three years, bias, prejudice and incompetent talking heads saying what would be and how to be,” Mason said.
“I’m disgusted by some of the lawyers that have done this, and I can tell you that my colleagues from coast to coast and border to border have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases that they don’t know a damn thing about.”
State’s Attorney Lawson Lamar said prosecutors on his staff were disappointed with the verdict, but he also lamented the lack of hard evidence.
“This is a dry-bones case. Very, very difficult to prove. The delay in recovering little Caylee’s remains worked to our considerable disadvantage,” he said.
Caylee’s disappearance went unreported by her own mother 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.
The case became a macabre tourist attraction in Orlando. People camped outside for seats in the courtroom, and scuffles broke out among those desperate to watch the drama unfold.
Because of publicity in Orlando, jurors were brought in from the Tampa Bay area and sequestered for the entire trial.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Linda Drane Burdick showed the jury one image of Anthony partying during the month Caylee was missing and another of the she got a day before law enforcement learned of the child’s disappearance. The tattoo was of the Italian words for “beautiful life.”
“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 also hammered away at the lies Anthony told when the child was missing: She told her parents that she couldn’t produce Caylee because the girl was with a nanny named Zanny — a woman who doesn’t exist; that she and her daughter were spending time with a rich boyfriend who doesn’t exist; and that Zanny had been hospitalized after an out-of-town traffic crash and that they were spending time with her.
But Baez said during closing arguments that the prosecutors’ case was so weak they tried to portray Anthonyas “a lying, no-good slut” and that their forensic evidence was based on a “fantasy.” He said Caylee’s death was “an accident that snowballed out of control.”
The verdict divided those who have been following the case.
Ti McLeod, who lives near the Anthony family, said, “The justice system has failed Caylee.” Jodie Ickes, who lives a mile away from the Anthonys, said she is against the death penalty and was glad that Casey wasn’t facing execution. “I’m comfortable with the outcome,” she concluded.
Among the trial spectators was 51-year-old Robin Wilkie, who said she has spent $3,000 on hotels and food since arriving June 10 from Lake Minnetonka, Minn. She tallied more than 100 hours standing in line to wait for tickets and got into the courtroom 15 times.
“True crime has become a unique genre of entertainment,” Wilkie said. “Her stories are so extreme and fantastic, it’s hard to believe they’re true, but that’s what engrosses people. This case has sex, lies and videotapes — just like on reality TV.”
Click here to listen to two mothers talk about the verdictCopyright 2011 The Associated Press.