On this day in 2011, Casey Anthony is released from jail in Orlando, Florida, 12 days after being acquitted on charges that she killed her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. The Casey Anthony trial riveted Americans, many of whom were stunned when a jury found the 25-year-old not guilty in her young daughter’s death.
Caylee Marie Anthony was last seen alive with her mother on June 16, 2008, leaving the Orlando home they shared with Casey Anthony’s parents, George and Cindy Anthony. Casey Anthony waited 31 days to report her daughter missing, and when questioned by police in mid-July, she told them a nanny had kidnapped her daughter, along with a series of other statements which later proved to be untrue. On October 14, 2008, Anthony was indicted on charges of first-degree murder and lying to police. On December 11 of that year, Caylee Anthony’s skeletal remains were found in a wooded area less than a mile from George and Cindy Anthony’s house.
When the case went to trial in May 2011, the prosecution charged that Casey Anthony killed Caylee by giving her chloroform, covering her mouth with duct tape and later disposing of her body in the woods. Prosecutors argued that Anthony was motivated to commit murder so she could live a carefree, party-girl lifestyle, and they showed the jury photographs of her carousing with friends during the time her child was missing. The defense argued Caylee Anthony had accidentally drowned in her grandparent’s swimming pool, and her death had then been made to look like a homicide by a panicked Casey and her father George. Acknowledging that Casey Anthony had provided false information to the police, her lead attorney, Jose Baez, claimed she had been sexually abused by her father and trained to lie all her life. George Anthony took the witness stand and denied the allegations against him; Casey Anthony never testified during her trial.
Because Caylee Anthony’s body was badly decomposed by the time it was discovered, experts were unable to determine the exact cause and time of her death. Additionally, there were no witnesses or direct physical evidence to link Casey Anthony to the crime. On July 5, 2011, after deliberating for less than 11 hours, a jury found Anthony not guilty on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter of a child. They did convict her on four lesser counts of providing false information to law enforcement officials. The case had been heavily discussed on cable television and Twitter, with Casey Anthony generally being portrayed unfavorably by commentators, and many Americans reacted with shock and outrage to the verdict.
On July 7, Belvin Perry Jr., chief of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orlando, gave Anthony the maximum sentence—a four-year jail term—for lying to police and sending them on a “wild goose chase.” However, with credit for time served and good behavior, Anthony, behind bars since 2008, was released on July 17 as a crowd of protestors waited outside.
In the aftermath of the case, lawmakers in several states began drafting laws in memory of Caylee Anthony which would make it a felony for a parent or legal guardian not to promptly report a missing child.