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Casey Anthony not guilty in daughter's death

ORLANDO — Casey Anthony's eyes welled with tears and her lips trembled as the verdict was read once, twice and a third time: "Not guilty" of killing her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Outside the Orange County courthouse, many in the crowd of 500 reacted with anger, chanting, "Justice for Caylee!" One man yelled, "Baby killer!"

After nearly six weeks of testimony, a panel of seven women and five men from Pinellas County decided that Anthony, 25, did not murder Caylee in 2008 by dosing her with chloroform, suffocating her with duct tape and dumping her in woods, as prosecutors claimed. They did, however, find her guilty of providing false information to law enforcement officers.

During 11 hours of deliberation, jurors did not ask to review any evidence. They did not speak to the media afterward.

Prosecutors proved that Anthony was a liar, but convinced the jury of little else. The state failed to establish how Caylee died and they couldn't find her mother's DNA on the duct tape they said was used to suffocate her. There was conflicting testimony on whether the putrid smell inside the family's car was a decomposing body or simply trash, and it was never quite clear why chloroform was so important to the case.

The lack of evidence and the doubt raised by the defense — that Caylee accidentally drowned in the family's pool — was enough to win an acquittal.

Anthony was convicted only of four misdemeanor counts of lying to investigators who were looking into the June 2008 disappearance of Caylee. She lied about being employed at Universal Studios. She lied about leaving Caylee with a babysitter — a nanny named Zanny who doesn't exist — then again when she recounted to investigators that she had told two imaginary people that Caylee was missing.

Lead defense attorney Jose Baez, a lawyer from Kissimmee, was criticized by many legal pundits for his strategy and loosely throwing around allegations of molestation and incest. Baez suggested early on that Casey's father, George Anthony, helped cover up the drowning and sexually abused his daughter, accusations the father vehemently denied. Baez also claimed Casey's brother might be Caylee's father and that a meter reader who discovered the girl's remains may have moved them, more allegations that weren't substantiated.

But the burden of proof wasn't on him.

"I don't think it was Baez's great lawyering that won the case," said Richard Rosenbaum, a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer who closely followed the trial. "I think it goes back to the prosecution and the weaknesses in their case."

Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney and now a defense lawyer, said Baez had to offer an alternative to the prosecution's theory of how Caylee was killed.

"The biggest questions were the 'how' and the 'why,' " Coffey said. "Even the state acknowledged they weren't exactly sure of how Caylee was killed. That was a candid acknowledgement, but Baez seized on that."

Orlando's chief prosecutor said his attorneys were disappointed with the verdict but they presented every piece of evidence that existed.

"This is a dry-bones case. Very, very difficult to prove," said Orange County State Attorney Lawson Lamar. "The delay in recovering little Caylee's remains worked to our considerable disadvantage."

The six-month gap between when Casey was reported missing and when her remains were found in December 2008 affected the amount of scientific evidence investigators could glean from the pieces of bones, some as small as a pebble. And prosecutors didn't have any evidence that put Casey at the scene where the remains were found.

There was also confusion on why chloroform was so important. Chloroform is a chemical compound that can be used to knock someone unconscious and also is found in human decomposition, but prosecutors never made clear exactly what its role it played in Caylee's death.

Prosecutors say someone conducted 84 Internet searches on the Anthony's home computer for the words "chloroform," and "how to make chloroform." Defense lawyers say the state's computer analysis was wrong and that only one search for chloroform was conducted compared with Casey's 84 visits to talk to friends on My Space.

Baez said the computer search was done for curiosity because Casey's boyfriend had posted a gag photo on his My Space page showing a man and woman in a romantic restaurant with the caption: "Win her over with chloroform."

"If you don't know what chloroform is and your boyfriend is posting things like that on his My Space page it is not unreasonable for a young woman to research something like that," Baez told the jury.

Then there was the smell test. After prosecutors presented an expert witness who said that a carpet stain taken from the family's car trunk had a smell consistent with a decomposing body, the defense called the expert's former colleague who testified to the opposite.

Baez addressed his naysayers during a news conference.

"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 have had their day in court," he said.

Yale Galanter, who has represented O.J. Simpson in a number of cases since 2000, said he was not surprised by the verdict.

"The issue is there was absolutely no evidence linking her to the death. None," said the Miami lawyer. "So what the defense did was brilliant, they brought up the drowning, they brought up the sexual molestation, and it really got the jury to focus away from the bad behavior of the mom."

All of this allowed Baez, who was recommended to Anthony by another jail inmate, to infuse enough reasonable doubt in jurors' minds.

Given the relative speed with which the jury came back with a verdict, many court-watchers were expecting Anthony to be convicted.

"We're disappointed in the verdict today because we know the facts and we've put in absolutely every piece of evidence that existed," said Lamar, the state attorney.

Baez, however, said that "there are no winners in this case."

"Caylee has passed on far, far too soon and 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. And today our system of justice has not dishonored her memory by a false conviction."

Information from the Christian Science Monitor and Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.

What's next?

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

Casey Anthony not guilty in daughter's death 07/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 7:05am]
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