ORLANDO, Fla. – Casey Anthony will be freed next week after spending nearly three years in jail on accusations she killed her 2-year-old daughter, punctuating a case that captured the nation's attention and bitterly divided many over whether she got away with murder.
While cleared of charges of killing and abusing her daughter Caylee, Anthony was convicted of lying to investigators and sentenced Thursday to four years, the maximum punishment. But she was given credit for the time she has already served and her good behavior, and she was set to be released Wednesday. Judge Belvin Perry also fined her $1,000 on each of the four counts.
Before her sentenced was announced, the 25-year-old 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 Thursday. Her demeanor turned stone-faced when she heard she would be spending more time in jail.
The scene outside the courthouse highlighted the 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, 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 Anthony to marry him.
Anthony's release will come almost exactly three years since Caylee was reported missing July 15, 2008. She was interviewed by police the next day and told them several lies, for which she was convicted.
She lied about working at the Universal Studios theme park, going so far as to take detectives to the park, talk her way past security guards and take the detectives into a building before finally admitting that she wasn't employed there. She also lied about leaving her daughter with a non-existent nanny named Zanny and later about leaving the girl with friends. She also told investigators she received a phone call from Caylee the day she was reported missing, another lie.
Her defense attorneys argued before sentencing that her convictions should be combined into one, but the judge disagreed, saying law enforcement spent a great deal of time, energy and manpower looking for Caylee. The girl's remains were found in a swampy area near the Anthony home in December 2008.
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, but she would often stay with her boyfriend.
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. When Anthony's parents confronted their daughter about Caylee's whereabouts, she told them the girl had been missing for a month and her mother reported the disappearance to police.
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.
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.
After a massive search for Caylee, her remains were found near the Anthony's home by a meter reader, some six months after she disappeared.
Jurors declined to talk with reporters immediately after Tuesday's verdict and their names were not released by the court. The Associated Press and other news organizations argued during a hearing Thursday that the jurors' identities should be released.
The judge seemed to be leaning toward releasing the names, but said he would hold off for a couple of days, in part because he was worried about the jurors.
"The best I think I can do, legally, is a cooling off period. ... The non-legal side of me really fears for those individuals who simply want to do their civic duty."
At least one juror, Jennifer Ford, has already talked with the media. She told ABC News in an interview that the case was troubling.
"I did not say she was innocent," said Ford, a 32-year-old nursing student. "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 a little longer.
The handful of Anthony supporters also 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, given the stinging accusations her attorneys leveled against them during the trial.
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.
Threats have also been made against Anthony, and online she is being vilified. Nearly 22,000 people "liked" the "I hate Casey Anthony" page on Facebook, which included comments wishing her the same fate that befell Caylee.
The Anthony neighborhood was quiet Thursday with a few people bringing flowers and toys to the memorial for Caylee in the swampy, mosquito-filled spot off where her remains were found.
"If Caylee could see all this, she would see how much people loved her," said 11-year-old Isobel Bulanhagui, who visited the memorial with her grandfather. The child pulled a battery out of her purse and laid it gently beside a sign that read "pass on the angel in your arms to your creator."
"I don't have much in my purse but this will give her energy," Isobel said.
The memorial, the fourth that has been erected since Caylee died, has quadrupled in size since Tuesday's verdict.
Hundreds of teddy bears and stuffed animals were piled on the dirt, with hand-written notes, many that disparaged Anthony. More than two dozen flower bouquets sit wilting and 27 helium balloons are anchored to the ground.
George Anthony has asked the public to donate the items to charity rather than place them in the woods.
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