ORLANDO, Fla – By midday, dejection had settled over the group of protesters outside the Orange County Courthouse.
They had come here, a community of strangers, bound by the possibility that Casey Anthony, acquitted in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, would walk out of court a free woman on Thursday. The news that she would serve only a few more days in jail – she is scheduled for release July 17, a court spokeswoman announced – only confirmed their feelings of betrayal by the courts.
“I am destroyed today. The judicial system let us down today,” said a forlorn Daisy Caballero, a nursing home worker who drove with a friend from Miami on Wednesday night to protest the verdict and sentencing.
Inside a courtroom on the 23rd floor, Judge Belvin Perry had sentenced the 25-year-old mother to four years for misdemeanor charges of lying to authorities. Two days earlier, a jury had found Anthony not guilty on the most serious charges, including the murder of daughter Caylee.
Anthony was given credit for time served and good behavior. Two Miami-Dade school teachers, retirees, students, tourists, a dog walker, a Realtor and a laid-off designer were among those who formed a spirited crowd that gathered as the sun rose, hoisting anti-Anthony posters and chanting, “No justice for Caylee.” To them, the justice system failed the toddler, whose decomposing remains were found two weeks before Christmas of 2008 in a wooded area that has now blossomed into her memorial site.
“We are schoolteachers. We love kids and this was an injustice done to Caylee and all innocent children,” said Hedwig Berthold, 39, a fourth-grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary in North Miami-Dade.
Steps away, a tiny but equally passionate group held pro-Anthony signs.
One man in the group even offered to marry her upon release.
Anthony’s debts and future remain unclear. Still ahead: a hefty fine and a bill from police to cover the costs of searching for a presumably missing child. The exact tally could take several weeks to sort out.
Thursday morning’s sentencing brought an end, at least in court, to a case that has captured the attention of America, served as fodder for TV talking heads for three years and shined a spotlight on family dysfunction in a city built on family-friendly vacations.
Still, on a corner outside the Orlando courthouse, some weren’t ready to close the case.
Orlando’s Amber Block shook her head in disgust. The recent graduate of cosmetology school and admitted trial addict scored tickets to the sentencing hearing, the ninth time she had made it into the courthouse during the six-week trial.
“This is absurd,” says Block, 23, seething and pacing. “This makes me sick. That little girl is dead and her mother has her whole life to live.” Anthony had faced up to four years behind bars after she was convicted of four misdemeanors of lying to police, the only convictions in the case. In addition to the sentence, credited and reduced just a few hours later, the judge hit her in the pocketbook, with a $1,000 fine for each of the four convictions.
Beyond that, what’s next for Anthony when she leaves jail? Book deal? Made-for-TV movie? A new life in a new place? More partying? Only she knows for sure.
But on Thursday morning, she was an inmate awaiting her fate, appearing more relaxed than she had during the trial – hair down, in a blue sweater with a Tommy Hilfiger emblem on the sleeve.
A few minutes after 9:30 a.m., in the same Orlando courtroom where she was put on trial for Caylee’s death, Anthony listened as the judge heard from the lawyers on both sides and considered the sentencing.
His verdict: “I will sentence you to one year in the county jail” for each of the four misdemeanor counts against her – four years total.
With credit for time served and good behavior, Anthony will walk out of jail on July 17. Like the trial itself, the sentencing drew onlookers with a message – and not all related to Casey or Caylee Anthony – trying to capitalize on the sea of media. One man showed up with a portrait of an altar boy and Jesus Christ on the cross. He was there to draw attention to prosecutors who he claimed took his two daughters away. Another man held a sign that read: Save the Whales. Still another man brought an oversized cross to advertise a website.
Those focused on the trial did so with caustic words scribbled on poster board saying, “Somewhere there is a village missing 12 idiots,” and “Boycott any books or movies by Casey!” Edward Mehnert, 26, of Orlando, stood silently among the protesters. He wore all white and had a piece of silver duct tape across his mouth. A tiny heart was stuck to the tape. Caylee’s remains were found with duct tape stretched across her mouth and adhesive residue in the shape of a heart sticker on the duct tape.
Still, Anthony drew a few brave supporters.
Michael Lambert and Clay Stevens, two Marshall University students, drove 17 hours from West Virginia to show support for Anthony and the judicial system.
“We love and support you, Casey Anthony,” read a sign they were holding.
The trial began May 24 in Orlando. The prosecution focused on lies and deception, depicting Anthony as a party queen who failed to report her missing toddler for a month and then told a story about a kidnapping by a nonexistent nanny. The defense argued that the child accidentally drowned in her grandparents’ swimming pool.
The jury’s ruling: There wasn’t enough evidence to convict Anthony of the most serious charges: first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter. One of the jurors spoke to ABC News about the verdict.
“We were crying, and not just the women,” Jennifer Ford said of the deliberations. “We wanted to do it with integrity and not contribute to the sensationalism of the trial.” As the news spread that Anthony would be out next week, the crowd outside began to lose steam. Many packed up their signs and left.