ORLANDO — Casey Anthony was freed from a Florida jail early today, 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 United States 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. She 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 others gathered outside.
"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.
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 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 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 defense attorneys contended?
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 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 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. 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 — although most have added that they don't think Casey Anthony is innocent.
Before she was released, law enforcement officials had put up plastic barricades around the jail's booking and release center, and about seven or eight deputies wearing bullet-proof vests patrolled the area. 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 brought heavy rain over Orlando.
Barbara Tobin, a semi-retired teacher, drove up from Fort Lauderdale and held a "Justice for Caylee" sign.
"I'm disgusted and feel justice has not been served," she said. "It has really made me feel that there is something wrong with our justice system."
The anti-Casey Anthony protesters intermittently chanted, "Caylee, Caylee."
One man, Tim Allen, 24, held the "Casey, will you marry me" sign he carried during her sentencing hearing earlier this month.
"She's beautiful. She has her own unique features," the Orlando pizzeria worker said.
Earlier, Ronald Brock, 72, was driving around the jail in a red truck decorated with signs equating Anthony with abortion, including one that tells her "Jesus is the final judge."