Anthony sentence allows her to go free Wednesday

July 7, 2011 - 9:29 PM
Casey Anthony Trial

Casey Anthony smiles before the start of her sentencing hearing in Orlando, Fla.,Thursday, July 7, 2011. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced Anthony to four years for lying to investigators but says she can go free in late July or early August because she has already served nearly three years in jail and has had good behavior. While acquitted of killing and abusing her daughter, Caylee, Anthony was convicted of four counts of lying to detectives trying to find her daughter. (AP Photo/Joe Burbank, Pool)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Casey Anthony looked ready for freedom. For the first time since her trial began, she let her hair down, smiling and playing with it as she awaited the judge's decision on when she would be released.

Then she turned stone-faced as the sentence was pronounced: Freedom wouldn't come just yet. She'd have to spend six more days in jail for lying to investigators about the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Thursday's sentence means Anthony will go free only slightly more than a week after she was acquitted Tuesday of first-degree murder and other charges in Caylee's death.

The extra time in jail did little to satisfy throngs of angry people convinced of her guilt who gathered outside the courthouse. But it could provide time for the public furor over her acquittal to ease somewhat and give Anthony's attorneys a chance to plan for her safety.

Two days after the verdicts, most of the jury remained silent, with their names still kept secret by the court. One juror explained that the panel agreed to acquit Anthony because prosecutors did not show what happened to the toddler.

When she is released, the 25-year-old Anthony must decide whether to return to a community in which many onlookers long ago concluded that she's a killer, or to a home strained by her defense attorneys' accusations of sexual abuse.

Judge Belvin Perry gave her the maximum sentence of four years for four convictions of lying to authorities. He denied a defense request to combine the misdemeanor counts, which could have made her eligible for immediate release.

"As a result of those four specific, distinct lies, law enforcement expended great time and resources looking for Caylee Marie Anthony," the judge said.

With time served and credit for good behavior, she is due out on Wednesday, her 1,003rd day in jail.

Outside the courthouse, a cluster of protesters chanted "Justice for Caylee" as they waved signs that said "Arrest the Jury!!" and "Jurors 1-12 Guilty of Murder." One man had duct tape with a heart-shaped sticker over his mouth, similar to the way prosecutors contend duct tape was used to kill Caylee. Increased police presence included officers on horseback.

"At least she won't get to pop the champagne cork tonight," said Flora Reece, an Orlando real estate broker who stood outside the courthouse holding a sign that read "Arrest the Jury."

Anthony's parents were present for the hearing but left without speaking to reporters. Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not comment either.

Anger continued to spread online, with commenters vilifying Anthony on social media networks. 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 potential for Anthony to profit off the case was infuriating to many who said they feared she could become rich by selling her story to publishers or filmmakers or signing a lucrative television contract.

"I would not read the book," Jeff Ashton, the prosecutor in the case, told CNN's John King on Thursday. Ashton said he would not believe any version Anthony provided "unless it's one that accounts for all the evidence."

"If anybody could find a rational, reasonable explanation for why you put duct tape on a child that died by accident, then I'd love to hear it," Ashton said, referring to the defense claim that the child accidentally drowned.

Whatever future she chooses, Anthony's release next week promises to mark the start of a new, probably difficult chapter for her.

Mary Tate, a former public defender who heads the University of Richmond's Institute for Actual Innocence, said Anthony's defense team is probably seeking help from a variety of advisers as they seek to rebuild her fractured life.

"She's going to be bombarded with a lot of financial offers. She's going to be bombarded with random hostility. She's just entering an extraordinarily exhausting two or three years," Tate said.

Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a psychologist who authored "Mothers on Trial," said Anthony will have to deal with an "absolutely primitive blood lust" that's been unleashed, even though she's been acquitted.

"The public would lynch her if they could get their hands on her," she said. "How is she going to cope with the hatred?"

At a separate hearing Thursday, Perry also expressed concern for the safety of jurors and postponed his decision on whether to release their names. The judge said he wanted to allow for a "cooling-off period" of at least a couple of days. The Associated Press and other news organizations have argued that the jurors' identities should be released.

"It's no big secret that some people disagree with their verdict, and some people would like to take something out on them," Perry said.

"I doubt you would have had this same uproar if the decision would have been different. But juries aren't supposed to make decisions based on public opinion polls," he added.

Anthony's release will come nearly three years after Caylee was reported missing. After the report was made on July 15, 2008, Anthony was interviewed by police and made the statements that led to her conviction for lying.

She lied about working at the Universal Studios theme park, about leaving her daughter with a non-existent nanny named Zanny, about telling two friends that Caylee had been kidnapped and about receiving a phone call from her.

The defense claimed Caylee actually drowned a month earlier in a pool at the home of Anthony's parents, George and Cindy Anthony, with whom the child and her single mother lived.

The defense argued Anthony acted without remorse in the weeks after her daughter's death because she was a victim of sexual abuse by her father, resulting in emotional problems, though her attorneys produced no witnesses bolstering the claim. The defense also alleged that George Anthony, a former police officer, helped cover up the death by making it look like a homicide and dumping the body near their home, where it was found by a meter reader six months later. George Anthony has vehemently denied any involvement in Caylee's death, the disposal of her body or molesting his daughter, Casey.

"I do not believe for a moment that George Anthony had anything to do with disposing of his granddaughter's body," Ashton told CNN.

Prosecutors alleged that Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape because motherhood interfered with her lust for a carefree life of partying with friends and spending time with her boyfriend.

Jurors have mostly declined to discuss their verdict, though one told ABC News it was an emotional decision reached because the prosecution failed to show what really happened to Caylee.

"I did not say she was innocent," said Jennifer 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."

Near the Anthony home, at the swampy, mosquito-filled site where Caylee's remains were found, several people visited a makeshift memorial to the child Thursday. Two-dozen flower bouquets wilted in the Florida heat, helium balloons swayed in the breeze and hundreds of stuffed animals lay in a pile on the ground. Some mourners attached hand-written notes, many of which disparaged Anthony.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office has erected no-parking signs throughout the area so curious crowds cannot block the roadway. The neighborhood is being patrolled by deputies on four all-terrain vehicles and six patrol cars. Horses were being brought in for mounted officers.

Sheriff's spokesman Jeff Williamson said he could not comment on the number of officers in the area, and there is no estimate yet of the cost to taxpayers.

Authorities "don't know who will come here or what people will do," he said. "We're here to handle any problems and protect the community."

Ray DeBattista came with his family of five and said he thought the verdict was "mind boggling." The St. Cloud retiree said he watched his 2-year-old grandson recently and the child slipped away while he answered the door. He said he called 911 less than 30 seconds later.

"My heart was racing, and I ran around frantically looking for him," DeBattista said. "He was playing hide-and-seek under the pool table in a laundry basket. I just cannot understand how Casey went 31 days without reporting her daughter missing."