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Casey Anthony cleared of murdering young daughter

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Casey Anthony was acquitted Tuesday of murdering her 2-year-old daughter in a case that became a national sensation on cable TV, with its CSI-style testimony about duct-tape marks on the child's face and the smell of death inside a car trunk.

After a trial of a month and a half, the jury took less than 11 hours to find Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.

She was convicted only of four misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators who were looking into the June 2008 disappearance of her daughter, Caylee.

Tears welled in Anthony's eyes, her face reddened, her lips trembled, and she began breathing heavily as she listened to the verdict.

Anthony, 25, could have gotten the death penalty if convicted of murder.

Many in the crowd of about 500 people outside the courthouse reacted with anger after the verdict was read, chanting, "Justice for Caylee!" One man yelled, "Baby killer!"

Given the relative speed with which the jury came back with a verdict, many court-watchers were expecting Anthony to be convicted in the killing, and they were stunned by the outcome.

Sentencing was set for Thursday. Anthony could get up to a year behind bars on each count of lying to investigators. But since she has been in jail for nearly three years already, she could walk free.

Prosecutors contended that Anthony -- a single mother living with her parents -- 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 that Anthony panicked and hid the body because of the traumatic effects of being sexually abused by her father.

The case played out on national television almost from the moment Caylee was reported missing three years ago. CNN's hard-nosed 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."

The jurors -- seven women, five men -- would not talk to the media, and their identities were kept secret by the court.

State's Attorney Lawson Lamar said: "We're disappointed in the verdict today because we know the facts and we've put in absolutely every piece of evidence that existed." The prosecutor lamented the lack of hard evidence, saying, "This is a dry-bones case. Very, very difficult to prove. The delay in recovering little Caylee's remains worked to our considerable disadvantage."

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 the case got so much media attention in Orlando, jurors were brought in from the Tampa Bay area and sequestered for the entire trial, during which they listened to more than 33 days of testimony and looked at 400 pieces of evidence. Anthony did not take the stand.

The verdict could divide people for many years to come, just as the O.J. Simpson case in the mid-1990s did, with some believing Anthony got away with murder.

Ti McLeod, who lives near the Anthony family, said, "The justice system has failed Caylee." Jodie Ickes, who lives a mile away and goes to the same hairdresser Anthony uses, 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 to see Anthony.

"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."