Casey Anthony: Not guilty of first-degree murder
A Florida jury found Casey Anthony not guilty on Tuesday of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in 2008, stunning many legal experts and media pundits who had predicted she would be convicted in a bizarre case that riveted millions of Americans.
The verdict means the 25-year-old Casey not only will not face the death penalty, which prosecutors planned to seek if she had been convicted of first-degree murder, but could soon be out of jail.
She was found guilty of lying to police, but will get credit for the nearly three years she has already spent in jail since her arrest.
“Casey did not murder Caylee. It’s that simple,” defense attorney Jose Baez told reporters after the verdict was announced on Tuesday.
State Attorney Lawson Lamar, speaking for the prosecutors, conceded that their circumstantial evidence was not enough to remove “reasonable doubt” in the minds of the jurors.
“We’re disappointed with the verdict today and surprised because we know the facts,” Lamar said.
The prosecution said Casey smothered Caylee with duct tape on June 16, 2008, drove around for several days with Caylee’s body in her car trunk and then dumped the remains in woods near the Anthony family home.
The defense argued that Caylee died in an accidental drowning in the family’s backyard pool.
“This was a dry bones case, very, very difficult to prove,” Lamar said. “The delay in recovering little Caylee’s remains worked to our considerable disadvantage.”
With no further action to take in the case against Casey, Lamar said his office will move on to other pending murder cases.
JURORS FINALLY HEAD HOME
Twelve jurors, sequestered in an Orlando hotel for more than six weeks because of the intense media coverage of the trial, deliberated nearly 11 hours over two days.
They declined to speak with reporters after reaching their decision. Sheriff’s officials planned to drive the jurors and alternates back to their homes on Florida’s west coast.
The jury found Casey not guilty of the felonies of aggravated child abuse or aggravated manslaughter of a child.
She was found guilty of four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum of one year in jail per count.
Casey lied to friends and family about Caylee’s whereabouts for a month. Then on July 15, 2008, Casey’s mother Cindy called 911 after finding Casey’s car at an impound lot smelling of an odor she likened to a dead body having been in the trunk.
Casey initially told detectives Caylee had been kidnapped by a nanny, triggering a nationwide search. It ended on December 11, 2008, when Caylee’s skeletal remains were found in woods near the Anthony family home with duct tape dangling from her skull.
Casey, who did not testify at the trial, appeared visibly nervous on Tuesday before the verdict, downcast and biting her lip.
She sobbed after the jury’s not guilty finding on the murder count was read, and finally broke into a broad smile when the proceedings ended, hugging the defense team.
She had no immediate contact on Tuesday with her mother and father, who left the courtroom without speaking to her.
During the trial, the defense suggested that Casey’s father, George Anthony, found Caylee’s body in the pool.
Baez also told jurors that Casey acted inappropriately after Caylee’s death — lying about her daughter’s whereabouts, partying with friends and getting tattoos — because she had been sexually abused by her father.
George Anthony denied from the witness stand abusing his daughter or having any role in his granddaughter’s death, and the defense never produced evidence of the abuse allegations.
On Tuesday, the attorney for Casey’s parents issued a statement on their behalf, saying the family believed jurors reached a fair verdict “despite the baseless defense chosen by Casey Anthony.”
“While the family may never know what has happened to Caylee Marie Anthony, they now have closure for this chapter of their life. They will now begin the long process of rebuilding their lives,” attorney Mark Lippman said.
The defense team also talked of Casey getting a chance to grieve and put her life back together, though she remains in jail without bail for now.
“While we’re happy for Casey, there are no winners in this case,” Baez told reporters. “Caylee has passed on far, far too soon.”
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings asked for curious onlookers to stay away from the Anthonys’ neighborhood outside of Orlando.
As the jury began deliberating on Monday, people showed up on the street where Caylee’s remains were found, leaving flowers, stuffed animals and American flags and taking photographs of themselves at the crime scene.
The trial caught the attention of much of the nation, with curiosity fed by live coverage of testimony on cable news. The notoriety of the case prompted comparisons to the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.
News of the verdict brought a flurry of Internet activity, with observers flocking to Facebook and Twitter to register their reactions. It was the top trending topic on Google and the most tweeted topic on Twitter.
Everyone seemed to have an opinion on Casey’s guilt or innocence, whether they had watched coverage on TV or made side trips to the courthouse during their Florida vacations.
“I think it’s an atrocity,” said Ray Schleichkorn, a 59-year-old Orlando physical therapist, of the murder acquittal. “It was a slam dunk in my opinion.”
Karin Moore, a death penalty professor at Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando, watched the case closely. She had expected a manslaughter conviction because she felt some of the forensic evidence was “shaky.”
“I think the jury held the state to its burden of proof,” Moore said. “You can’t make the leap from ‘she’s a horrid person and a proven liar’ to ‘she killed her child.’”
Casey’s sentencing on the lying convictions will be Thursday at 9 a.m. local time.