Casey Anthony was freed from a Florida jail early Sunday, 12 days after she was acquitted of murder in the death of her two-year-old daughter Caylee in a verdict that drew threats from people across the U.S.
Wearing a pink T-shirt with blue jeans, Anthony 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 who had gathered outside.
"It is my hope that Casey Anthony can receive the counselling 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.
Before her release, law enforcement officials erected plastic barricades around the jail's booking and release centre, and at least a half-dozen deputies in bullet-proof vests patrolled the area. At least one officer carried an assault weapon. Another five officers patrolled the area on horseback.
As midnight approached, an estimated 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 dumped heavy rain in the area.
"This release had an unusual amount of security so, therefore, in that sense, it would not be a normal release," said Orange County Jail spokesman Allen Moore. "We have made every effort to not provide any special treatment for her. She's been treated like every other inmate.
Contingency plans in place
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 released.
Anthony, 25, had been finishing her four-year sentence for telling investigators several lies, including 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 behaviour, 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 when Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder, 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 defence attorneys contended?
'She better watch her butt. She is known all over the world.' — Protester Mike Quiroz
As for her plans, 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 defence 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 denied covering up her death and denied molesting Casey Anthony when she was a child. Baez had 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.
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.
State failed to prove case: jurors
However, some jurors have told various media outlets the state didn't prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt as required for a conviction, although most have added that they don't think Casey Anthony is innocent.
Your comments on Casey Anthony’s release from jail:
"Personally, I don't think she should be protected, or in a safe house. If she is free, she is free. Let her fend for herself. Live with herself," writes nosey1.
"Too often the use of circumstantial evidence has led to wrongful conviction. Maybe there's nothing wrong with having a higher standard of doubt. Probably guilty isn't good enough," adds broughad.
Read more comments in our Community blog.
Defence attorneys and sheriff's officials have not said where Anthony is heading.
"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.
What Anthony will do to make a living also remains unknown. The high school dropout hasn't had a job since 2006, when she was a vendor at Universal Studios theme park.
A large segment of the public has seethed since Anthony's acquittal, believing she had something to do with her daughter's 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, in case someone tries to make good on one of those threats. One attorney, Charles Greene, said Friday that Anthony was emotionally unstable and needed "a little breathing room" after her draining two-month trial.
A nanny named Zanny
The lies that were the basis of her conviction on the misdemeanour charges began in mid-July 2008, about a month after Caylee was last seen alive.
About 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 cheque-cashing store's parking lot. When he 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 several times, including leaving her daughter with Zanny, about telling two friends that Caylee had been kidnapped and about receiving a phone call from her.