The not guilty verdict in Casey Anthony's gripping murder trial sent shockwaves through the nation yesterday, with many likening it to the 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson.
Shouts of “Justice for Caylee!” and “Baby killer!” erupted outside the Orlando courthouse when the verdict was announced after 11 hours of deliberations.
Anthony, 25, cried as it was announced that she was not guilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in June 2008. She was convicted of lying to investigators about Caylee's disappearance, which went unreported for 31 days. She faces up to four years in prison on the misdemeanors when she’s sentenced tomorrow, but she’s already served about three years.
"While we’re happy for Casey, there are no winners in this case,” said defense attorney Jose Baez.
The unidentified jurors, seven women and five men, declined to speak publicly.
Prosecutor Lawson Lamar said he was "disappointed and surprised" at the verdict, noting that there was no physical evidence tying Anthony to the death. There also were no witnesses and no cause of death because the body was so badly decayed.
"The [prosecution] failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They had many elements to prove, and couldn’t really do it," said Lawrence Kobilinsky, chairman of the Department of Sciences at John Jay College, who served as a defense consultant. “How do you convict somebody if you have so many questions and haven’t connected the dots?"
Prosecutors argued that the single mom who lived with her parents drugged Caylee with chloroform, suffocated her with duct tape on her mouth and buried her in a nearby woods because she wanted to be free to party.
The defense countered that Caylee accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool, and that Anthony tried to cover it up because she was molested by her dad and brother.
Anthony’s parents quietly left the courtroom after the verdict. Their attorney later issued a statement, saying: “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 ... While the family may never know what happened to Caylee Marie Anthony, they now have closure for this chapter of their life."
Outside the courthouse, defense attorney Cheney Mason chided the press for partaking in “media assassination,” implicitly singling out HLN television commentator Nancy Grace, who assumed “Tot Mom’s” guilt and relentlessly hammered her on her show.
(With Erik Ortiz)
Other high-profile verdicts that stunned the nation:
— William Kennedy Smith: A member of the Kennedy clan, Smith, now 50, was charged with the 1991 rape of Patricia Bowman in Florida. He was acquitted after testimony from previous alleged victims was banned. He works as a doctor now.
— Snoop Dogg: The rapper/actor was charged in Los Angeles in1993 with murdering rival gang member Phillip Woldemariam, 20. Snoop, now 39, was acquitted in 1996. He’s a successful recording artist and actor.
— Michael Jackson: The King of Pop was charged in California in 1993 with sexually abusing Jordan Chandler, 13. The case was settled out of court. In 2003, Jackson was acquitted of molesting Gavin Arvizo, 13. Jackson, 50, died in 2009 from a drug overdose.
— O.J. Simpson: The football great was acquitted in 1995 for the murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman after the defense convinced a California jury that DNA evidence was tainted. Simpson, now 63, is serving a 33-year prison sentence for burglarizing a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007.
— Robert Blake: The ex-actor was acquitted of fatally shooting his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, in 2002 in California. Retired at the age of 77, he filed for bankruptcy in 2006 due to legal fees and keeps a low profile.