ORLANDO, Fla. >> Casey Anthony was freed from a Florida jail early Sunday, 12 days after she was acquitted of murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in a verdict that drew furious responses and even threats from people across the U.S. who had followed the case with rapt attention.
Anthony, wearing a pink T-shirt with blue jeans, left the jail at 12:14 a.m. with her attorney, Jose Baez. After three years behind bars, Anthony was given $537.68 in cash from her jail account and escorted outside by two sheriff’s deputies armed with semi-automatic rifles. Neither Anthony nor Baez said anything to reporters and protesters gathered outside.
"It is my hope that Casey Anthony can receive the counseling and treatment she needs to move forward with the rest of her life," Baez said in a statement released to reporters.
News helicopters briefly tracked the SUV through Orlando’s streets, but she quickly slipped from public view.
"This release had an unusual amount of security so, therefore, in that sense, it would not be a normal release," Orange County Jail spokesman Allen Moore said. "We have made every effort to not provide any special treatment for her. She’s been treated like every other inmate."
Moore said there were no known threats received at the jail. Officials had a number of contingency plans in place, including plans in case shots were fired as she was being released.
Before her release, law enforcement officials set up plastic barricades around the jail’s booking and release center, and about seven or eight deputies wearing bullet-proof vests patrolled the area. At least one officer carried an assault weapon. About five officers patrolled the area on horseback.
As midnight approached, upward of 100 spectators had gathered outside the jail. The crowd included about a half-dozen, sign-carrying protesters who had gathered there, despite a thunderstorm that had dumped heavy rain on Orlando. Onlookers had varied reactions to her release.
"She is safer in jail than she is out here," said Mike Quiroz, who drove from Miami to spend his 22nd birthday outside the jail. "She better watch her butt. She is known all over the world."
Lamar Jordan said he felt a pit in his stomach when he saw Anthony walking out of jail.
"The fact that she is being let out, the fact that it is her child and she didn’t say what happened, made me sick," Jordan said.
Not all of those who gathered condemned the 25-year-old.
"I’m for Casey," said Kizzy Smith, of Orlando. "She was proven innocent. At the end of the day, Caylee is at peace. We’re the ones who are in an uproar."
Since her acquittal on murder charges on July 5, Anthony was finishing her four-year sentence for telling investigators several lies, including an early claim that Caylee was kidnapped by a nonexistent nanny. With credit for the nearly three years she’s spent in jail since August 2008 and good behavior, she had only days remaining when she was sentenced July 7.
The case drew national attention ever since Caylee was reported missing. Cable network HLN aired the entire trial, with pundit Nancy Grace dissecting the case nightly. Vitriol poured into social networking sites after the acquittal, with observers posting angry messages on Twitter and Facebook’s "I Hate Casey Anthony" page.
Outraged lawmakers responded by proposing so-called Caylee’s laws that would allow authorities to prosecute parents who don’t quickly report missing children. And many still speculate about what really happened to Caylee: Was she suffocated with duct tape by her mother, as prosecutors argued? Or did she drown in an accident that snowballed out of control, as defense attorneys contended?
Now that she is free, it’s not clear where Anthony will stay or what she will do next. Her relationship with her parents, George and Cindy, has been strained since defense attorneys accused George Anthony of molesting Casey when she was young. They also said George Anthony made Caylee’s death look like a homicide after the girl accidentally drowned in the family pool.
Caylee’s remains were found in December 2008 in woods near the home Casey Anthony shared with her parents. George Anthony has adamantly denied covering up his granddaughter’s death or molesting Casey Anthony when she was a child. Baez argued during trial that the alleged abuse resulted in psychological issues that caused her to lie and act without apparent remorse after Caylee’s death. But defense attorneys never called witnesses to support their claims.
Prosecutors alleged that Anthony suffocated her daughter with duct tape because motherhood interfered with her desire for a carefree life of partying with friends and spending time with her boyfriend. However, some jurors have told various media outlets that the state didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt as required for a conviction — though some have said they believe she bears some responsibility in the case.
Defense attorneys and sheriff’s officials declined to say where Anthony was headed. What Anthony will do to make a living also remains unknown. Anthony, a high school dropout, hasn’t had a job since 2006.
One of her attorneys, Cheney Mason, said Friday that Anthony was scared to leave jail, given the numerous threats on her life and the scorn of a large segment of the public that believes she had something to do with the June 2008 death.
Her attorneys have said she has received numerous threats, including an email with a manipulated photo showing their client with a bullet hole in her forehead.
Security experts have said Anthony will need to hole up inside a safe house protected by bodyguards, perhaps for weeks, given the threats.
Greene also said Friday that Anthony was emotionally unstable and needed "a little breathing room" after her draining two-month trial.
The lies that were the basis of her conviction on the misdemeanor charges began in mid-July 2008, about a month after Caylee was last seen alive. Around the time the girl disappeared, Casey Anthony had begun staying with friends and not with her parents. When Anthony’s mother Cindy began asking about Caylee, Anthony told her she was staying with a nanny named Zanny.
In mid-July, George and Cindy Anthony were notified that their car had been impounded after it was abandoned in a check-cashing store’s parking lot. When the picked up the car, George Anthony — a former police officer — and the impound lot manager both said it smelled like a dead body had been inside.
Cindy Anthony then tracked down her daughter at a friend’s apartment and when she couldn’t produce Caylee, called the sheriff’s office on July 15, 2008. The court found she lied to investigators about working at the Universal Studios theme park, about leaving her daughter with a nanny, about telling two friends that Caylee had been kidnapped and about receiving a phone call from her.