ORLANDO (CBSMiami) – After years of facing charges that she killed her daughter to lead a party lifestyle, Casey Anthony’s claims of innocence were vindicated Tuesday when a seven- man, five- woman jury rejected murder and manslaughter charges that could have sent her to death row, convicting her only of four minor misdemeanor charges.
Anthony sat stoically in the courtroom as the verdict, reached after just 10 hours of deliberations, was published by the court. As the charge of first degree murder produced a not guilty verdict, and then, lesser charges of and manslaughter child abuse were also rejected, Anthony started to cry.
When the verdict was complete, they came to her feet and embraced attorney Jose Baez, who had chipped away at the prosecution’s case by claiming it simply had not proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Anthony had killed 2-year-old Caylee.
The jury’s agreement with that assertion clearly was unexpected by prosecutors, who worked hard to build a case despite the lack of physical evidence.
“We’re disappointed with the verdict today, and surprised, because we know the facts and we put in absolutely every piece of evidence that existed,” said Orange County prosecutor Lawson Lamar. “Our team did an exemplary job.”
It’s not known what the jury thought of the case. None of the jurors or alternates agreed to speak with reporters after their verdict was rendered. However, Lamar refused to be critical of the jury, saying both jurors and the defense team had done a good job.
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“This was a dry-bones case, very, very difficult to prove,” he said. “The delay in recovering little Caylee’s remains worked to our considerable disadvantage.
“Our mountain of evidence did not eliminate in the jury’s view, every reasonable doubt.”
That was clear in the verdict they rendered.
Chief Judge Belvin Perry announced the verdict at 2:15 Tuesday afternoon, after getting word the jury had decided. As his clerk read the verdict, Anthony first looked down, heeding the Judge’s warning against emotional outbursts. She began to cry after the most serious charges produced not-guilty verdicts, including a not-guilty verdict on a count of aggravated child abuse.
When they had all been read, Anthony began to sob and hugged lead defense attorney Jose Baez as the prosecutor Jeff Ashton shook his head in disbelief.
Anthony’s legal troubles are not over. She was convicted of four counts of lying to a law enforcement officer, and Anthony remains in custody pending sentencing later this week. The maximum sentence is one year in prison for each count, but Anthony has already served three years, meaning that the maximum she would face would be up to one year.
It is likely she will be sentenced to time served and released.
After a round of hugs with her defense team, a now-smiling Anthony was led away by bailiffs, and her attorneys faced reporters. They took no questions, but they blasted the media legal pundits for the way Anthony’s case was handled.
“I hope that this is a lesson to those of you who have indulged in a media assassination for three years, biased, prejudice, and incompetent talking heads saying what would be and what ought to be,” said attorney Cheney Mason.
“I am disgusted by some of the lawyers who did this and I can tell you that my colleagues from coast to coast, border to border, have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases they don’t know a damn thing about.”
“I want to start off by saying while we’re happy for Casey, there are no winners in this case,” said Baez, who had been criticized for his relative inexperience, his approach to the case and his unsupported claims in trial that Caylee was the victim of an accidental drowning and cover up.
“Caylee has passed on far, far, too soon. What my driving force has been for the last three years has been always to make sure that there has been justice for Caylee and Casey because Casey did not murder Caylee, it is that simple,” he said.
“Today our system of justice has not dishonored her memory by a false conviction,” he added.
Baez also echoed Mason’s feelings that cases like these should not be tried in the media by ‘talking heads’.
“This case has brought on new challenges for all of us. Challenges in the criminal justice system, challenges in the media, and I think we should all take this as an opportunity to learn and to realize that you cannot convict someone until they’ve had their day in court,” he said.
During their case, prosecutors argued that Anthony killed Caylee in June 2008 because the toddler interrupted her carefree partying and love life.
Anthony’s attorneys had countered that the girl drowned in the family’s pool. They said Anthony panicked and that her father, a former police officer, decided to make the death look like a homicide by placing duct tape over the child’s mouth and dumping the body in some nearby woods. George Anthony has denied that.
Ashton told the jurors no one makes an innocent accident look like murder.
“While the family may never know what has happened to Caylee Marie Anthony, they now have closure for this chapter of their life. They will now begin the long process of rebuilding their lives,” said attorney Mark Lippman, speaking for Anthony’s estranged family, who were blamed during trial for sexually abusing Casey, sexual affairs, lies and covering up Caylee’s true demise.
“Despite the baseless defense chosen by Casey Anthony, the family believes that the jury made a fair decision based on the evidence presented, the testimony presented, the scientific information presented and the rules that were given to them by the Honorable Judge Perry to guide them.”
Nothing was said about Casey and her escape from death row.
The verdict means that officially, Caylee Anthony’s killer is still at large. Prosecutors made no statement about what, if anything, will be done to pursue any other leads in that case. Lamar did say police and prosecutors will go back to work on the thousands of other cases they have, including other cases involving dead children.
“This is justice in America,” Lamar said.”We go forward to fight again tomorrow, with great thanks to all the people who have helped us do our duty.”
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